The Truth About Choosing a College

College-acceptance season is incredibly stressful. From start to finish, from applying to committing to a school, people are encouraging you to do your research, follow your heart, take risks, and go to a school that will benefit you. You get a lot of advice from a lot of different people. But not one of those people ever really tells you that after all of that planning and visiting and research, you might still make the wrong choice. Or you might change your mind. At least, no one ever told me that. When I was applying to college, it seemed like the end-all-be-all of the situation. I felt an enormous amount of pressure to be in love with the school I chose the way everyone else was. I wanted to be excited and have pride for the school I committed too, but I still felt worried. What if I made the wrong choice? What if it was nothing like the brochures said? All of these ‘what if” scenarios ran through my mind. I had dreamed of going to college for so long. I used to dream of what it would be like to be on campus by myself and study in the common area with my friends, to stay out late and be able to roll out of bed and get to class in two minutes. I dreamed of being in love with my college and never wanting to leave. I never entertained the possibility that it might not be what I hoped it would be. 

Upon arriving to the private four-year college two hours away from my home, I felt nervous. Despite having met all the criteria I wanted in a school, I still wasn’t sure. I feared that I'd sold myself short, that I didn’t try hard enough to get into what society deemed a “better” school, and that I had made the wrong decision coming here. Like anything else, quitting while you’re ahead does you more of an injustice than just seeing what happens, so I stuck around. The first year of college was incredibly difficult for me because it seemed like everyone was in love with their colleges. It seemed like everyone else was having the time of their lives, and I was just there. 

Truthfully, I was heartbroken that college was not at all what I expected it to be like. Most of the time I felt scared and alone. I was afraid I would disappoint my parents for wanting to leave and I didn’t want to give up, but I felt so unhappy being in a place where I knew I didn’t belong. Fear hinders any learning experience. I had to get out of there. Throughout the entire process, no one had ever told me that it was okay to feel scared or that it was okay to make wrong decisions. There’s a lot of pressure to make it to the end of college, to get good grades and get your degree and move on. There is little focus on being in college, on what kind of learning environment you want or if you even want one at all. There is a lot about customizing your experience in college that no Common Application, SAT tutor, college brochure, or AP exam ever prepared me for. Unfortunately, these aren’t even things that anyone can really tell you. You can answer all the questions about what “kind” of college you want to go to, but none of the answers will ever tell you what it feels like to be there. Thankfully, that’s okay. You don’t have to know right away. Making a decision is a good step. Though I was unhappy at my first college, I often look back and feel grateful. The decision to leave this college and take time off to find another school to go to was one of the biggest decisions I had ever made, and the first big decision I had ever made on my own. Had I not went there, I may have spent my life wondering what that would have been like. I would have never known that dorming and going to school in a rural setting wasn’t for me. I’m glad I got to experience that. But, I’m also grateful that I realized I wanted and needed something different and developed the courage to act on it. 

The most important part about choosing a college is making the first initial step to choose one. Follow your heart and your gut, and remember that there is a possibility that it may not work out. It is completely okay if it doesn’t. More and more students each year take time off from school to reevaluate their situations. College (and higher education in general) is incredibly expensive, and it is very important that you’re confident in the decisions you’re making. They will be messy, scary, and hard to make. But they are absolutely worth it. 

By Elysa Rivera

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