I was a smart kid in high school. For years, people told me I could go anywhere I wanted (which was untrue, but a common thought nonetheless) and expected me to go somewhere big for college. Everyone else had a vision of where I would go; Yale, Columbia, Penn or any other college with a "name." To them, and to many others, the best colleges are the ones with recognizable names and amazing reputations. If nobody knows the school that you're going to, then is it even impressive?
Cut to my senior year of high school. I visited and looked at the big schools like Columbia and Penn and Northwestern, assuming I would love all of them. After all, they were the best schools the United States had to offer, right? I was bound to love one of them.
But I didn't. I didn't fall in love with any of the big names, and I figured that no one loves a college at first sight. I just had to get into one of them and then I would find my place and love it. I carried this mindset with me until I visited Vassar College. I stepped onto campus and knew it was the one, much to my own surprise. I wasn't expecting to love a smaller liberal arts college; I barely even knew about Vassar, and had only visited at my mom's suggestion. However, I knew pretty much right away that it was my college.
So I applied early decision. And got in. And in December of my senior year of high school, I started telling people that I would be attending Vassar College. And how I was excited.
That is, until people reacted. "Where is that?" they would ask. "I've never heard of it."
Suddenly, I panicked. Vassar is an amazing school and many people outside of my Tennessee town know about it, but all I knew and could think about was how none of my friends had heard of it. Did they know I was going to a good school? Did they suddenly think less of me because I wasn't going to an Ivy League? Would they compare me to my brothers? They had gone to Northwestern and Tufts, both amazing schools with acceptance rates lower than Vassar's. Did they think I was the dumb sibling? Did everyone overestimate my abilities and smarts from day one?
Then one night, I had a meltdown. I had put so much weight on people's opinions of me and how impressed they would be with me, that I was genuinely doubting my decision based on a handful of people not knowing my school.
It took me a while to realize just how wrong I was. My school is a great school with a long history and amazing programs. I love Vassar and it's the school for me. That's all that matters. College is my time to learn and be happy, so why did I care so much about whether other people liked my school or not?
I look at my senior friends trying to decide where to apply to college, and I already see this obsession with prestige. We all want people to think highly of us. It's an amazing feeling when someone is impressed with your college choice, but that should not be the deciding factor.
To all of the seniors currently dealing with college applications: It's hard not to care about prestige. I get it. It's perfectly OK to want to go to the big name colleges, but make sure you're going because it's the school for you. If you're miserable in college because you picked the school that isn't right for you, the name won't matter anymore.
If there's a school you've brushed off because it wasn't a recognizable enough name, take another look at it. It might be the perfect school for you.
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