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May 18 2016
by Hannah Nelson

Why My Top Choice Wasn't My Best Choice

By Hannah Nelson - May 18 2016
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Back in the day, when college was cheap and jobs plentiful, it didn’t really matter where you went to college, just as long as you went. Unfortunately, it’s 2016. Student loan debt is out of control, jobs are scarce, and everyone has a bachelor’s degree. Nowadays it seems you have to speak three languages, juggle two part time jobs and five extracurriculars, and take every AP class known to man just to get into a college. Not only that, but it seems like if you don’t go to a big name college, you aren’t likely to be taken as serious.

I definitely fell for this. Growing up as a straight A, gifted student, I was told over and over that I would get into my top choice (University of Chicago), I would get that full ride, and I would get that perfect ACT score. Obviously, these didn’t happen or I wouldn’t be writing this. I poured my heart and soul into the application, only to get a deferred letter, and later a rejection letter.

You know that scene in Cast Away where Wilson starts to float away from Tom Hanks’ character, and he’s crying, and then everyone’s crying? I was Tom Hanks and my top choice was Wilson. It slipped through my fingers and I felt like it was my fault.

After finishing my harsh cup of reality and jumping over my broken ego, I found a way to get over my rejection. It wasn’t easy, as all of my other friends got into their top choice. It seemed as if everyone else’s dreams were coming true. But as the months passed and it neared May 1, I realized I still hadn’t made my decision, and it didn’t really matter where I was going. I just had to go somewhere. I had it narrowed down to two schools: one was a big school two hours from home and other was a midsize school six hours from home. I had no idea what to do, so I went to my college advisor for advice. She said three things that stuck out to me most.

One, you can make a big school feel small, but you can’t make a small school feel big. As a graduate of a class size of eighty, I was all about the big college. I wanted to be able to graduate and still not know everyone in my class. But I could join SRO’s (student run organizations), get a part time job, or even join an LLC. That way, this giant sea of people wouldn’t seem so big and frightening once I claimed my place. My top choice, while in the middle of one of America’s biggest cities, is small. While size was something I could overlook, it was kind of nice to be reminded that you can make your school group as big or as small as you want.

Two, it’s better to be a big fish in a little pond than an average fish in a big pond. This seems counterintuitive to my last point but it’s not. My top choice is a highly competitive school, where literally everyone is fighting to get their foot in the same door as you. Every internship and every research lab seemed to be filled within minutes. At either of the two schools I had it narrowed down to, that wouldn’t be a problem. Despite school sizes, my major isn’t very big at either of the two schools. For me, that meant easier access to labs and internships. It meant less competition and more of a chance to succeed.

Lastly, I would make my college experience my college experience no matter where I went. Even if I didn’t go to my top choice, I wouldn’t let it define me. I’d move on and accept that failure, but succeed in other ways. Mrs. Malone also pointed out that college isn’t about where you go, it’s what you do with it. If you push yourself, test your limits and boundaries, step outside of the box you’ve placed yourself in, and treat your failures as gifts rather than defeats, your college experience will be successful.

Yes, I spent a long time crying over my rejection letter. Yes, I took it personally and thought that it was me and not just the short stick. But heck yes I learned from it. I realized that my top choice was no longer my best choice. I decided on a school that was big enough, competitive enough, and close enough to home that when I walk on the campus, I get that “heck yeah I made it” and “heck yeah I’m home” feeling. 

Lead Image Credit: Luiz Gadehla Jr. via Flickr Creative Commons

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Hannah Nelson - University of Tennessee Knoxville

Hannah Nelson is a Freshmen at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, majoring in Biology with a biochemistry concentration. Hannah loves to dance, write, binge watch Netflix, and read. She's an ENFJ, Pisces, Ravenclaw, and an Oxford Comma Enthusiast. Follow her on twitter and instagram @nelsonator98!

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