My seniors have been asking me a lot of questions about how I decided on college, so I thought I’d write about it here.
Some advice: Just make sure you will be happy.
It was April of 2005 and the new baby blue knee-high Uggs had just come out. After waiting patiently for three weeks on the Nordstrom waiting list, they were finally mine. The next day I was leaving for New York, and I needed those Uggs to complete my overly thought out look for Admitted Students Day. That blue really complimented those hideously bright retro flowers that dotted my Lucky Jeans zip up hoodie. Tying it all together was a faded pair of Seven For All Mankind flares. (Skinny jeans were not a thing yet- I was the first of my friends to buy a pair just one year later). This, I thought, was how I should represent myself at NYU.
Not even 24 hours later, my head was between my Seven for All Mankind knees, snot flooding out of my nose, weird noises coming from my throat and my mom was rushing around Washington Square Park looking for a paper bag. I was having a full-on panic attack on a normal Wednesday afternoon. Students swarmed me as I rocked back and forth crazily on that wooden bench. Although thinking back on it, I probably fit right in with all the characters in Washington Square.
I remember the thoughts: “Can I really go here? Am I nearly cool enough to be an NYU student? Adam Horne totally fits in here, but I don’t. I should have worn my Converse, not my Uggs. Adam Horne always wears Converse! How can I leave my parents? Where’s my mom? WHAT IS HAPPENING?!”
Fast forward a few weeks and I’m sitting in Mr. Rigler’s Senior English class at Deerfield High School. It’s April 30th, one day before all our college decisions needed to be made. Unexpectedly the two nice ladies from the College Resource Center interrupt our class and hand each of us a piece of paper. I looked down at the glaring list of thirteen schools I applied to, and my admissions status at each. Through a muffled haze of anxiety and my audible heartbeat, I vaguely hear the ladies instruct us to circle our choice destinations for next year. The room is spinning and it’s happening again. I see the tears, feel the snot, and I can only see six letters on the page: U, S, C, and N, Y, U.
Mr. Rigler (very conspicuously) shuffles over to my desk and tends to my erratic behavior. I ask if I can call my mom and he ushers me into his office to use his desk phone. “Mom…I had to make a choice. They made me. I circled NYU?” Clearly the emotional apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, because my mom is crying on the other end of the phone. “Honey! I’m so proud of you!”
The rest of that day is a blur. I honestly don’t remember anything until I arrived home to see both my parents and my brother donning their respective NYU Mom, Dad, and Brother sweatshirts in quintessential awkwardfamilyphoto.com-like style. I walk upstairs and see the picture of me when I got accepted to NYU on Spring Break (obviously crying), and a plethora of NYU apparel and car decals sprawled across my bed. This was confusing. How did they buy all this stuff in Deerfield in the last six hours?
“Remember when I went looking for that paper bag, Jess?” I nod my head. “Well, I also popped into the NYU bookstore and bought the entire back wall of purple stuff.” I was still confused. At the time of Admitted Students Day, I had no idea where I wanted to go to school and USC was just as much a possibility, if not more. My mom told me that a strong reaction is a good reaction, no matter how gross or messy mine was.
In that moment, I knew I had made the right decision; not because it was an elite university, not because the students dressed cool, and not because I never thought I’d get in, but because it felt right for my future.
I could see myself happy in New York City, away from the Greek Life, close to the Met and Central Park, meeting people from all over the world, and dipping my Converse-clad feet in the Washington Square fountain. In that moment, the prospect of happiness was really all that mattered. Tears (and snot) ensued. Again.
I grew up in the North Shore and while it seems like forever ago, it was only (a little more than) a decade ago that I was applying to college. The pressure we all felt to apply to the best colleges, and go to the best ones we got into often seemed insurmountable. Yes, I ended up going to a prestigious school, but I cannot stress how tiny of a factor that played in my decision.
You seniors who choose to go to college next year will be eating, breathing, sleeping, and walking in the same place for the next four years. If I could only give one piece of advice: just make sure you will be happiest self, and not only proud to say your school out loud, but your own name as well.