Reflections on my college decision

I understand that writing for the admissions blog comes with the duty of cheerfully promoting Swarthmore (with honesty), by highlighting all the positive experiences I’ve had here over the past two years. But to the high school seniors who may be reading this, whether you already know you are coming to Swat next fall or you’re as confused as I was in March of 2015, I want you to know that I feel a strong obligation to you. And so, two years later, I am finally writing down my experiences with the college admissions process, not to bias you into coming to Swat, but to (hopefully) reassure you that regardless of what you decide to do, it will all turn out okay.

Before it was time to actually make a decision about where I would go, I was the textbook example of how one should do the college admissions process. I started during my sophomore spring with a tour of Columbia that was more a vacation activity than an academic one, but when I got my Princeton Review guide to colleges the summer before junior year (and Insider’s Guide, a used copy of Fiske’s, and two SAT study books), I began to take the process more seriously. My mom and I did a “local” trip during my junior fall (Davidson, Wake Forest, Duke, Chapel Hill) and a “northeast” trip in the spring (Hopkins, American, Georgetown, Swat). Some weekend I must have visited Emory as well, but after about five tours, all the schools start to seem the same. And even though I picked out six colleges to which I would eventually apply, without too much strife, I began to feel like with each flip through the college guide, each new piece of mail from a university, or each scroll through the U.S. News and World rankings (absolutely shameful, but also universally done), I knew less and less what I wanted.

I found out in November of my senior year, with an early admission to Georgetown, that I wasn’t going to be homeless in the fall of 2015. During the course of the next five or so months, I was admitted to all six schools where I applied. Before you go thinking I’m some star student, I will tell you that I didn’t apply to any Ivy League schools, and I was quickly rejected from all my merit scholarship applications. I actually found out about my admission to Duke on the way to a Georgetown admitted students weekend, and vividly remember trying to read the email to my mom while she was driving a rental car through D.C. (poor timing – she quickly made it clear I was in that moment more valuable as a navigator than a potential Duke grad).

The acceptance letter that, after a difficult process, got me to where I am today.

And thus began my personal Spring of Discontent. I’ve never been good with decisions, even when I didn’t have every family friend telling me how proud my parents must be, giving me some anecdote that favored one of my potential schools, or telling me not to worry, because when the time comes, I’ll “just know.” When I was in eighth grade, I cried for weeks over quitting soccer, and sometimes I still need my roommate to validate my outfit choice. In tenth grade, I turned down an opportunity to attend a selective residential high school. That was largely because I didn’t feel ready to leave home at 15, but at 17, I wasn’t sure it felt any better. I would tell my parents that while I wasn’t exactly living it up at my high school, I didn’t really feel like I wanted to go to college. But despite being lucky enough to have parents who encouraged a gap year or community college, I didn’t feel that dragging out the agonizing decision for another year would be helpful.

Unlike the day I turned down the selective high school, which involved me crying and convincing my mom to do it for me, the day I decided to attend Swarthmore was relatively subdued. It was about two days before the ominous May 1st deadline, and I was sitting on the couch at home trying to work up the courage to seal my fate for the next four years. (To clarify – this is only a description of what it felt like; you are in no way eternally bound to the school you pick this spring). I had enough reasons to pick Swat, probably more than I had for any other school, but I was also terrified of my own reluctance. Never once in my 10 college tours and three admitted students weekends did I ever feel like I “just knew” I belonged.

With my parents at my college “signing” ceremony, looking happier than I probably felt.

At this point you’re probably wondering how I ever got hired as an admissions blogger, or maybe you’ve recognized the common progression of my posts and know to expect the happy part right about now. While it’s fair to say I’m not your archetypal, all-in-for-Swat student, I think the latter musing is closer to the truth.

Maybe I didn’t have that moment of clarity that all high school seniors are looking for, but it’s also possible that it just came later, or more gradually. It’s possible that my freshman fall at Swat was characterized by tiny validations — in the form of pillow talk with my roommate, a good performance in my preseason time trial, or kind comments from my Spanish professor on a midterm — that I made a good decision that spring day on the couch. It may not have been characterized by the level of excitement my fellow first-years were presenting on social media, but it was also never characterized by regret. I think it was important for me to see that even for a chronically anxious girl, things can turn out better than expected.

A freshman fall Philly excursion with my hallmates; one of the first steps to feeling like I made a good decision.

High school seniors facing a college decision are subject to a lot of banal advice, the most classic (aside from the “just knowing” ideal) being something along the lines of “to thine own self be true.” I don’t hate the sentiment of following your dreams, or your gut instinct or whatever, and I absolutely believe that the decision is 100% yours to make. But I also believe there comes a time when additional soul-searching isn’t going to benefit the process. And if you’re reading this blog post having hit that point yourself, then I want you to know that it’s still going to be okay.

My college decision was an educated guess. An educated guess that I’m happy with, and from which I continue to reap the benefits every day, but a guess nonetheless. And not only do I believe that’s a more typical move than people like to admit, but I think it’s a pretty decent way to make a big decision.

Regardless of where I started in the process, I’ve come to love Swarthmore and all the people in it. But I also think I might have come to love Georgetown, Duke, or Davidson in a similar manner. What I took from my tumultuous decision-making process, beyond my enrollment at an incredible liberal arts college, was that I was a lot more flexible, resilient, and independent than I thought I was during my senior year of high school. I feel a little less anxious about unfamiliar situations, a little less guilty for being less excitable than my peers, and a little less invested in decisions as the be-all and end-all of my movement forward.

A goofy high school graduation picture from 2015.

Whether or not your decision-making process is or was anything like mine, I (along with a slew of other students, professors, and administrators) would love to have you at Swat. But more than that, I want you to be able to look back on this spring two years later and take pride in its outcome.

As someone who works slowly, likes plans, and hates decisions, I don’t “just know” a lot of things. But I do know that wherever you end up next fall, you will be just fine.

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