Backups and Breakdowns: College Admissions

I just had to check one more time. I couldn’t bring myself to hit “submit” without knowing it was absolutely perfect. I knew I had already looked at it a thousand times, but that wasn’t good enough. There is no such thing as good enough.

Heart pounding, I clicked the mouse. It was done. I had just submitted my application to Michigan State University. Wow.

I knew that it took the university anywhere from 6-8 weeks to process the application, so I don’t really know why I could be found, just two weeks after submitting my application, obsessively checking the mailbox for that much anticipated letter. The letter upon which everything hinged. The letter that would literally make or break my life.

You may think I’m exaggerating just a bit – I’m not.

Where you go to college affects the rest of your life. For better or worse, the college (or colleges) you go to will have a colossal impact on your future. Your favorite professor could write you that letter of recommendation that would get you an amazing internship. Your next door neighbor from freshman year could be your boss somewhere down the road. Your grades could determine whether or not you get into a graduate program. You never know.

Life isn’t a joke. That in itself is terrifying. It seems like every little move you make is under the microscope, being carefully examined for any type of flaw or imperfection. If you mess up, it’s all on you, so you want to make the right decisions. You want to pick the school that’s going to let you be who you want to be and help you do the things you’ve always dreamed of doing.

Now, enough of the gloom and doom, scary, lecture stuff. I think I’ve made my point.

My first bit of advice for prospective college kids would be to visit your potential schools. All of them. Do not pick a college without physically going there first. This sounds super cheesy, but you just feel it in your gut – you know if this is going to be a good place for you.

When I was a junior in high school, I was planning on attending Central Michigan University. At that point, I knew that I was interested in journalism, and they had a program for it. I had been there several times with my high school band, and I liked it enough. A few of my aunts had gone to college there, and it wasn’t terribly far from home. It made sense.

Then, my older sister ended up living in Lansing. My younger sister and I came down to visit her, and she drove us all around East Lansing and MSU.

All my life I had wanted to go to a school where learning was valued and appreciated, where books were cherished instead of viewed as useless or boring. When I saw MSU’s gigantic library, I stared in shock. Even if it sounds silly, I’ve always loved old buildings with ivy creeping up the sides. Campus even came complete with trees and cows.

As we drove around campus, all I could think was, “Wow.” I knew I had to go to school here. That this was the only place for me.

No, I did not choose MSU because of its beauty. I want our sports teams to win, of course, but I didn’t pick MSU because of Tom Izzo. I chose it because of the fantastic opportunities here, the diverse group of students, and its academic quality.

As I did more research and signed up for campus visit days, the feeling of belonging solidified. I knew MSU was where I was supposed to be, and I would have never discovered that if I wouldn’t have visited the campus.

 My second bit of advice is equally important, if a little more unpleasant. Always apply to more than one school. Always have a backup plan.

Things don’t always work out perfectly. Maybe you thought your application was pure gold, but the admissions people discovered some severe typos, or looked up that time you got busted for toilet papering someone’s house, or checked out your Facebook profile.

If a school decides you aren’t the right fit, don’t freak out. That’s why you have your backup plan. You could go to a community college and improve your grades, or find a different university or program altogether. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. You can make it work, but you sure can’t sit around and be mad that it didn’t go quite right the first time around. Get up and do something about it.

Not everyone is meant to go to college. Not everyone is meant for a certain college – even if their parents or grandparents or other relatives went there. It is your duty to yourself to find where you belong, where you’re happy, because all those other people that are telling you what to do aren’t going to have to live with the consequences. (I’m not saying ignore them completely, but it’s okay to take what they say with a grain of salt.)

I had a backup plan. After I got tired of sprinting to the mailbox every day after school, I started filling out my application to CMU. I didn’t think MSU had downright rejected me, but I knew it was a good idea to keep my options open. Ultimately, I knew either school would be fine, but my heart had begun to bleed green.

So in computer class one day, after I had finished my work, I started logged onto CMU’s website and got to work.

That day, when I got home from school, there was a letter from MSU in the mailbox. I was in.

I know it’s true that I didn’t use my backup plan. No one ever wants to use their backup plan. But they sure don’t want to need a backup plan and not have one.

With a sick enjoyment, I abandoned my CMU application and deleted every email they send reminding me to finish it. (Again, it’s a great school, but not where I belong.)

Lastly (for now), don’t freak out. Things will work out. You just have to keep trying and stay dedicated. Remember why you want to work toward those dreams of yours, and don’t ever stop believing that they can actually happen. It won’t be easy, but so what? You don’t need easy, you only need possible.

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