College. For some unexplainable reason, the deadlines are already beginning to loom dangerously over my head. I only have a certain amount of time to increase my scores, finalize my list, write my essays, submit my applications, all the while keeping up with regular coursework. I’ve written two Common Application essays already, both of which I’m very critical of. I wrote one about a hike my brothers and I took, and the other about music and my relationship with my dad. I can’t help but stress about it, day and night, even when I know I’m doing everything I can.
My dad and I just went on our first set of college tours over Presidents’ Day Weekend. We flew into New York to see Barnard, then drove to Middletown, CT to see Wesleyan, then finally drove to New Haven, CT to see Yale. The trip, while it was supposed to be fun, turned into a very stressful experience.
When we toured Barnard, I immediately loved it. It was an academic oasis in the middle of a bustling city, a calm, communal safe-haven on the Upper West Side. The campus was minuscule, only about a city block in size. The campus residences seemed to be similar to an apartment complex, with a single courtyard in the middle. The day was frigid, and my backpack, holding A Tale of Two Cities in it from the plane ride, made my shoulders ache. I didn’t care. I was excited, a happy-go-lucky spirit racing around Morningside Park, falling in inexorable love with Columbia and Barnard. I could see myself studying on the steps of the library, playing lacrosse in the park, reading constantly. It was all I wanted.
Wesleyan didn’t feel as special to me as Barnard had. I enjoyed the campus, surprised by some of the brutalist architecture and strong athletic presence. I was enticed by the film program and loved the idea of a small liberal arts school with a strong major in film production. However, Wesleyan didn’t feel perfect, which is what I was looking for, perfect. I enjoyed the tour, feeling as I walked that Wesleyan was a wonderful place, just not for me.
Yale, of course, was wonderful. My dad lit up as he showed me around the campus, describing his old haunts in exhaustive detail. We went to Yorkside, a pizza joint he had frequented with his college friends. He figured out ways to show me the residence halls and pointed out all of the places he had slept in the library. Yale was gorgeous, a marvel of academia and beautiful architecture. However, by the end of our weekend, my heart was still set on Barnard.
I was told to not start loving a school until I am admitted. I didn’t understand it then, but now I realize that it was solid advice. As my dad and I drove back from New Haven, I could feel my stomach twisting with the beginnings of an anxiety stomachache. I hate anxiety stomachaches. The more I looked at the schools, the more I thought about how much I had loved them, the more stressed I became. The anxiety peaked in waves of nausea that forced me to put my head between my knees. It should not have been as stressful as it was. I know that I will be happy wherever I end up because I am opportunistic and driven. I know that if I have the motivation, I will be able to succeed. That is what I think juniors like me should keep reminding themselves. Where you go does not define you, and you shouldn’t feel forced to “be the best” all of the time. Where you go is not who you will be.