How I Decided on a College

How did I decide where to go to college? Good question- I don’t really know. I mean, I do know, but I don’t know how to tangibly explain it. So I suppose I’ll start from the beginning and hope that a somewhat comprehensible answer will come about.

When I first started looking at colleges, I had no clue how difficult the college journey would be. I thought I wanted a small, liberal arts school in the south. Then, I visited schools like this and realized I wanted the complete opposite. So I visited some bigger schools closer to my home in PA. Those didn’t feel right either. Every time I thought I would hate a school, I loved it, and vice versa. Nothing I thought I knew made sense anymore.

When it finally came time to apply, I picked 10 schools where I could see myself potentially being happy. I had a few safeties, a few reaches, and a few target schools. I applied to certain schools solely because a past teacher or friend of mine had gone there. I applied to others because I thought I could get nice scholarships from them. I didn’t have a dream school by any means, and my selection process for applying was pretty random. I told myself I would wait until all my decisions came out to look deeper into which school I would want to attend.

One night, I was in the middle of a fascinating calculus problem (I say that with lots of sarcasm), when my mom came into my room with an envelope from The College of William and Mary. If I’m being honest, the only reasons I applied there were 1. My cross country coach, who I idolize a little too much, went there, and 2. My SAT tutor said it was an amazing school that she could see me going to. That’s it. I had never looked into their programs for my major, their scholarships, their culture, or anything like that. The college was barely on my radar until I got a likely letter from them that winter night. The letter basically said that unless I managed to really mess up school-wise, I could expect to hear good news when regular decision letters came out. Before I got that letter that night, I had received  acceptances from two other schools, and if I’m being honest, I never felt the burst of excitement that my friends all experienced when they got their acceptance letters. Obviously, I was thankful, but I just didn’t have any “gut feeling” or desire to suddenly commit when I was accepted to these first two schools. However, that likely letter changed everything. Even though it wasn’t a formal acceptance, it made me excited beyond reason. I FaceTimed my friend that night and told her that even though I knew so little about William and Mary, something felt so right about it.

A month later, I was at an accepted students day for another college. This was a school my parents wanted me to go to SO badly, and I wanted to consider it because it was close to home and really good for my major. I don’t know if it was the huge crowds or the fact that everyone seemed to have a roommate already, but I hated that accepted students day more than anything. I wanted to meet up with the girl I was ~roommate flirting~ with, but our schedules wouldn’t match up, and I was so ready to peace out of that campus after a few hours. I completely broke down in one of the bathrooms because everything about that school felt SO wrong. I began to question why I couldn’t just fall in love with it like everyone else on campus did. After my lovely breakdown, my mom and I were sitting inside a cafe on campus, and she casually mentioned to me that she read that according to Princeton Review, William and Mary had the #1 happiest students in the country. That moment was the gut feeling I had been waiting so long to feel. After one of the most unhappy college visits of my life, I felt so damn hopeful in hearing that w&m was full of the happiness I was missing so much in that moment. I wasn’t even accepted yet, and I knew I still might be rejected once decisions came back, but I still felt so at peace.

Once all my decisions started rolling in, I had my fair share of positive and negative answers. I got into schools I didn’t think I had a shot of getting into, and I didn’t get into ones I thought I could easily be accepted to. It was an unexpected set of results, but honestly, none of them mattered to me much except the one. By that last week of March, I had done my research on William and Mary. It is the only school with a major perfect for what I want to do post-grad. It has a lot of diversity but isn’t a school that capitalizes on it solely for their reputation. It’s a school that gives one of the best educations out there but doesn’t make you bitterly compete with fellow students to prove how intelligent you are. It’s a school that has a perfect balance of north and south. It’s a school that is extremely historical, which makes the history nerd in me way too excited. It’s a school that isn’t so big that I’ll feel like I’m drowning, nor so small that I’ll feel totally isolated. It has one of the prettiest campuses I’ve ever seen, and it’s surrounding area is the perfect mix of small town coziness and big town opportunity. I knew all of this before I ever visited it, and by the time I got my official acceptance came in, I was pretty much ready to commit.

The day after I got the acceptance letter, I was getting ready to go to my relative’s birthday dinner when a Facebook notification popped up on my phone. The notification told me I was accepted into the W&M class of 2023 Facebook group. Previously, these Facebook groups gave me so much anxiety. If you haven’t realized yet, I LOVE to write, and I have so much trouble being concise. I wanted to share everything about myself in these groups, but it seems like in every group, people tried so hard to be perfect and likeable that no one was really describing themselves. This all greatly changed once I clicked into the w&m one. Most people in this group chat wrote HUGE paragraphs about themselves, and I was living for it. No one seemed like they were trying to be perfect, and when I joined the groupme later that afternoon, people were just as easy going and nice. It was SO refreshing. When I was driving to this family dinner, I legitimately started tearing up because I was pretty damn sure that I found my school. During that drive, I kept seeing w&m colors on billboards and street signs, and while it was probably just a coincidence, it felt like a sign.

Flash forward to a month later, my parents and I were on a train to Virginia. I had to visit one more school before W&m, but I really really really didn’t want to. I didn’t want to feel the littlest bit of conflict within me if I visited another nice school, but I knew I had to make sure I was acting rationally. When we visited that other school, my heart broke a little. I really liked the school, and for the first time, I realized I rushed into mentally committing to w&m way too fast. I realized there was also another school closer to home that was slightly less expensive that I could also see myself attending, even though it didn’t have my major. I realized that I needed to take a step back first.

The next morning we drove into Williamsburg. I felt sooo much pressure that day. On the car ride over, I kept telling myself that I didn’t need to love w&m, and that I could go wherever I felt most secure. Still though, I really really wanted to love w&m. I think I’m just not meant for accepted students days, because yet again, I felt so immensely overwhelmed with the huge crowds. I’ve never really had social anxiety, but that day, I experienced more than my fair share of it. Also, It was downpouring that day during my tour, so I didn’t get to see much of the campus either. Then, before the social, my shoe completely ripped, rendering me unable to walk unless I went barefoot. My family and I decided to call it quits for the day, and we went back to the hotel. As I jumped back into bed at 2 in the afternoon that day, a huge panic set in within me.

Which school was the right school? I kept making pros and cons lists in my head, but nothing seemed like a clear answer anymore. I fell asleep for 20 minutes, and tried to clear my head before we went into Colonial Williamsburg, the little town that the campus is right next to. As soon as I saw the view of the whole street, my nerves subsided. The street we were on reminded me SO much of home. I loved growing up in my tiny town of Newtown, PA, and seeing the resemblance between my current home and what is now my future home made me so unbelievably happy. We saw some historical re-enactments, bought some food, and took lots of pictures, and then we went back to the campus itself to give it a second glance.

At that point, there were no more crowds, and the sun was finally out again. We passed by an improv group giving a performance outside, and everyone watching and participating in it seemed beyond happy. We talked with a woman whose son is a senior at w&m, and she gave me a lot of good insight into the school. My mom and I took pictures with the different statues, and as we approached the Wren building, I decided to take what is now my “commitment” picture. As we stepped into our Uber that night, I told my mom that this was it. This is the only place I would hate myself for missing out on. This is a place where I have every opportunity to be happy.

The next day, I was completely at peace. We went to Jamestown, and I totally geeked out, but more importantly, the stress of picking a school was no longer prevalent in my mind. I knew it was w&m- for good this time. I was in the happiest mood on the train ride home, and I couldn’t wait to wear all my merch a million times.

My parents loved w&m too, but they were super worried about me being on my own for the first time. They wanted the assurance of knowing that I was only a quick car ride away, but they also knew my heart just wasn’t at any local schools. I tried to take a step back and listen to their and the rest of my family’s advice, but deep down, I knew my mind couldn’t be changed.  After a week of insisting that I was firm in wanting to go to w&m, my parents finally let me commit.

The past few weeks as a future w&m student have been amazing. I found a roommate, and she’s super sweet and easy to talk to. I also have talked to some other really cool people in the class of 2023, and I’m so genuinely excited to meet them.

Here’s the thing, though. I’m super terrified. Yes, William and Mary completely feels like the right choice now, but I know that all these feelings still have a possibility of changing. Who knows, maybe it’ll turn out to be a complete nightmare. I can’t deny that I have doubts, mainly having to do with the school’s cost and how far it is from home. Still though, as of today, I’ve never been more optimistic about anything. I feel such immense relief in knowing that the application and decision process is behind me, and I feel so lucky to have found a school that makes my heart beam.

So in a really big nutshell, that’s why and how I chose William and Mary. It’s the perfect balance of everything I’ve ever wanted, and I hope that this balance ensures I have some of the best moments of my life after I step onto campus in the fall.

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