It's the first week of May, which means that if you're a college-bound senior you've chosen your school by now.
Everything may have gone exactly as you hoped, and you’re getting ready to go to your dream school. If so, congratulations! But there’s a really good chance it didn’t work that way, and you’re not going to a dream school. That's very normal; it has a lot more to do with the economics and logistics of admissions than you as a person. If you find an unhappy or unproductive adult and ask them what caused their problems, I guarantee they won’t say “I didn’t get into Stanford and my life has been miserable since that day. I only got a normal college degree, and my life is a waste.” It just doesn’t work that way. You’re going to be fine.
But there's a way to make sure you're going to be better than fine, that you’ll be great. The trick is to remind yourself that whatever it is you were looking for is available where you're going.
When you strip away the names and specifics but instead focus on the qualities that you were looking for, you can almost certainly find those qualities at the school you're going to attend.
Prestige? Wherever you're going, they'll have a Dean's List, honor societies, and awards. Go for it.
Social connections? Unless you accidentally applied to a monastery instead of a university, there will be people who want to do fun things with other people. There will be clubs, there will be friendships, there will be parties. The people you bond with will go on to do interesting things after college, and some of those bonds will extend for years and decades after college.
Career Opportunities? Your school will have some version of a Career Services office. Start going to that office your first semester of college. Look for advice, internships, and opportunities. Go back to that office on a regular basis.
Leadership roles? If the school has more than a handful of people, then they need leaders. There are places for you to sharpen and show off your skills. You've probably heard a quotation from Shakespeare's Twelfth Night: "some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon 'em." If you're upset that you didn't get into your top-choice school, you may be feeling like you definitely weren't born great. But you can still achieve greatness, or maybe be lucky enough to have it thrust upon you. You've got this.
School spirit and community? So maybe you're not going to be cheering on your team with 30,000 or more other fans. But there will still be a team, and they still want your support, and they sell face paint at smaller schools, too.
Personal fulfillment? That happens independent of where you go to school. And 95% of the work is actively done by you, not something you receive from teachers or opportunities. This short-term disappointment may be exactly what your personal fulfillment needs.
A strong program in your major? The majority of college students change their major. And even if you don't, you're still going to be exposed to experts in your field, even if it's not a big-name program.
Maybe you were really hoping to impress people—friends, family, or even strangers—with the prestigious, big-name college you go to, and maybe that’s not going to happen now. Yes, that stings. But now you can focus on impressing them with more important things, like your work ethic and success and leadership.
Now that you've finished the application process, go back and spend a little time on the first steps of the process, this time specifically geared toward your future school. What kind of person are you? In what types of situations do you thrive, and in what types of situations do you want to thrive? What qualities are you looking for in a college? Taking some time on these things will get you focused on the right things, like your personal goals and not just your resume.
To be fair, there are some people who will find that they truly are at the wrong school. They may legitimately not find a way to get what they want where they are. When that happens, it’s almost never because they didn’t end up at a high school high enough on their list. It’s because they end up at a school that shouldn’t have been on their list. They didn’t pay enough attention to their safety schools and applied to a bad-fitting school because they assumed they wouldn’t actually have to go there. Or they felt pressured by family or friends to apply to schools that aren’t actually a good fit. Or they’ve gone through a major personal transformation that shifts what makes a good place for them. Or they took too big a financial risk and realize that they picked the wrong place at the wrong price. But if you put together a good list of schools, then you know you’re at a good place, even if it’s not where you hoped you’d ultimately end up.
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