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Stressing About College Is a Waste of Time

College: it’s probably all you’re thinking about. And it’s not your fault. Almost every adult conversation I had from the beginning of my junior year till the end of my senior year was about colleges. Ivy League or NESCAC? Big school or small school? East coast, the South, or California. (Forget the middle…we know there are only cornfields there.)

For two years your present has been about planning your future. So let me tell you something I know now: It’s mostly a waste of time.

Allow me to backtrack before I get a wave of angry emails—college is important. You should probably go. But the college you end up going to is about as significant as your freshman year Sadie’s date. Think back—you got all excited to be set up with this hot senior so you bought an overpriced costume and you styled your hair and you planned out the conversation you were going to have during the five minute walk from your dorm room to the gym and then…you ditched each other.

Maybe that only applies to girls, but you get the idea. We do the same with colleges—we build up this idea of the place we want to go to, put it up on a pedestal, and then try our hardest to get in and fulfill the dream.

But the acceptance letter you all will receive is not the key to a blissful future, but to a door of opportunity. And there are a lot of great doors to choose from. What’ll make you stand out is is what you choose to do after you walk in.

I wanted to go to Yale but I didn’t get it. In fact, I had one of the most horrendous college application experiences possible (Go ask Ms. Lyman if you don’t believe me, I give her full permission to pass along all the gory details). I applied to 21 schools. First piece of advice: do not apply to 21 schools. I got into around four or five.

And for those of you who don’t know me, it’s not because I didn’t give Deerfield my all—I had a 91% GPA, took AP classes, went to Thailand with Round Square, served on the DC, played varsity sports all four years, was in the Acting Tutorial, was a Big Sister…you get it.

But the college admissions [pullquote_right]College is not an idea to fall in love with; it’s a school, a group of people, a vibe, and a mindset.[/pullquote_right] process is ruthless and it tore me down. Nothing makes you feel more worthless than a pile of rejection letters and a call from Ms. Lyman over spring break telling you to apply to schools in the UK because your prospects aren’t looking good. But I got through it, and to the Seniors still waiting for that letter of good news, you will too.

I’m currently a sophomore at the University of Michigan. It’s a big, Midwestern state school with top-notch academics and boundless school pride, Google it sometime.

I’m studying film, I’m a member of the Michigan Student Honor Council, I produce and correspond for a weekly TV news show, I have a part-time job, I spend my Saturdays with over 100,000 fans cheering on the Wolverines, and I’m super happy.

True story. I got rejected by my dream schools and I’m thrilled. Because, like I said, there are a LOT of great doors out there, and because you’re a Deerfield kid a lot of them will open for you. But you have to find the one that opens for you. Confused?

Here’s what I mean: colleges may accept you because you’re smart. Or because you can play lacrosse. Or because you’re one-of-a-kind juggler. But other schools will accept you because fifteen people in your family went there. Or because they have a dorm named after you. Or because your mother dated this guy back in the day whose brother is now the head of admissions. And that school might be number one on U.S. News & World Report.

But it’s not necessarily the school you should go to. When you walk onto a college campus you should feel at home. Not intimidated. Not obliged.

If you choose a college because someone else says you should, you’re doing yourself a grave disservice. You will not thrive in an environment where you were let in as a courtesy. You will find success at a college that accepts the person you really are.

I got lucky because almost every other door had to be slammed into my face before I walked through the right one. But maybe you’ll be smart enough to choose that school on your own. I certainly hope so.

Let me leave you with this last thought: College is not an idea to fall in love with; it’s a school, a group of people, a vibe, and a mindset. And there’s no right one for everyone. Find your door and walk in with your head held high. Your future is yours. Own it.

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