If you had asked me as a freshman in high school what college I wanted to go to, I probably would have told you I wanted to go to the University of Alabama. Why? I honestly had no idea. I just knew that it was a larger state school and that it was considered to be a great college to go to while still paying in-state tuition. I also grew up with a family who loved Alabama football, despite never having attended any university at all, so my allegiance seemed as logical as theirs.

Now I’m a proud USA Jaguar, and I can’t tell you how glad I am that I changed my mind. I’m not saying Alabama isn’t a great university, but it just wasn’t the one for me. What I can tell you is that I was made to feel very ashamed for picking the university I did, and I want every student who is choosing a college right now to realize: you should never let anyone shame you for your college decision.

So why was I made to feel guilty for choosing USA? I grew up here in a Mobile, Alabama and I never really felt positive or negative about living here, because I had nothing to compare it to. I did know that people talked about college as a way to go on an adventure, visit and live in new places, and branch out from what I had always known. I had also experienced something amazing here in Mobile in high school by being chosen among many other applicants to attend the Alabama School of Math and Science. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a boarding school for students who excel academically, and it houses and educates students in grades 10 through 12 who are looking for a unique educational opportunity that provides them with the opportunity to learn responsibility and independence. It was honestly the best thing that ever happened to me.

Most students from ASMS took advantage of the educational opportunity it affords and applied to colleges near and far, most of which were considered to be academically advanced and well-known. It was especially expected of me, a Mobile native, to branch out and go somewhere my local high schools had not elevated me to the level of applying to. Ivy Leagues? Apply! They have great financial aid and you can take out loans! Schools in other states? Don’t worry about out-of-state tuition! You’ll get tons of scholarships! The one thing that no one ever seemed to advise me to do was to find the school that was right for me. Regardless of name recognition, location, or prestige, I wanted to find somewhere I would be comfortable, where I could pursue what I was interested in and advance as a result of that pursuit, and a place I truly felt like I was at home.

When the time came for my high school’s signing day, I had only applied to two colleges. I had toured them both and felt like I could make them my home, and if application costs had not been so prohibitive I may have applied some other places, but these two would always have been my top picks. One was my tried and true answer to where I wanted to go to college, The University of Alabama. Right here in my home state but not in my hometown, it seemed that it was the choice many others in my class were making, and it had a wide variety of majors, but it still seemed like something wasn’t quite right about the fit. I had also applied to USA, which most high school seniors from Mobile do, and although I wasn’t sure if it was the right place for me when I applied, the more I learned the more I fell in love with this college that was right here in my home town.

If I had only considered my three options from the perspective of the advantages it gave me, maybe I would have chosen another college. But when it came down to it, and I considered it from the standpoint of where I would call home for four years, I knew where I wanted to be. From that point on I heard so many reasons why I shouldn’t have chosen South.

“You’re going to stay in Mobile? Why didn’t you choose somewhere else and get out of here? Isn’t that what college is for?”

“Why didn’t you go to Alabama? They gave you a great scholarship and they have your major there!”

“I’ve heard that job applicants who went to USA have a hard time finding jobs because no one recognizes South Alabama’s name on their resume.”

“I can’t believe you didn’t apply to more schools! You could have gotten scholarships and gone anywhere you wanted!”

All of those statements were things I heard after choosing USA. Sometimes, I heard a congratulatory comment, but mostly it was statements that sought to question, negate and demean my choice. So I’m here to tell you: don’t listen to those people who only have negative things to say. Only you know what university is right for you.

So how did I benefit, and how can you? After being asked all of those questions and having all those negative statements thrown at me, I did all I could to learn about the benefits, resources, and opportunities South would provide me as a student. From then on every negative comment I received was met with a positive trait South has, with reasons I chose the school, and with my newfound love and pride for what will soon be my Alma Matter. When I look back now, I can’t help but wonder what it would have been like if I listened to them, and I can tell you with 100% certainty I made the right choice. I can’t imagine having spent the last three years at any other institution, and I can’t wait to be an alumnus of the University of South Alabama come May 6th, 2017. Go Jags!