We all reach a point in our high school careers in which it is basically mandated that we either consider joining the military, look for a job, or begin the illustrious search for the place we get to call "home" for the next four years. Now for some people, their future place of study is basically determined for them at birth thanks to the help of trust funds and the importance of the "legacy" component of college applications. For others (myself included), it's something we don't really start to consider until our junior/senior year of high school. However, for many, there is that one school that stands out among the rest. Whether it's due to academics, finances, or a reputation of the utmost prestige, many students come to know this idealization as the "Dream School." While many take this as an objective to aspire to achieve, it may actually be doing more harm than good.
NYU: A school marked by the prestige and exclusivity of the city it inhabits. That was my "dream school." It sat in the heart of one of the greatest cities in the world, with Times Square about 20 minutes away and Broadway a little further beyond that. I had settled upon this revelation of the "dream school" the summer before my senior year of high school after having spent a full year in show choir and determining that Broadway was my end game. Considering application season would begin the fall of that year, it was probably a good thing I was finally starting to determine where I wanted to end up. Along with NYU, I applied to other big-name schools such as Vanderbilt, Columbia, and Princeton. I knew in order to stand out I had to keep my grades up, utilize my talents for writing, and ultimately stay true to myself. As much as I'd like this to be a story of triumph, it's more of a cautionary tale.
It's all just a competition.
The climate in terms of college applications has intensified over the past decade or so, with numbers of applicants skyrocketing while acceptance rates plummet. I had noticed this trend when I began my application to apply to NYU as its acceptance rate had gone from 32.1% in 2015-16 to 19% in 2017-18. More and more people were being drawn to these reputable schools for the same reasons I was, and it helped to highlight the fact that I was now engaged in one of the largest competitions for students in the world.
There were so many different variables that were at play when considering applicants, including test scores, community service, intended majors, financial aid, extracurriculars, writing ability, and legacy. Looking back, I should've been much more attentive when considering that last one because when it comes to schools such as the Ivy Leagues, legacy appears to take precedence over everything. This is why people always advise back up schools and, while I did heed this advice, it certainly wasn't effective (Vanderbilt was supposed to be the "backup school" and that's saying something). Ultimately this led to the inevitable: a situation that almost ended my college career before it even started.
Rejected once. Rejected twice. Rejected four times. It appeared that I would not be attending any of the Ivy Leagues even after being interviewed for two of the schools, and my "backup school" Vanderbilt also wouldn't be it. Now it all came down to NYU as it was the last to send out offers of acceptance. I still remember the feeling of reading that email to this day. Waitlisted. To say my blood pressure spiked after that would be an understatement. I was no longer sure where I was going to end up. For all I knew, I wouldn't be going to college in the Fall. And so I began another waiting game that was like walking on a trail of LEGOs—tediously painful. At that point, I knew there were actions that had to be taken, I just didn't know what they were. Never had I felt more defeated, anxious, and emotionally torn up in my life. All of my hard work in high school was really about to go to waste, and there was nothing I could do about it. Well, that was true until my college application disaster evolved into a bit of a fairytale and a knight came along to rescue me...
We always end up where we're supposed to be.I applied to the University of Central Florida the day before its final application deadline. I had found it while searching for schools with reputable musical theatre programs. To say it was a bit of a scramble piecing that application together last minute wouldn't be giving enough credit to the situation. I worked frantically to get everything together as UCF had unknowingly become my last hope. A few weeks later right before graduation, I recall logging into the UCF Portal to view my decision. Congratulations! You have been offered admission to UCF for the Fall 2018 term… In all honesty, my initial reaction was that of shocking confusion as I really didn't know how I was supposed to feel at that point.
This whole college application journey had taken me on an emotional rollercoaster and made me quite indifferent to the acceptance. I now had a place to go, but I still wasn't sure what was to come. In the next few weeks, I was officially rejected from NYU and enrolled at UCF. And it was one of the best decisions I've ever made. The University of Central Florida, while being a place of epic proportions, really became a home for me. It helped me truly establish a life for myself with amazing new friends, supportive instructors, and faculty members, and ultimately a place for my personal brand of "minor disaster." So with this, I don't want to discourage anyone from applying from their dream school but I do want to say this: Your dream school is not the end all be all as life has a funny way of making sure you end up where you belong.