On the very first day of high school my principle gathered every new freshman in the fluorescent-lit school auditorium to impart upon us his brilliant words of wisdom and advice for the future. As we sat there in the squeaky metal chairs trying to cover up the fact that we were all completely scared out of our minds, he spoke down at us from his podium, his eyes sweeping over every one of us without truly looking at any of us. “You will fail many, many times,” he remarked, seemingly glowing with excitement as he watched the faces of all 174 freshmen fall, “But we’re here to help. We will help you become successful; we will help you get into a good college.”
Twenty minutes into my high school experience and there it already was. College talk.
The word “college” has been spoken so many times over the past fours years of my life that it’s almost started to sound funny. High school for me, and for so many others, felt only like a stepping stone on the path to ultimate success—ultimate success meaning a college degree, an Ivy league acceptance letter, and a scholarship for your incredible smarts and impeccable ability to bullshit. I, so far, have none of these things, and thus was dubbed a failure by my elitist high school and subsequently myself.
But here’s the thing: I’m not a failure. In choosing UNCA I chose happiness over reputation, passion over prestige, and adventure over familiarity, but I already feel I am a better version of myself for it. I chose UNCA because it spoke to my heart, and I think that’s the most important thing when deciding where to spend four (and maybe more) years of your life.
I suppose I’ve been thinking about the college acceptance process more lately as the academic year at my old high school begins again. My social media feeds seem to be filled with posts about college, and even the pop-up ads beside Youtube videos and guitar tabs advertise SAT prep services and college scholarship sites. It seems the world has college fever, and at this time last year, as a senior in high school caught right in the middle of it, all I really wanted was for it all to go away.
I guess there was one thing I wished I’d focused on when applying to college, and that is simply listening to my heart over my ever-pounding head. So many people tried to tell me what it was I wanted, who it was I wanted to be, and how I was to get there, and for so long I let those thoughts consume me, lead me in a direction that wasn’t at all who I was. I was overwhelmed and anxious, and quite frankly scared out of my mind about making the wrong choice of college. If I’d really stepped back to look at it though, I think I would have known UNCA was my home from the start, simply because it was the only place that welcomed me exactly as I was.
So to all those out there who are on the verge of applying to college, to all those who know their life is at their fingertips but are unsure of how to approach it, take a deep breath. The jump into the big, real world is terrifying, but what makes it easier is to trust yourself, to believe that your passions and your interests and your heart will lead you in the right direction. If your heart is telling you to apply to Harvard and become the next Elle Woods then jump into it with everything you’ve got, but if you’d rather move to a big city and pursue a career in art, now is your time to do it. If you feel completely and entirely lost as to what you hope to do there’s no fault in that, and if college simply isn’t for you right now, or even ever, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with taking on the world without a college degree under your belt.
Above all though: you’re going to be ok. I believe with my whole heart that everything happens for a reason, and college is no different. If at the end of it, you don’t end up doing what you initially planned, there is a beauty in that unexpected, and I can’t help but believe that there is something grand to be discovered within this new path. Be proud of your passions and find a place that loves you for them, and the rest of the world is yours for the taking.