Rachel’s tips on choosing a college

Rachel Chung poses in Northwestern University attire.

Although it sounds cliché, my whole life has been building up to college.

I was only seven years old when I could recite all the Ivies. On road trips, my dad and I would quiz each other on the location of each Ivy.

Growing up with an admittedly toxic and obsessive relationship with college, I dreaded college applications. I mean, it’s natural for the average person to dread it — all the work, decisions and time involved is endless — yet it became such a source of anxiety for me that I couldn’t even think about starting them over the summer.

The last week of March was a fun week for me. I was going on a spring break trip with my sister to San Francisco. I also had most of my college decisions coming out that week.

Without specifically naming all the colleges I applied to, it is fair to say that I was kind of disappointed with some of the decisions I received. However, fast forwarding to now, I am actually happy with my decision. I recovered pretty quickly from my initial disappointment, and I’ve learned some things along the way that I thought I would share.
My first tip is to always expect the worst. This might initially sound like bad advice, and a lot of people might disagree with this. However, I think some pessimism can be healthy for the entire process. It’s okay to be confident in yourself and your application, but it’s a mistake to be overconfident.

Going along with expecting the worst, it’s also important to realize that plans change. I’ve always been very Type A, planning for the next five, 10 and 20 years of my life.

Life, however, isn’t always kind and doesn’t always follow your plan. And the college application, admissions and decision process forced my mind to take a huge shift.

I will not be going to an Ivy League college next year, which was not the way I had planned out my life. I obviously knew that there was a high chance of it not happening, but in my idealistic, perfectly-planned out world, it would happen.

Instead, I will be attending Northwestern University next fall. Northwestern was not very high on my list of colleges I wanted to attend — anyone who is close to me knows that I was planning on going far for college — but I’ve learned to adapt and accept the decision I had to make.

This leads into my next tip on how to actually decide on a college.

I never used to prioritize what a college campus looked like or what the atmosphere was like. In my mind, college was for earning my undergraduate degree, and the prestige and education mattered more to me. This meant that I didn’t visit a lot of the colleges I applied to — unless looking at Google Images counts.

I’m telling you right now, that was dumb of me. Visit the colleges you are interested in! This will help you decide. A lot of people talk about having a “this is right” feeling deep in their gut. I was fortunate enough to have that feeling when I visited Northwestern, but even if you don’t get that instinctive feeling, visiting will help you start feeling excited.

If you cannot afford to visit college, you can apply for travel grants from organizations or take virtual tours. The important thing is getting a general feel for the campus and how everything is laid out.

Next, as I mentioned before, my personality means that I’m all about having plan Bs…and Cs and Ds. Realistically, you might not stick with the major you currently applied for or are planning on studying. It’s smart to have backup majors, or backup interests, in mind. Consider a school’s ranking for these other majors as well. You don’t want to feel stuck mid-sophomore year because what you actually want to study isn’t available or isn’t a reputable major at your school.

My last tip is the one I had most difficulty with: you need to just let go and accept that what happens, happens. You’re never going to be able to control everything in your life, and once you submit your applications, it is out of your control. There isn’t anything you can do now other than look at the choices right in front of you.

And even if the choices in front of you don’t seem that amazing, you need to trust and believe that you are exactly where you are meant to be. This is hard, and it takes a lot of positivity and trust, both things that I do not have a surplus of. But I had to believe that Northwestern was right for me, and you need to believe that whatever school is right for you.

I don’t mean to sound like I’m ragging on Northwestern; it’s clearly an amazing and recognized university. However, for me, it wasn’t the school I’ve been dreaming about for years. And that’s okay.

This whole college application experience has made me a more realistic person; I’m starting to better deal with these so-called “failures” (in my mind anyway) and understand that not everything is going to go my way.
More than that, though, it’s made me a happier person. All my friends can tell you that the first semester of senior year was very, very rough for me. But learning to accept my Northwestern decision and to let go a little has truly benefited me.

So for the freshmen, sophomores and juniors who are starting to think about college, open your minds a little bit. All those fantasies and dreams you’ve built up in your head might be thrown out the window once November or March comes around. But that’s the good thing about dreams: you can always rebuild them.