Learning how to pave your own path

A senior reflects on her experience of going against her family’s college tradition

An image of Jane in her IU cheerleading outfit.I was only 6 weeks old when my parents took me on my first visit to Indiana University. For the next 17 years, my family made sure we went to visit at least once a year. Loving IU became a part of my personality. My wardrobe consisted of solely IU shirts, I cheered on every Hoosier team, and always managed to weave some story of a time I visited campus into conversations.

The last time I visited Indiana was in December of this year. Even with the gray skies and rain falling, it was still so beautiful.

I was visiting for the weekend to do a tour of the media school. I thought it would be like any ordinary visit to Bloomington, but this one felt different. This was the first time I had visited Indiana questioning if it would be my future home.

When it came time to decide on a college, I felt so torn. I knew that Indiana wasn’t going to be the best option for me, but I was still holding onto it because it was “safe.” Everyone else in my family who went there had a great time, so I thought that would guarantee that I would automatically be happy there, too. I had such high expectations for IU that I realized I would inevitably be let down.

In the end, I committed to University of Illinois. I knew that I would be better off there and it was probably the most responsible choice I’ve made. I had to think practically, put all the 17 years of memories at IU to the side and only think about which school would bring the most long-term happiness and success. I really liked Illinois’ Journalism program, and their student publications made me excited. It was also closer to home, which was an important factor for me.

Making these important decisions can be really difficult, especially when these decisions don’t align with what you always envisioned yourself doing. I wanted to go to Indiana to relive my childhood nostalgia, which is not a valid way to make an important decision.

Choosing Illinois was difficult for me; it was my first major decision I had to make entirely on my own. Indiana was so engraved in all my family’s traditions, and I wanted to find a college I would love as much as my parents and aunts and uncles loved Indiana. But I learned that I could find that with any college I chose.

I faced a lot of pressure from my friends to go to Indiana, and I don’t blame them for that. For the past 10 years or so, they’ve watched me fall in love with Indiana. When I ended up committing to a different college, I was too scared to even tell my best friend, thinking that she wouldn’t agree with my choice. Obviously, I was incorrect, because I realized that my friends are going to be happy for me no matter where I go, just as I am for them.

That’s something important I’ve learned through this process; when making important decisions, you shouldn’t be so caught up with pleasing others. I thought my family would be upset or confused about why I wasn’t going to Indiana, but I was wrong. I learned that your loved ones will support what you decide, so you should never let that get in the way of doing what’s right for you and only you.

Even though I’m going to a different college, I know my most recent trip to Indiana won’t be my last. Indiana University is and will always be important to me, but it’s time for me to leave that part of me behind and create my own path. If I could go back and talk to my 5-year-old self, I would tell her that yes, you are allowed to love Indiana; however, creating such high expectations and planning out your whole future is a dangerous thing to do, since it almost held me back from other opportunities.

For anyone going through a similar experience, my advice is to ignore any pre-existing expectations of your future you have created. It is vital that you approach any college, opportunity or experience with an open mind.

During my whole college decision process, I let my bias toward Indiana get in the way of seeing what other colleges had to offer. I had such a negative attitude toward any other school, and I wish I could go back and try to be more open-minded. On college tours, I was so obsessed with picking out the flaws of the schools, and I would ignore the opportunities they had to offer.

To all the freshmen, sophomores, and juniors thinking about college, it’s important to be aware of the fact that your future may not go exactly as planned. But that’s OK. Approach your future with an open-mind and learn that you are in control of your own path. Don’t let your expectations get in the way of other opportunities. The cool thing about traditions is that you can always create new ones.