From a young age it was understood that if I wanted a “good” life, I needed a “good” job,” and if I wanted a “good” job, I needed to go to a “good” school. Following the logic was easy, so I never took the opportunity to define “good” for myself.
Unfortunately, I’m not the only person who fell for this conventional thinking. So have many other young people and parents in the United States. As a result, students have done what we could to improve our chances of being admitted to a “good” school. We have gotten involved in extracurricular activities that made us appear “well-rounded” even while we stressed over grades and spent hours writing the “perfect” essay. We allowed “good” to become synonymous with “most selective.”
I am one of the lucky students who won the admissions lottery. I attend one of the most selective colleges in the country. My classes are small, my professors are engaging, and my classmates are impressive. My parents’ car proudly sports the bumper sticker; I wear the sweatshirt. I’m on my way to a “good” life.
I should be happy, but I’m not.
Since my August arrival, I have not been able to shake the feeling that I’m not where I belong. Deeply passionate about the problems facing my Rust Belt home, my current situation absolves me from truly fighting for all the issues I feel most strongly. What I have realized is that my current institution is missing the thing most important to me: abundant opportunities in my chosen field.
After mulling over my discontent alone for some time, I finally reached out to those closest to me, only to hear the same words, over and over: “Everyone’s freshman year is tough. It just takes time.”
So I gave it some time. November came and passed, as did December and January, but my sense of not belonging remained. Remembering the advice, I continued to try to tough it out. I suppressed my feelings until Presidents’ Day weekend, when I shared a teary-eyed breakfast with a dear friend because “I [couldn’t] imagine three more years like this.” By this point, the stress of it all had taken 10 pounds and much of my already fine hair. I was unhealthy. I did not want to continue to let expectations override what I felt was best for me, but I continued to wonder if it was possible for me to have “good life” if I walked away from my “good” school.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that the logic I’d once followed was so twisted. Countless studies have shown that career success is much more contingent on the person and their work experience than anything else, yet we continue to let the admission craze dominate reality. The plethora of stories surrounding nonlinear success go untold so students continue to agonize over admissions. We allow this to overshadow the most important factor in the admission process: the student’s voice.
A year ago I would have scoffed at the idea of leaving my current college, but today I welcome it. I understand now that a “good” school is not the most selective nor the most prestigious. Rather, it is the school where I am offered the opportunity to grow in the areas that matter most to me. I have learned a lot about myself over the past year; I have grown both intellectually and emotionally.
Most importantly, however, I have finally defined what is “good” for me.
Note: Sophia plans to enroll in a state university in the Midwest this fall.