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I didn’t choose my college, and that’s okay

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As May has come around again, I find myself reliving the panic of this time last year — letters and envelopes, financial aid requests and reevaluations, pro-con lists. This strange quiet. I’ve been obsessively checking the Instagram bios of kids from the graduation year below me, disappointed when their decision is not blatant and in the open for me to see. It’s a fun game, but I’ve realized it’s a toxic one as well. After all, why should we expect everyone to be showcasing their chosen universities to the Internet for anyone with a social media account to see? And why am I so invested in finding out where people have chosen to go, analyzing every angle about what may have convinced them?

I didn’t want to go to Stanford. When I pressed that button, signed myself away, I was devastated. Still, I bought and wore the red sweatshirt, told all of my old teachers and of course, announced it in my Instagram bio. There was this imperative to create the illusion of choice, as though if I admitted that it was just a college instead of a divine appointment, I had failed the system entirely. My excitement was all a front, and each time I uttered the name I was chipping away at myself. I hadn’t chosen my school, and to me, that was a death sentence.

But not every damn kid gets to choose their college.

I got the best financial aid package here. It was close enough to home to quell my parents’ fears about sending their not-even-18-year-old to college. They told me the name would help with stabilizing the unstable career I wanted.

So I didn’t choose Stanford. I didn’t fall in love with the fountains and the sweet Bay Area air and the soaring arches. I didn’t know that I was meant to be here. I didn’t read the mission statement and see myself mirrored in it. And I’m betting that a lot of other kids didn’t either. I committed to Stanford because it was the feasible option, not because I wanted to.

And that’s perfectly okay! I can guarantee I’m not the only one. Because not everyone has the money, the means and the mandate to make this decision that is far too glorified. Not every student has the “this is it” moment, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t grow into their university, and it absolutely does not mean they are now obligated to pretend that they’ve wanted it from the beginning, even if it is a school like this. A school that 45,000 high school seniors wanted but couldn’t have.

So if you’re an admit and you didn’t want to be, know that you don’t have to pretend that you did. Know that the world is not ending, even though this choice wasn’t yours. But also know that just because you didn’t have the idyllic college admissions story doesn’t mean that you can’t possibly enjoy your four (or five) years.

Contact Malia Mendez at mjm2000 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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