Why the Dream College Is Not Always the Dream
I started the college search process during my freshman year of high school (due to much encouragement from my parents and the very fact that I love reading about the vast college experience anyway). So by my senior year, I had narrowed down my options to a solid top five. I had spent hours poring over college mail, visits from college representatives, and even touring some. This unique chance I had allowed me to limit my results based on certain characteristics. I knew exactly what I wanted from a school: a big, family community with a strong journalism & political science program and an emphasis on the overall campus life. I knew I wanted to be out of the state where I had lived, be exposed to a lot of clubs available to join and explore, and (of course) have access to high-quality dorms and dining facilities.
Among the top five that I would eventually consider attending, my favorite college was the University of Kentucky, a big public university in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky met all of my qualifications for a college: it was the perfect size (with an undergraduate student body of just under 36,000), the perfect distance from home (six hours—close enough to visit but not too often), and it had a welcoming, friendly atmosphere to match the jaw-dropping gorgeous campus. (Also, a fun fact: the team has a legendary basketball program with 8 national championships) Overall, it was my dream school.
At the bottom of my list was Towson University. Despite being turned off by the size of this absolutely small school (Towson’s undergraduate population alone is nearly 23,000), I kept it on my radar due to the fantastic honors program and fact alot of my high school friends were going. The first time I visited, I was completely underwhelmed by the size of it; the campus was small (by my standards) and the buildings looked dreary and I couldn't imagine myself walking the concrete floors of their classrooms. I finished the tour saying “no way” to ever willingly returning to that institution.
But today, I’m announcing that I'm attending that very school now and I couldn’t be happier with my decision.
I had kept Towson in mind for financial reasons (despite my unfortunate first impression) and returned for another visit during my senior year. On this second trip, I felt the exact opposite of what I felt the first time: I fell head-over-heels in love with Towson. Whether it was the tour guide or the weather or the extra year of experience I had under my belt, or even merely my state of mind, I knew this was the place I wanted to begin my undergraduate education.
The biggest lesson I learned from my college search was that what I expected I would want and what actually made me happy could be two entirely separate things. I thought I’d be happiest at a big school like the University of Kentucky, but it turns out that I’m so in love with Towson that I couldn’t imagine experiencing college any other way. There was a huge difference between my expectations and my reality, and I’m so grateful for that.
Obviously, there are make-or-break aspects that have to be given priority when choosing a college. I know that I wouldn’t have been happy at a school on the other side of the country because I’d prefer to stay a little closer to home. But is it a big deal whether the school has every single quality I desire? It turns out that it didn’t. Most of my preferences and “my second opinions” were more flexible than I realized because what really mattered to me was the atmosphere of the school, and ultimately, what I would make of it.
However, I truly believe I will be happy at any college because the entirety of the college experience is what you make of it. I think it’s more about the mindset of the student going into college than the nitty-gritty specifics of the school itself. When I first started my college search, I applied to twenty-three schools with the intent of finding a school that looked nice and not where I felt like I could be my best self.
Instead of letting myself be intimidated by the cons of Towson, I've made the choice to make the most of it. As a freshman, I can't wait to spend hours exploring and adventuring the city of Towson and nearby Baltimore with my friends. I'm excited to be surrounded by the same group of friends from the past four years and find even more. I’ve grown to appreciate the diversity of my classmates, who come from all corners of the globe. I won't let myself be overwhelmed by the new faces of strangers I see every day because I know that we'll still feel like a community, especially during big events like football games and snowstorms.
I had found my dream college, but I’m hopeful that I'll be even better than I could've been at Kentucky, at Towson. Not because I’m particularly happy (I was devasted at first) to not be at the University of Kentucky—it is an amazing school—but because I am so glad that I ended up here at the Towson University. It wasn’t what I expected, but I've learned over the past six months that; god works in mysterious ways and he has been so good to me that if I could go back, I wouldn’t change a single thing.