★ Choosing the Right Fit College


The air is so thick it is almost palpable, with a heady mix of anxiety, uncertainty, and excitement. I am sitting in what I could make out to only be George Washington University’s basketball court, with half of it blocked off to construct some sort of makeshift stage that involves a platform and a large black curtain.

        Realizing that the prospective students and parents would be experiencing two completely different days during the school’s special “Inside GW” event, I was sequestered down to the bottom rows of the bleachers, along with the other hundred-plus potential students. Here I was, eighteen, on the verge of the very time I could only fantasize about since the college narrative of every TV show ever, and yet all I could think of was how uncomfortable I was to merely do a tour (and whatever campus events they wanted us to) without the assurance of a familiar adult by my side. The ultimate adolescent oxymoron.

        I internally grimaced; as per my usual fashion, I had managed to be late to the very beginning of the event, which resulted in me having to squeeze by a row of already-seated teens in the middle of an introductory speech. I hadn’t wanted to fly to DC the night before to get in after eleven, only to have to be prepared to get up for 8am the next morning; instead, I flew into Washington DC a mere three-and-change hours to spare before today’s events began.

        Bad idea.

        As a plump, brown woman regurgitated her standard admissions spiel, I obsessively opened, closed, and opened my schedule guide, trying to discreetly memorize when the student and parent tours would diverge, then quickly forgetting once I closed it, and having to repeat at least several times every ten minutes.

        Yet—despite my apparent neurosis—I was excited! The dean, an admissions employee, and a teacher all took the stage to talk about what GW meant for them. An endearingly-awkward, white-haired history teacher talked about his class, his passion for and study of the intersection of civil rights and public activism, and while I semi-processed his speech through one part of my brain, I daydreamed of the kinds of classes I would take in the other. I imagined the cutting-edge, millennial-typical areas of interest I would pursue, and the lively discussions I would get trapped in after class with my undoubtedly interesting professors. I thought of how I would take what I learned outside of the classroom—to my friends, internships, extracurriculars.

        The idea of a school experience starkly opposite to the one I had been living the past four years, where my studies were specifically aligned with my interests, was both appealing and daunting. What if I didn’t figure out what I was interested in in time? What if it turns out I hate what I thought I was interested in? What if it’s too hard?

        It’s hard to balance the pressure of success in a society of so much superficiality, especially when your interests aren’t the type that may always result in a paycheck. Before I drove myself into a fit of self-doubt, we were shuffled off by colleges to a typical class, where we went to a lecture hall-type classroom with other students that we would see around our college, and introduced to the type of critical thinking environment we would be expected to assimilate into.

        It occurred to me after a couple of girls introduced themselves that I may be so absorbed in my thoughts that I was being anti-social—was it rude to simply pay attention and not talk to my neighbors? Was I expected to be putting on my friendly face already? Did people really make friends at these things? Having had the same two best friends since first and fifth grade, attending the same school for the first two-segments of my life, and then my last for all of my high school career, the concept of making new friends in this unfamiliar environment was equally (if not more) daunting than figuring out what it actually means to “study”. The questions began rapid-fire: did I still remember how to make friends? Was I supposed to talk to people during my classes? Would I get in trouble?

        Worst of all, a few hours worth of sleep caught up with me at the worst moment possible, and I cursed myself for not even being enrolled before I was falling asleep in class. I was really not off to a good start; especially when I was in the front row.

        As the day progressed, more and more interesting was what the tagline of each seminar reflected about our values as a society. Stressed more than anything were the opportunities for professional ascension: internships, VIP run-ins, employment rates post-graduation. During a session with four current students, I was awed by the abundance of put-togetherness they possessed both collectively and individually—these were only four of I-don’t-even-know-how-many students, and yet they alone had enough accolades on their resumes to function in the real world. One of them, with an internship each summer, a job, and having spent six months in Israel, spoke of wanting another internship immediately, and stressed the importance of trying out different professional spheres, such as a non-profit, environmental, political, etc.. Despite the second-hand anxiety hearing them talk about their lives alone gave me, more than anything, they seemed happy. This, to me, seemed a paradox in itself.

        The day ended with ice-cream bribery, music, and information booths. I came in without expectations, and ended with more questions than I had to begin with—most of them not even questions anyone else could answer for me. But I left with a feeling. For a few moments it was hard to discern, as by the end of the day I was so mentally and emotionally exhausted, I probably could not have differentiated my foot from my hand—but a feeling, nonetheless.

        The feeling of excitement. The yearning for that same school pride these kids beamed; the ache for a place uniquely my own, where I had cultivated a niche, family, and home. The anxiety to send in that final deposit already, to write that Facebook status everyone awaited, to figure out where I fit in, and where my trajectory was headed towards.

        I left knowing I wanted college more than anything, and, so began my quest to find mine.