I remember being in your shoes and finding out that the truly stressful part of the college admissions process came after the decisions were released. As hard as it may be to see it this way, this time is an incredible opportunity for you to do some soul-searching and understand what is important to you.
You have likely been admitted to some awesome schools, waitlisted at others (maybe even this one), and perhaps received some disappointing news.
For some of you at this point, the decision might be clear. To those people, I applaud your assurance! If you are like me, however, the answer will come only after many days of questioning and discernment. Looking back on that period of uncertainty, I can identify those things that were important to me at the time and others that only became clear in hindsight.
Find Your Community
The first, and likely easiest, thing to focus on is community. When I say community, I am talking about both the community on campus and beyond. Often times, a visit to a university can help you better understand whether the community fits.
Think about the people who are at each prospective university—peers, professors, administration. Is this a community where you can see yourself flourishing? Are the people there going to help you succeed? Are they going to push you and support you to achieve your fullest potential as a student, friend, roommate, and person?
Find Your Passion
Think about the experience at each prospective university—residential life, activities, and class sizes. Are there opportunities that support the path you see yourself taking? If you know your intended field of study, does the university offer that as a major? If you change your mind, are there avenues to help you explore and settle on a new path? Is the environment conducive to your happiness and success?
Think about the opportunities at and beyond the university, like study abroad, internship and full-time job placement, the alumni network. Thinking about job placement might seem far off; however, the network and opportunities after you graduate will quickly become important.
Find a Place That Challenges You
The next and much more challenging piece to discern is room for growth. I challenge you to question how each place will help you become a better version of yourself. It can be as simple as location and academics or as complex as diversity and spirituality. Think about how each will push you out of your comfort zone and then provide the support needed to succeed.
What kind of growth is most important to you and how will you grow your mind, heart, and soul? College is a wonderful and sometimes painful time of immense growth. It’s important to find a place that will grow you in a meaningful and constructive way.
Above all, it is important to find a place that feels like home. Some people will feel this the moment they step on campus. Others will take some time to find this feeling. Remember, this is the next step, not the final step. If you get to a university and find that it is not what you thought it would be, there are always opportunities to transfer. I am a big believer that everything happens for a reason, and you will be where you are meant to be.
In the end, it is often those intangibles that make the decision. For me, I found that feeling of home at Notre Dame. I cannot emphasize enough how special it is to have a place that will forever have a hold on your heart. At the end of my first year, I cried when my parents picked me up to take me back to Florida because I was so sad to leave. While it definitely hurt my mom’s feelings, I knew that she was thankful that I had found the place where I felt I belonged. I love Notre Dame. I believe in its mission. It is the kind of connection I have with my alma mater that I wish for you.
I am confident that there are many places out there where you will thrive. However, try to take this time to truly discern what you want during the next four years. As it is said many times around here, college can be more than just a four-year decision. If you discern carefully, you will find that it will be something that supports you throughout your journey in life.
Mary Katheryn Whittington is an admissions counselor for the following areas: Alabama, Arizona, Florida, and Mississippi.