Well, high school seniors, it’s decision season.
Over spring break, my best friend from high school, Liz, and I grabbed breakfast. We were reflecting on our hilarious cluelessness throughout the entire college application process, reminiscing about the hours we spent stalking Naviance scatterplots and attempting to decode the College Board website.
“Did you know that you’re supposed to send additional materials after you’re deferred?” she asked in between bites of omelet. “My roommate is helping her little brother craft his whole second wave of materials. Like, she’s gonna write a letter on his behalf.”
I looked up from my blueberry pancakes—“Seriously?”
My high school lacked college counselors, so Liz and I both kind of fumbled through the process, editing each other essays and putting our heads together to figure out what the SAT IIs were and cheering for each other, befuddled, when one of us managed a good score.
The reason why Liz’s newfound knowledge bothered me so much was because, well, I was ED at a different college.
I was frustrated that there was no one to tell me to send the school new letters of recommendation or a writing portfolio or a fruit basket. I felt like I had been cheated out of a second chance in the admissions cycle, stacked up against other deferred students who had been clued in on this whole deferral secret.
After my immediate resentment subsided, I realized why I was really upset. It wasn’t that I didn’t have a college counselor to serve up a whole second wave strategy; it was that I even wasted so much energy on a school that, in retrospect, was not the right fit for me. Swept up in the glamor of love-at-first-sight-oh-my-god-I-have-to-go-here, I was unable to parse out what I really needed from a college. I tried to commit myself early just to spare myself the agony of multiple heartbreaks months later, in March.
I was completely clueless about the actual college process: how to ace the SATs, what to include in my essay, if extra materials were necessary to send. But I was also completely clueless about what I really wanted—and needed—from a school.
Now knowing everything that I do about what it means to be a college student, I don’t think that 17 year old me ever possibly could have known what she wanted. I don’t think that she knew that she wanted a major with a small program, or that red brick and marble feels inherently homey, or that Greek Life would become such a big part of her college experience, or that she would find comfort and ease on the campus by exploring more of the school than the admissions website could ever display.
These things, these traits of Hopkins that make my time here so enjoyable and so right, were completely invisible at the school I applied to ED. I love Hopkins for the things that I found and cherished once I attended, not the things that I saw as a prospective student in brochures. I don’t know if any 17 year old college applicant can really, accurately predict how well they will fit at a school until they find themselves walking from their dorm to class.
I know that if I had been accepted to the other school ED, I would have found idiosyncrasies to attach to and love. I think that if I had been denied to every school except my last choice, I would’ve been devastated; and I think that I, eventually, would have cultivated a love for it by discovering precious little parts of it. But I know that I didn’t, completely, understand or expect my unabashed love for Hopkins until I was a real student here.
When I was 17, I didn’t think that I was completely clueless. I thought that I knew what I wanted in a school, and I clung to that idea firmly. In retrospect, though, I was totally naïve. I adore Hopkins, even if it wasn’t the picture in 17 year old me’s head at the beginning of the college process. I never could have known that being deferred ED would be the happiest accident of my life, or that Hopkins would pleasantly surprise me out of my post-ED despair.
So, my advice to all you high school seniors refreshing your emails, waiting for that “Congratulations!” subject line, relax. You are probably just as clueless as I was. You will end up at a school that you never thought could make you feel so happy and worth something. Your images of college will become shattered—in the best possible way. And when you, for the first time, walk from your dorm to class, you’ll know that 17 year old you was completely naïve, and completely stupid, and you’ll realize that you never could have expected that things would ever be this crazy and wonderful.