I Ended Up at My Last Choice School

I am a PROUD freshman at the University of Maryland, College Park. Rewind about a year ago and I could have sworn those words would NEVER come out of my mouth.

I applied to six schools: Tulane University, the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Florida, the University of Arizona, the College of Charleston, and the University of Maryland. That was pretty much my preferential order too. So how the hell is it that I’m sitting in my dorm room in College Park right now and I couldn’t be happier?

You read the saga that was how Tulane was tossed out of the picture (if you didn’t it’s linked here) and some of my other options just did not work out. I vividly remember sitting with friends and saying “I know I need to commit to UMD. I have no better options, but it is just the last place I want to be.” I went to commit begrudgingly. I knew it was the best choice for a lot of reasons, but still, it didn’t sit right with me. That is until I actually committed. When I officially declared that I would be attending UMD something seemed to switch inside of me.

All of the things I despised about the school came into a better light, and I was able to realize its advantages. I idealized all of my other choices for school. I refused to see their imperfections and was simply SET on what I wanted to hear. All the while, I neglected all of the ways Maryland is perfect for me. Something I often say now is that I cannot believe I did not want Maryland from the start.

I ABHORRED that UMD is so close to home. I perceived it as only taking a half-step forward toward adulthood while everyone else out of state was diving in headfirst. What I’ve now realized: it is as far or as close to home as you make it. Yeah, yeah I’m back with my cliches, but it’s true. In College Park, it’s not like I randomly run the risk of bumping into my parents or old teachers. There are just as many new faces and places to explore. Sometimes, I find that I have a slightly better sense of direction on campus, but when it comes to navigating newfound independence, a new workload, and new social relationships, I am just as lost as everyone around me. Also, much to my mom’s dismay, me being nearby allowed me to run home and pick up more clothing that I, obviously, NEED here on campus. God forbid some of my zoom lectures are recorded and I end up in the same shirt for both!

The uncertainty of COVID and the state of the world right now also makes the lack of distance comforting. Of course, these are unusual circumstances, but with what they are, it’s nice knowing home isn’t far. Plus, if I am ever too lazy to do my laundry… hey mom and dad!

Speaking of my mom, she’s a UMD alumnus. I grew up hearing “Go Terps!” and being dragged all around campus when I had dance competitions there. I would have said that I didn’t want to follow in her footsteps, but really I think I was subconsciously scared of living in her shadow. I didn’t tell you this, because I’m a cool kid obviously, but my mom is actually pretty darn cool. Don’t get me wrong we’ve had our fair share of bickering… to this day I will hold my ground that my room is MY space and if I want only a small patch of floor from the door to my bed to show, then that is my decision. However, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized some of the things she actually is good for - kidding, kidding mommy! Honestly though, if UMD contributed to who she is, I am PRIVILEGED to be learning at the same institution.

Another one of my idols who graduated from UMD is the woman I can never talk enough about (clearly… I promise this is voluntary, unplanned promotion): Nikkee Porcaro. Someone as intelligent and articulate as she came out of this university. The woman pursuing her second master’s degree at Harvard who oozes intelligence as she coaches students to perform better academically wasn’t reason enough for me to commit to Maryland on the spot!?

As an in-state student from a VERY successful and gifted school, I felt like Maryland was kind of an “easier” school. I was insanely wrapped up in what I expected my classmates’ perception of the school I chose would be. I worked hard in school. I was no straight-A student, but in the least nerdy way possible, because again I’m a cool kid, I have always loved to learn. In such a close-knit learning environment, there’s a tendency for competitiveness to breed. It can be a little cutthroat. Sometimes, this is the push of motivation to do better, but others, it is really discouraging. You are constantly aware of who is performing better in a class, how hard others are working, who got a better grade, etc. A lot of my peers were able to apply to schools early-decision and were already committed to schools like Tulane, Vanderbilt, Harvard, Lehigh, George Washington University, and more. It’s really easy to wallow in comparison. Did this person really work that much harder? Do that much better?

As a result of these “name-brand” school commitments, in my mind, UMD was a disappointment. Realistically, I have no idea, but some part of me assumed that I could have put in a lot less effort and endured a lot less stress for the same result. But what good would that have done me? I would be less intuitive and well-versed in all of the subjects I have studied. I would be starting college less prepared and less knowledgable. There are a few things I wish I could have screamed at my past self and her mindset.

  • YOU NEVER KNOW THE REASON SOMEONE IS COMMITTING TO A SCHOOL. Hang on, let me say that one more time. YOU DO NOT KNOW WHY SOMEONE IS COMMITTING TO A PARTICULAR SCHOOL! Acceptance rates, grades, essays, test scores, etc. are not the only factors in someone’s college decision. You don’t know what kind of scholarship or financial aid they’ve been offered, you don’t necessarily know all of the unique programs the school hosts, you don’t the weight of a school’s location, sports, or social scene to someone else. Even if they are your best friend, you do not know every single factor. There are so many AMAZING schools. Sure, some have a “better” reputation than others, but you know what? Some do a better job of making specific students happy than others. Stop making assumptions and judging others based on where they choose to go to college. Where someone commits is not always representative of their intelligence, performance in school, or quality as a student and/or person. Again, you WILL be successful and you WILL do great things if you are passionate and work hard. Where you attend college is NOT an end all be all.

  • This is where YOU are going to school. Not Jenny, not Bob, not Carly’s mom! Pardon my French, but no one gets to give a sh*t about where you’re going except YOU. Statements like “I thought she was smarter than that” or “oh… remember to study because that’s a party school!” are stupid. It is SO much easier said than done, but please try to block out this type of comment. Give yourself the same courtesy you should be giving to others. Unless you choose to share, no one knows why you’re going to school somewhere. Truthfully, they’re probably too focused on themselves to even care. And if they’re not, they can take their pointless assumptions elsewhere. Trying to predict what people will say or think about your decision adds a whole layer of stress and torment to an already trying process.

  • While I know you’ve already painted an image in your mind of what your future looks like, as much as it feels like it, your happiness and potential for success are not determined by where you go. I know you see yourself somewhere, and it feels like you can only see yourself happy THERE, but your life and your well-being is more than your location, your course load, and your school’s reputation. You don’t need to go to your highest reach or the “best” school on your list. I don’t think it’s said enough; you’re looking for the schools that make you the happiest. The schools where you can see yourself at and the schools that, for a moment, diminishes your fear of the future and the unknown, and makes you excited by the prospect of your next chapter.

The University of Maryland was the first school I toured. It was a rainy day, I was exhausted, and I did NOT want to go. I begged my mom to reschedule, pleading “I don’t even want to go to school there, there’s no point in touring!” At the end of the tour, I refused to admit to my mom, but I told a few friends: “I didn’t want to like it, but I did.” As much as I hated to say it, I saw myself there. I could envision myself as a college student on campus. I thought that if I liked every school I toured as much as UMD, then I’d never be able to choose where to commit. Kind of full circle huh?

Pictured: the day of my first "official" UMD visit.

I am at a school where I THRIVE socially, academically, and mentally. That is even amidst COVID. I have come to appreciate the slew of familiar faces around campus that initially deterred me. I come from a school where everyone knows EVERYONE. I really wanted to go somewhere where I knew no one? The occasional run-in with someone I know reminds me that no matter what, I have people here. Meeting people and forming friendships is exhausting. You have to start from scratch with someone who doesn’t know your story, Sometimes, you just need a night with someone who gets it, someone who just knows. I have that here.

Academically, I worried that the lesser “prestige” of my university would leave me unmotivated to work hard. I figured the lack of competition amongst my classmates would make me lazy. I’ve found the learning environment here to be quite the opposite. I feel like I’ve been handed a clean slate in school. I feel determined to impress my professors and share all of the knowledge I gained in high school. I do not feel the pressure of knowing my classmates’ grades. I am worried about me and only me, therefore there is no reason for me not to do my best. Who knows if someone else is doing better than me? College is so much more than just school, so classes and grades are not the most prominent topics of conversation. Sometimes friends and I will sit in a room (socially distanced of course!) and study together, but won’t speak a word. Your work and performance are your own. If there’s a class you’re just trying to pass, great! If you’re going for an A, also great! I am taking 19 credits this semester. That’s seven classes. My ex-roommate (we’re all in singles because of COVID) thinks I’m INSANE. Me? I am LOVING it. I am the most productive I’ve been in a while and am fully enjoying everything I’m learning.

Here at Maryland, I may be the happiest I’ve ever been. Everything just seems to fit for me. We have the gorgeous Mckeldin Mall, lucky Testudo the terrapin, amazing professors and researchers, and Chick Fil’ A in our student union. The best part? This is only college WITH COVID. Without… sorry Disney, but I think UMD just might be the happiest place on earth.

xoxo, go Terps!


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