Undeniably, the biggest decision students have to make as they approach the end of their high school years is where they want to go to college.
Of course, our grades, SAT scores, financial situation and quality of our applications limit our choices. But, chances are, there are still thousands of colleges out there willing to accept us.
To me, this meant the possibilities were endless.
I spent my nights scouring the Internet, looking at college rankings and thinking about what the ideal college would look like to me. I kept an open mind and didn’t limit my choices based on geographical location. Eventually, I ended up choosing Auburn University in Alabama.
Many of my high school classmates, however, didn’t go about their search the same way.
Instead of researching colleges all over the country and choosing schools based on what appealed to them personally, many of my fellow students at the small, private high school I attended did just as expected.
They applied to the local schools in the Boston suburbs that all their friends were applying to, and ended up having college experiences that were not all that different from their high school experiences.
While I don’t doubt that many of my former classmates received fulfilling educations at their chosen schools, I couldn’t be happier that I graduated from a large university 1,200 miles from my home.
Traveling down to a public, Southern campus much bigger than most New England schools, and where I knew a grand total of zero people, was definitely daunting at first.
But I hope sharing my experience convinces readers it’s well worth the risk. Here’s what I’ve learned:
1. Culture shock is only temporary.
When I first arrived on campus, I felt a little out of place.
Even though most people I met were extremely welcoming and super friendly, it was pretty obvious I didn’t share the same culture as many of my Southern classmates.
I had never uttered the word “y’all” before; I preferred my tea sans sugar, and I had never listened to a country music album in its entirety. This new environment felt a bit overwhelming, to say the least.
However, within a few months, I had gotten used to it.
I made close friends from all over the country, including many from the South. I adopted the parts of Southern culture that appealed to me (I even purchased my first pair of cowboy boots.) and let go of those that didn’t. (I can still only recognize about two of the celebrities at the CMA Awards.)
By the end of my four years, I felt completely at home in Auburn, Alabama.
The takeaway from this is we shouldn’t be so quick to assume we won’t fit in. If a Northerner can find her place in Alabama, then most individuals can belong to practically any community if they just give it a chance.
2. Distance from home helps us get to know ourselves.
Yes, one could say boarding at any college helps us get to know ourselves.
Nevertheless, I think the atypically far distance from my hometown and the fact I didn’t know anyone when I first arrived on campus, allowed me to become even more of an individual than I would have otherwise.
Hear me out: When we have virtually no reputation, people have no choice but to judge us based on our character.
Our fellow students can’t form prejudices about us based on who we hung out with in high school, or who our parents are. Instead, we are able to enter each friendship with a blank slate.
We have the freedom to think for ourselves, to be ourselves and to essentially start fresh.
When we’re in an environment like that, it’s extremely easy to establish our individuality and make decisions without being hindered by our past.
A situation that originally seems intimidating ends up empowering us beyond belief.
3. Taking a risk makes us want to take more risks. (That’s a good thing.)
Conscious risk-taking tends to have a domino effect. Once we do something that might have originally scared us and the results are positive, it’s natural for us to want to do more of it.
As we continue to step out of our ordinary routine, we’re able to keep growing as people. We begin to experience things we once thought were only reserved for the rebels or the extraordinary thinkers of society.
We gain the ability to continually prove to ourselves there’s more to life than having a reliable, daily routine.
After I moved to Auburn, I began to recognize other risks as potential rewards.
I took on more leadership roles; I became fully committed to more organizations than I had ever even been in high school, and I developed into a much more social person.
Upon graduating, instead of choosing a “safe” career path, I decided to work toward pursuing my dream of writing and editing in New York City. This was a dream that, just a few years ago, I viewed as too farfetched.
Today, I feel more adaptable, more fearless and more shamelessly myself than I was before college.
I have no doubt my daring decision to travel 1,200 miles away from home is a huge part of what’s made that possible.