I remember clicking that little clockwise arrow refresh button every minute like it was my job. I logged into the admissions portal of my dream school hours before the decision would be released. I awaited my fate. Would I be in or out?
To my senior year self, it felt more like life or death. Refresh: "Accepted."
Seeing that glorious, three-syllable word was the start of the ethereal, seemingly mythical “college experience” I had always heard about. Three years and three admission seasons later, I'll be standing over my little sister's shoulder as she clicks that same arrow and awaits her fate.
She's only a junior in high school, but she and all her friends can't stop talking about who will get in where when the college countdown comes to an end. Competitive sister bullsh*t aside, the girl is a rock star. She has more AP classes, service hours and leadership positions on her resume than I can count. As for her GPA, I didn't even know it could go that high.
But come decision day, I know she'll be refreshing with a little less optimism and a little more uncertainty than I had. She's not the only one. According to The Washington Post (and any helicopter mom within earshot), college admission rates have gone from selective to ultra selective.
As universities vie for the title of best in the state, country or world, they leave some well-rounded, highly achieved high school seniors empty-handed. Advisers, SAT tutors and college admission consultants (yes, that is a thing) can all spew their secrets to success for higher education hopefuls. If they were being honest, they would tell you it's a crapshoot.
I pray the odds are in favor of my little sister and every anxious high school student doing everything he or she can do to secure an acceptance. But, what these students don't yet understand is the college they choose at the end of admission season will end up being their dream college. It's an odd lesson to learn because you can't begin to learn it until you're already attending said school.
Whether it will be the school at the top of her “reach” list or the one at the bottom of her “safety” list, the college my sister goes to will end up being the school of her dreams. I know it. No acceptance, deferral or denial can even compete with the memories she'll make during those next four years, wherever they may be.
There comes a point in college students' lives when they know they chose the perfect school for them. And when they have that realization, they wonder how they ever got so lucky to end up at the school of their dreams.
You know that feeling when you didn't know you needed something until you got it? That's what going to college feels like. You didn't know this was the school of your dreams until you realized it made all your dreams come true.
Maybe my little sister will realize she's in the right place when our parents wave goodbye after moving her three suitcases up four flights of stairs. It might be four years later, when she's the one waving goodbye to the best years of her life and saying hello to the post-grad unknown.
Most likely, it will be somewhere in between. She will know the year of stressing over ACTs, SATs and GPAs was worth it because she found a school that the intangible idea of the “dream school” couldn't compete with.
It will be the place where she pulls her first all-nighter at the library, and where she realizes college isn't as easy as she thought. It will be the place where she wakes up with the taste of tequila (and a hint of regret) in her mouth while lying next to her best friend. It will be the place she realizes she'll never be able to un-hook up with that guy.
She'll get lost walking to class, and she'll get nervous asking guys to formal. It will be the place she has her sophomore slump and wonders what the hell she's going to do with her life, and then it will be the place where she lands her perfect internship. And seemingly seconds later, it will be the place where she yells, “To senior spring!” before buying shots for everyone in the bar.
She'll laugh at the fact she even considered going to any other school because this is the place she's developed a somewhat unjustified sense of superiority about the school she now calls home. She'll have her first real relationship and possibly her first real heartbreak. She'll meet her bridesmaids, and they'll be right there to help her pick up the pieces.
Most importantly, she'll start to meet herself. If there's anything that will show her she chose the right university, this is it.
In the midst of sending transcripts and writing essays, it's easy to lose sight of the endgame. Next admission season, I want my sister to know that every denial, deferral or acceptance she receives will just point her to the place she's meant to make her mark on. Whichever school that ends up being is a lucky one.