The College Search: The Ups, The Downs, and Everything in Between
By: Melissa Bendell
I remember my first college visit. It was exciting and I walked around with my eyes wide open trying to take everything in. But that excitement later turned to fear and some anxiety when I realized that I needed to make what, at the time, was the biggest decision of my life. Before my junior year of high school, the hardest decision I ever had to make was if I should cut my hair by two inches or three! Making difficult and life-changing decisions when you’re seventeen years old is extremely intimidating, so I’m here to offer some advice that I wish I knew during the college search process.
Yes, we all know that the Ivy League schools are associated with prestige and status, but there is more to a college experience than having the name of a university on your diploma. The most important part of higher education is actually receiving an education. It doesn’t matter if that is done at your local community college, at a 60,000-person university, or at a school in between. As long as you work hard toward your goals, you can and will succeed.
When I was applying to colleges, my friends and I would talk about where we were applying, what our SAT/ACT scores were, what the school’s acceptance rate was, and hundreds of other aspects of the college application process. I mentally compared myself to my peers: Did they have higher SAT scores than me? Were they applying to more “prestigious” schools than I was? But I soon realized that comparing myself to them wasn’t helpful. Everyone is different and is looking for different things in a school, whether it’s close to home or far away, a large or small student body, a city school or a school with a campus. What is perfect for your best friend might not be right for you and it’s important to keep in mind what will help you succeed, not what will make you look better to your peers.
One of the most exciting things about college is the ability to choose what you want to study and for the first time, really make your own decisions. You can be in 10 clubs, join Greek life, study abroad — what your college experience looks like is up to you. Take advantage of all of the amazing opportunities your school offers because you’ll regret it if you wait until your senior year to get involved.
For me, college was the first time that I was able to branch out and become a more independent person. However, the more independence I gained, the less I had someone to help keep me accountable. Something I wish I learned before I started college was good time management skills. The work piles up pretty quick and it can be difficult to catch up if you fall behind. I kept a very detailed planner with due dates highlighted and made sure to start papers at least two weeks before they were due so I would have time to review them before I needed to submit them. College grants you more freedom, but it’s important to find the right balance between fun and your priorities at school.
Living in a new city, meeting new people, and not having the support system that I relied on for my whole life was scary when I first went off to college. The amount of work and pressure college students face can be overwhelming, but it’s important to remember that you’re not the only one feeling intimidated or anxious. The great thing about college is that it has resources available to you, including on-campus counseling, tutoring, and office hours where you can speak with your professors after class. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help. Your professors want you to succeed, and if you take the initiative, they will understand how you are feeling and will be more willing to give you an extension or extra help.
Melissa Bendell graduated magna cum laude from American University with a B.A. in Public Relations, Marketing, and Spanish. While in college, she was secretary of her sorority, Phi Mu, and studied abroad in Madrid for a semester. She now works as a Digital Communications Producer at the Religious Action Center of the Union for Reform Judaism in Washington, D.C.