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Dream Schools: Myth or Reality?

The problem with “dream schools” is that we think they have to be something that instantly impresses everyone; something difficult to achieve, something that only “the best people” can have, something that everyone wants.

Paige Sheffield

January 05, 2014

Dream Schools: Myth or Reality?
My obsession with colleges began during my sophomore year of high school. At first, I considered all colleges exotic; I just longed for the future. But as I learned more and more about college rankings, I fell into the information trap. Soon, I found myself buying numerous books about “top” colleges, constantly flipping through them and filling them with sticky notes. I probably had those pages close to memorized. I probably still do. At first, I thought I wanted to go to a small liberal arts school. Then, a few months later, I wanted to go to a prestigious larger school. After I discovered said school, I thought it was the only school I could possibly go to. I thought about it all the time. I just had to go there. I attended every event for prospective students and constantly searched through the website, planning all of the clubs I would join and the classes I would take.

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Flash forward to the beginning of senior year: I go to another event for prospective students. I do not come home in love with the school like all the other times before. Instead, I come home feeling anxious, worried and tense. I can’t see myself fitting in with the people there, but I push past that, marking it off as one bad experience. Another month passes. Admittedly, I still haven’t started that application. I've started all the rest. A lot of people at my school want to go to the same college, and they’re constantly stressed out. They’re constantly talking about what will or will not get them into college. That’s not the kind of environment I would do well in or be happy in; I know that. Before I know it, it’s October. I go to a scholarship competition at a nearby school. I don’t know much about the school prior to attending the competition, but once I’m there, I feel as though the program was possibly made for me. The speaker says words that I feel were directly taken from my mind. Words that I would’ve said.

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As I walk across campus, everyone seems so friendly. I pour my heart out into my competition essay. I leave feeling happy.
For the following months, I start thinking that maybe I simply don’t have a “dream school.” I don’t know if I want to go to any of the schools I applied to. I look through college websites, looking at the details I've already memorized.

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Maybe I should’ve applied at a school in a big city. Maybe I should’ve applied somewhere more prestigious. Maybe I have no idea about anything. I still hear people obsessing about my once coveted “dream school.” I sit in the corner, rolling my eyes and silently converting to the fandom of a different sports team. I realize that what everyone says about “fit” is so true. I am not a fit at that school. I never was. I never could be. I get my scholarship offer from the nearby school and it makes me so happy. I immediately look at all of my opportunities at the school and remind myself of how much I loved it when I visited. I join the student group and talk to other students. I love that school more than the books of top colleges do and I finally realize that doesn't matter. The problem with “dream schools” is that we think they have to be something that instantly impresses everyone; something difficult to achieve, something that only “the best people” can have, something that everyone wants. We think something is only a dream if it has a low acceptance rate. We think our “dream school” is invalid if it’s not on the list of top 20 schools in the country. This is simply not true. Choosing a school is a long process. For me, I feel as though it began during my sophomore year as I searched through all of the “top” colleges, naively trying to find my way. My decision took two years and lots of stress. People kept telling me that it would all work out, and I wouldn't believe them. But after all the time and the worry, it really did all fall into place. The most important thing to consider when choosing a college is you. Push past the rankings and your friends and your classmates; when it’s simply about you, the decision becomes much easier. It becomes something that you can feel; something that you just know. When choosing your dream school, choose your dream school. The school that offers a program that you feel will teach you something, regardless of its supposed ranking. The school that provides you with all of the resources necessary for your success. The school that has a student body you can see yourself amongst. The school that caters to your interests and will challenge you and inspire you. The school that you will thrive in. Maybe that school will be in the books of top colleges. Maybe it won’t. It doesn't matter. The rankings don’t have to dictate your dreams; your dream school may not be on someone else’s list, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't be on yours.

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