If I think back to a little over a year ago, I can still feel the wave of stress and indecision. One decision. That’s all it took to determine my fate for the next four years. One decision. And I would be ushered into an unfamiliar world in a different corner of the state.
Millions of high school graduates ask themselves the same question as spring rolls around and acceptance letters line Instagram stories, decision day posts stretch across feeds. And for some, the decision is easy. They hold within their hands a mark of approval from their dream school; they suffered through AP classes, overloaded with extracurriculars, found ways to make their resume pop before the essay readers who shuffle through thousands of straight A students a day. For them, the decision day is a moment of relief, and the weight of senior year slides off their shoulders. For others, however, one of the most difficult parts has approached. For the indecisive ones, like myself, the pressure to choose bears down upon us.
Since before I was able to walk, my father dressed me in Florida gator costumes, indoctrinating me into a world of orange and blue, visiting “gator town” to tailgate and explore the campus. He made Gainesville a second home. Since freshman year, it was where I saw myself going. It was what I kept in the back of my mind when adding another AP class to my schedule. It was, for the longest time, my dream school.
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My mother did not push for her alma mater, Florida State. In fact, I didn’t even see the campus until we took an informal tour my junior year. But when I walked on campus, I fell in love with the brick buildings, the atmosphere, the feeling of belonging that I did not expect to come from such a foreign place. And I soon found that I had reason to love their programs too, their English department, the guidance provided for students, and the opportunities to study abroad.
I held onto a guilty wish. Maybe I won’t even get into Florida. Maybe I won’t even have to make that decision. Because I knew that besides the nostalgic element of Florida, it held a sense of prestige. Rated sixth in the nation, the gators boasted, and it is the anthem for a generation of its students who inherit that pride.
But, by the end of February, I held in my hand two acceptance letters and a monumental decision. At this point, people will tell you a variety of generalizations, all attempting to make your decision easier. Go with your gut. Do your research. Go where the money is. I’m going to offer up another method to consider, one that takes all these into account.
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If I fished through my backpack senior year, I would probably discover a wrinkled paper from my notebook with Florida on one side, Florida State on the opposite, a line down each side of the paper. Opposite sides, like a coin toss. But it takes much more mental effort than a coin toss to finally determine your path.
With a pros and cons list, I wrote down anything that came to mind, from scholarships offered to programs to the feeling of being on both campuses. Then, I looked closer and examined what was truly important to me and what was being influenced by outside factors. For example, I wrote the prestige of Florida on the pros list, but when thinking further about it, I found I only cared about that because other people did. In all honesty, FSU had more of the humanities programs that piqued my interest while Florida prided in their sciences.
So, I crossed off prestige. I looked deeper into my decision-making process and imagined myself on both campuses, attending classes and discovering college life. Which one could I truly see myself going to? This is an important question to ask yourself because ultimately, this is your experience and this place has the potential to become a second home for the next few years.
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My decision to attend Florida State required an ordering of priorities, which helps when faced with so many factors. The most important aspects for me were the programs and the attachment to the campus. But that might not be the same for everyone. For example, I chose two in-state schools with in-state tuition, so finances were not a huge consideration. Also, proximity did not factor in because there was only about a half hour difference in driving times.
I do not have a step-by-step process for finding the perfect college (it’s much more complicated than that). And I wouldn’t boil everyone’s experience down to the same considerations. I am simply relaying my experience and a method for figuring that out on your own. For some, the decision could be made with their eyes closed. For others, it requires a keen eye not just for looking around campus and the internet for information but also carefully examining yourself to realize what is most important to you.
The pressure to make the “right decision” often seems insurmountable, especially because we never know how the other path could have played out. But, this is the start of one of many gray areas, and we indecisive people have to stand up in the face of them and make a decision with as much confidence as we can muster. And it might not always be the “right” decision at first (I know people who have transferred after a year, people who have reevaluated), but it is a decision that will bring you forward into a new era of life. And it can release a great weight off your shoulders, like it did for me. As cliché as it sounds, I have found a second home. I just had to take that first step forward.