I transferred colleges.
What began as a stereotypical quest for the perfect college–complete with college trips and overnights, pretentious Facebook posts of me touching the lucky part of statues at Harvard and innocent frolicking through the fiery pit of collegeconfidential.com–morphed into daily tears, confusion as to what I wanted to get out of college, a hellish six-month-long medical leave, and at long last, finding my voice and what I truly valued in a college.
Graduating high school, cap in the air, I had no idea what I was in for. In high school, like many students, I followed high school culture and focused on prestige, aiming to nail down an acceptance at a big-name school with international renown.
Talk among high school friends revolved around gossip of which university accepted whom and to which university one “deserved” acceptance. When my acceptance letter from Columbia University came in the mail, given the culture of prestige within which I grew up, only one choice truly existed for me: to go to Columbia. As I clicked the “will attend” button on the online acceptance page, college for me existed solely as a disembodied name, an intangible iCloud of prestige to which I might store future experiences, rather than four years of my life spent at a completely different location, with completely different people and classes.
Thus, when I arrived at Columbia, not having reflected on what I wanted in college and not having taken into account the fact that I hated cities, I fell into a depression. I felt alienated in my lecture classes filled with hundreds of students, missed the green spaces of home, and cried every night in the dormitory stairwells. When I came home on the breaks, adults greeted me at the door with the half-rhetorical, expectant questions: “How’s college? Do you love it?” making me feel disappointed with myself.
The only solution I saw was to try to transfer to another elite school, this time one near home; maybe then I would have a sufficient support system to gut out the next three years. I went through the application process and transferred to Northwestern, near my hometown.
The problem was, I still hadn’t reflected on what I actually valued in undergraduate education. I still focused on going to a prestigious, big-name university and let the name dictate my life choices. The summer after my freshman year of college changed that.
That summer, I went to Middlebury College for an immersive Mandarin program. There, I realized what undergraduate education could look like: close relationships with professors and ease of connection with other students, rural green spaces closing one off to outside distractions, and a much less pre-professional attitude. I realized that I belonged at a liberal arts college, but I had already transferred and would begin at Northwestern in the fall. There was no way I could transfer again.
When I began at Northwestern, I felt even more depressed and disappointed with myself because I felt like I had failed the college process and lost my chance at attending the type of school I actually wanted to attend. I made the decision to take a medical leave to esolve this depression and focus on applying to small liberal arts colleges.
In the dead of Midwest winter, I drove up to Northfield to interview with former Admissions Dean Paul Thiboutot, expecting negative judgment to rain down upon me for not only wanting to transfer again, but also for taking a medical leave for my depression and applying to transfer while not enrolled in courses. Instead, the Dean, although a little surprised, treated my situation with kindness and understanding. “Sometimes we don’t always know what’s best for us,” he said to me.
After the interview, I went traying with some Carleton students, feeling like I would genuinely enjoy spending time here. When an envelope bearing the words “This will make your day” arrived in the mail, I knew what I had to do.
I’m now a sophomore in my third week here at Carleton, and I don’t regret my decision at all. I love the beautiful, small environment, the closeness of the relationships engendered by the LDC language tables, and the fact that there is a house here dedicated to making cookies.
I’m not where I thought I would be senior year of high school, and I made decisions that many have frowned upon; indeed, Carleton students and even faculty, upon hearing where I transferred from, sometimes express dismay or shock that I decided to transfer here.
I took a rather convoluted path in college, and I don’t usually tell others the whole story for fear of judgment, but my journey stands as a lesson: life should not be about doing what others say or what society dictates. Rather, it should be about following the heart and embracing a unique path of human existence. Happiness, as I’ve learned, trumps all.