I ended up committing to Vassar because of three key reasons:
- I wanted to study Philosophy, and Vassar’s department was noticeably more robust (in terms of the size (sheer number of professors) and diversity of courses offered/professors’ areas of interests) than the other institutions I was deciding between (which were four liberal arts colleges);
- When reflecting on the kind of student and person I wanted to be for the next four years of my life, I realized that I wanted to live in a small, quiet place and be surrounded by nature; and
- Based on a variety of sources, ranging from emails I received from individual Vassar students and the resources I was provided with by each school to help me make my decision, I wanted to be surrounded by the kindness and attentiveness that Vassar embodied (sounds cheesy, I know, but it’s true!).
Before I came to these conclusions, however, there were a few things I did that really helped me shortlist my choices. They were:
1) Talking about it with a lot of different people. By discussing my options with my family, friends, teachers, and counsellors, I was reminded of the different considerations I had to take into account (logistical and financial; extracurricular life; academics; personal well-being), and heard from a wide range of perspectives, which can be really useful for avoiding mental/emotional tunnel vision.
2) Getting opinions from experts. I had a call with Mr. Mike and Khun Gao from Team Ace!, who hold extremely helpful workshops on US college applications, and who both have a wealth of knowledge about what US colleges are like due to connections with college administrators and frequent visits. From them, I gained a lot of valuable insight on the physical feel of being on those campuses (beautiful architecture, modern or more dated buildings, natural surroundings, dorms, etc.), which is important to consider for a place you’re going to live, eat, sleep, have fun, stress out, try new things, ask for help, and discover yourself in for the next few years. I suggest trying to get this information from counsellors who have visited your university or alum you know. (I didn’t get the chance to visit any of my schools prior to applying or after being admitted (and I know many of my friends didn’t either), so I needed to rely on other such sources)
3) Listening to my gut. I know, I know—this is one of the most superficial things people say, but it’s true. The front page of my acceptance pamphlet from Vassar read “It’s your choice now. Finally.” which somehow made me tear up, and I remember feeling wonderfully overwhelmed by the image of autumn trees and the spread of brick buildings on the residential quad. And while I, too, felt joyous from flipping through the brochures and adventuring through Google Street View paths of my other schools, something about Vassar felt a tiny bit more special and a tiny bit more right than all the others.
Now that I’m almost at the end of my first year (eek!), I can confidently say that I made the right choice. I’ve come to realize that Vassar isn’t perfect (no place is, really), but it’s right. No decision is perfect either.
I constantly ask myself how different my life would be if I had ended up in a different city, or maybe even a different dorm, with different hall mates and a different roommate. And I always find myself responding with “I don’t know, I have no clue”—and, well, no one does. There are always going to be an infinite number of possible paths, and the unfortunate truth is that we all must just embark upon one—just one. So though I know it can be frustrating to hear, remember: don’t worry about it too much. Things always fall into place, and whatever path you choose, you have the opportunity to make it as meaningful and as good as you want it to be.
The four LACs I ended up deciding between were very similar in the belonging and exclusivity and specialness they promised on their letters, pamphlets, and websites; in the posts on the Facebook group of admitted students; and in their numbers, geographical details, and size. In the end, the three reasons I listed on the top of my article were enough to bring me to Poughkeepsie. So I think it’s worth thinking deeply about what you want—even if it’s just a rough guess (I didn’t know if I would stop caring about Philosophy halfway through the summer, or come to find a reason to think that Vassar students weren’t as kind and caring as I thought, but hey)—and then make that deposit. Remember how empowering it feels to choose, but let it go when you’re ready (or, well, when it’s May 1st!).