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June 7, 2023

It’s My “Dream College”

By Jayal D.
, 20
, from London, UK

This is a phrase that populated nearly every conversation I had in the last few years of high school. Whether that was with friends, classmates, family, or even acquaintances, the imminence of university, and with it, the possibility of being accepted into one’s dream university – a concept we have been conditioned to idealize, pedestalize, and immortalize – always hovered over my general consciousness.

When I was in the throes of researching universities, I had one goal: to find the one that I would pursue, come what may. And I thought I found it. I fell in love with this university. I would daydream of life on campus and scour the modules I would study. I was so deep into it that my life there seemed entirely tangible.

That very fantasy made the rejection that much more painful. And, more so, incomprehensible. I couldn’t understand it. If this was my dream university, and if it, like society had conditioned me to think, fit me in a way that was innate, destined, in a way that would grant me the ultimate, tailored university experience, was I going to drudge aimlessly in an incompatible atmosphere for the next four years?

After two days of moping in these thoughts, I started reaching out to older friends, who had gone through the miasmic university application process years ago. They spoke of their rejections, but always with a visible calm, a composed happiness about where they were now. These conversations revealed that my jarring experience, of being ejected from my “dream” destination, was a universally felt one. And it was misleading me greatly. Granted, the pain was real. It had been a lot of hard work, and it was difficult to see that I had not been the right candidate for that university. But that was my cue. If the university didn’t see me as an appropriate candidate, then it was helpful. It didn’t reflect on my intelligence or accolades, it just meant I would be happier elsewhere.

Society has imposed a definition of what college applications denote: that the smartest, hardest-working people succeed. Floods of college reaction videos reinforce this notion. But the truth of it is that it is impossible to stamp such binaries of good and bad on students – all of whom are multi-faceted, complex and in the process of discovering who they are. Every year, thousands of students who fill the criteria of a societal definition of the perfect candidate are turned away from their dream destinations, the key is to see it for the web of growth that it is.

In my experience, I realized that my tunnel vision for my one dream university had meant I had not dedicated the same attention to envisioning myself at other universities I had applied to. I started reading, reaching out to current students, and soon, I was as excited as I had been – except I was filled with a general, all-around excitement. It did not adhere to one university, it was constantly evolving in my mind’s eye, but it was always exciting for that very reason. Naturally, as human beings, we make plans. We resist uncertainty – and it can be frightening. But we’re also adaptable beings, we contain variances, and these can be expressed differently, in infinite ways, in different environments. Essentially, the capacity for exploration and discovery is everywhere. Institutions and mascots may vary. But finding your stride is inevitable.

Universities have various niches, but they are all similar in their desire to see students grow and flourish. Student societies typify the experience, and these inevitably bring a sense of community wherever you go. Creative, academic, athletic, and leadership opportunities vary but are encouraged by each institution in an equal capacity. And who knows…there might be a dormant academic passion right around the corner. For me, I had been determined to become a clinical psychologist, and studying psychology full-time for three years was the critical portal into the life I had imagined for myself. I had to recalibrate once my plan was disrupted. Now, in what feels like an academic four-course meal, studying liberal arts has finally let me humour my frenzied excitement for an unending list of things. I’m now contemplating between architecture and industrial psychology. There was also a point where I wanted to direct films. The list goes on. As it seems, change is endless. I know a period of change is imminent once more, but this time I know not to craft the next few years too determinedly. It’s uncertain. And that’s exciting.

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