I was devastated. Just when I was sure everything was going to work out perfectly, my plan fell to pieces.

This weekend I was thrilled. I was finally going to be done with the college application process. After junior year’s academic mess of AP courses, SAT II subject tests and SAT exams, I was ready to channel my hard work into a private school application. I had asked for letters of recommendation, requested scholarships, and completed my personal statement weeks in advance. There was just one last thing to do: apply.

I approached my mom and asked for her credit card to send in my Common Application, a singular form that numerous private schools accept. I knew she wasn’t fond of the idea of me going to an expensive private university, and in Washington no less, so I tried to comfort her by explaining, “If I don’t receive enough financial aid to go to this school, I just won’t go”. It was a mistake. “That school? I told you I didn’t want you to go there! It’s cold there! It’s far away! How do we know it’s safe? We haven’t visited it! We’re not going to be able to visit it!”

I was crushed. I knew, of course, that my parents would disapprove, but I had hoped that in the last four months they might have changed their minds. I was angry at first, but as their concerns echoed in my head, it struck me. How much did I really know about this school?

I went online to find out and concluded that I didn’t know nearly as much as I had thought. As my college search continued, I had grown lazy in my investigations, and had forgotten some key elements. Navigating through college websites was like walking through a maze, and sorting out the ideal qualities was difficult without a master list. What is the weather like? How many students attend? How many acres does the campus sit on? What is the average class size, and are they discussion- or lecture-based? What majors are available, and are there any special programs? How are the dorms and food? Is it safe? Is Greek life important? What kind of transportation is available, and how near is the airport?

Sitting in front of my computer, I stared at the screen and realized I was back at the beginning. My dream school didn’t cover the ideals I had thought it did. While it looked appealing in photos, in pamphlets, and on-screen, messaging current students brought a new point of view that coincided with the image I held in my mind. I desperately searched for any other small, private colleges to apply to, but was faced with a new problem. The admission deadline for private schools I had once considered had already passed, and the deadline of most others were approaching by the end of the week. Simply put, I was stuck.

I am embarrassed to find that I had not done my research well, and even more disappointed to think about why I had done so. The process of searching for the “perfect” school is incredibly time-consuming, stressful, and confusing. I had been so overwhelmed and anxious about the decision that one day, I simply chose a school and never wavered. As difficult as it is to admit, I had conveniently overlooked the importance of doing thorough research.

For this reason I stress the need to start the college search early, to determine and fulfill personal priorities, and to have realistic goals in mind. Choosing the right school may be the first big decision high school students have to face, and it’s important that they make an informed decision with guidance and support. As much as I’d like to believe that whichever school I choose is “the one”, I need to acknowledge my parents’ concerns.

If not for anything else, they hold the credit card.


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