Special specifics

For seniors still debating which college’s offer of admission to accept, here’s something that might make it easier. Four years from now, when you’re approaching your graduation and considering your college experience in retrospect, the most impactful, positive parts of the journey will likely be those that you could have never envisioned ahead of time.

Yes, you might already know that you’re drawn to football games, or small classes, or a particular geographic region. But you haven’t yet created the specifics around those experiences. You haven’t formed those specific Game Day memories with your college friends. You haven’t participated in that small class with the professor who will introduce you to a new intellectual interest you won’t want to put back down after the final exam. You haven’t taken advantage of all the big city or the open country or the place that’s nothing like home will have to offer. Those specifics are where the impact and the memories will be made.

Even with the experiences you can’t begin to imagine today, it will be the specifics that make them special. The major you found by accident after enrolling in a class on a recommendation from your advisor. The new friend who later stood at your wedding. The impromptu road trip you took with your roommate and still recall fondly years later. Some experiences can be forecasted with generality ahead of time. Others will be pleasant surprises. But what makes them special will be the specifics. And those specifics haven’t presented themselves yet.

Like most big life decisions, choosing a college is always a leap of faith. The size of the leap can vary from student to student, but the truth is that while you should be thoughtful and deliberate when making the decision where to attend college, you can’t possibly know all the forthcoming details (good or bad) that will add up to create what the experience will ultimately be. You do your research, talk to your family and to other people you trust, and listen to your gut—then it’s time to leap.

The beauty of the forthcoming specifics is that while you can’t see them ahead of time, you have enormous influence over the quality and quantity that present themselves in college. You find those experiences by searching for them, by committing to subjects and activities that matter to you, by eagerly exposing yourself to new ideas and people and interests. As busy as you may have been in high school, much of your life in and out of the classroom was decided for you, with required classes, fixed schedules, and often limited influence over your time or task. That’s all going to change when you get to college. “What did you do today?” is a high school question. “What did you decide to do today?” is the college version.

So if you’re feeling uncertain, if all the thinking and comparing and talking doesn’t seem to have brought you closer to an obvious selection, don’t worry. Yes, you’ll need to make that choice by May 1. But as long as you’re not being rash, you’ll have the opportunity to chase and to discover those special specifics at whichever college you choose.