I was a big believer in the idea that New England is the setting for an idyllic college experience. We see it in Gilmore Girls (my personal favorite television show): tall trees shedding their leaves, hot chocolate in the winter, classes in gothic buildings, and plenty of intellectual students wearing turtlenecks. I used to constantly think about this aesthetic and how good I’d look in a political science lecture, wearing a black turtleneck.
I remember watching Gilmore Girls and immediately identifying with Rory’s desire to go to one of these impressive New England universities. But Rory’s path to Yale University is a little less relatable than, say, Christine’s journey out of Sacramento in Lady Bird. There’s a real sense of yearning in Christine; she’s got a reckless desire to get out and never return. I don’t necessarily think Rory and Christine are comparable characters, but I was definitely more of a Christine when I was applying to colleges.
I applied through QuestBridge, a nonprofit that helps low-income high school students apply to over 40 colleges. When I began filling out applications, I understood QuestBridge’s goal as helping low-income students access seemingly elite colleges across the country, both by helping students afford the application process and the next four years. QuestBridge helped me fulfill my desire of leaving South Florida and traveling to a place with seasons and public transportation (I don’t know how to drive).
Most of my senior year was dominated by my college search. Before Tufts became my favorite—I believe that was in November, when I decided to apply Early Decision II—I had sent in about 20 applications. Tufts stood out in that pile of applications, primarily because it was so committed on engaging its students with interesting classes and new perspectives. But before I got into Tufts and the process was behind me, I had a rough journey of self-doubt and fear to get through. I was so stressed and worried that I wouldn’t get in anywhere—that this process had been for nothing. It’s much easier to look back now and see how foolish that was. I strongly believe in the idea that we end up where we’re meant to be. But that’s post-process wisdom. It wouldn’t have done high school Chris any good.
I found out I got into Tufts while bedridden with a bad flu. I was exhausted—I didn’t sleep much throughout senior year, but that week was particularly bad—and burnt out. Receiving my acceptance to Tufts seemed to suddenly heal me. I was walking and smiling. The stress had been worth it,and I was going to my dream school. I definitely think there was something special about that week (even though it was the worst flu I’ve probably ever had) simply because of how quickly my mood changed. Getting into Tufts helped me recover from not only that flu, but also from my self-doubt and stress.
I’m generalizing here, but I think the college application process is so exhausting because so many students find that it’s never-ending. It’s a constant process of searching, reading, résumé building, writing, rewriting, talking, thinking, interviewing, waiting, and discovering. It’s a whirlwind, but it’s important to take the process a day at a time. And that’s not to make you nervous (I’m being honest, not a Debbie Downer). Like many before you, you’ll complete the process and end up at the school where you’re meant to be. Half of it is destiny and half of it is grit.
I like to acknowledge the difficulties of my journey to Tufts. I was afraid of failure. But I learned to cope by celebrating the small victories: the conversations about move in with my mom, the essays about Harry Potter, the fun virtual tours and student panels, and the excitement of imagining myself at schools like Tufts. And when I got to Tufts, how the journey went didn’t seem to matter; I ended up getting my big New England idyllic college dream at a school that cared about me and my experiences.