Some people apply to 20 colleges. Others apply to five. I applied to one.
A part of applying to colleges that people don’t always talk about is finances. It costs money to even apply to college. Unlike some of my friends, whose parents would pay for them to apply to multiple schools — while also planning to pay their tuition — I had to do it on my own. So, when I decided I wanted to graduate debt-free, I knew I needed either a pretty hefty scholarship or admission to a state school. And, when I decided that I wanted to pursue a journalism degree, my option pool only continued to shrink.
After taking all of my options into account, I was left with one choice. Stony Brook University was close enough for me to commute to and far enough away for me to have a shred of independence. I could afford the tuition, and I would save my pennies to pay for textbooks and supplies. If I could spare the expense to apply to only one school, it had to be Stony Brook.
I thought I was golden, and destined for a quick acceptance. I had done an intensive journalism course on the SBU campus that summer, sleeping in a dorm with no air conditioning, eating mediocre dining hall food, and spending hours in the newsroom. I had an internship at the local paper that summer, too, and a stellar resume a mile long with extracurriculars and awards. I was the poster child for an easy and stress-free college acceptance.
I was already worrying, haunted by the thought of what I’d do if I didn’t get accepted into the only school I applied to.
But then Halloween came and went, with no emails or thick envelopes. I wasn’t feeling very golden anymore. The feeling only continued to grow, and it came to a climax at Thanksgiving dinner.
Seated at a table surrounded by food and the glow of bayberry taper candles, my grandmother again questioned if I had heard anything. While it was an innocent inquiry, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I was already worrying, haunted by the thought of what I’d do if I didn’t get accepted into the only school I applied to. I threw my fork down on the table, audibly huffed, and said, “No one is allowed to ask me anything about college!”
I’m a big communicator (hence the passion for journalism), so not talking about something that was bothering me was super unlike me. My family and friends know when I have a problem, I usually talk it out until I find a solution… and then I’ll probably talk some more. But silence? That was unnerving.
At the same time, people at school started whispering in the hallways that it was bad luck to wear merch from universities they wanted to attend until after getting an acceptance letter. I was anxious enough about the unknown, so I decided not to chance it, and my favorite Stony Brook shirts got left in the dresser until I knew for sure.
Current me will always look down on past me for putting all of my eggs into one basket.
My acceptance came on Jan. 13, 2020. I was sitting on my parent’s couch watching Blue Bloods with my dad when I got the email, and I burst into silent sobs of relief before I could explain to him what I read. Ever the influencer, when my tears dried, I pulled on my Stony Brook sweatshirt and snapped a selfie for my Instagram feed.
While that moment was one of the proudest I’ve experienced, it’s also soaked in regret. I never want to say I regret any of my decisions (I’m a stubborn Capricorn), but the current me will always look down on past me for putting all of my eggs into one basket.
To this day, I wonder what it would’ve been like to study somewhere sunny, like Miami or Los Angeles. Somewhere with a big football culture. Somewhere with a beautiful campus with a frat row.
Sure, I’m graduating without any debt, and I’m proud of that. But I chose my university by default, not because it was what I wanted. I’m graduating with more memories in my hometown than in my college town. I’ve never been to a frat party, I’ve only been to three football games, and I haven’t bar-hopped or hung out on the quad.
I don’t know if there will ever be a day I don’t regret the way I went to college. And by committing three important years to a place in the same county I grew up in, I’ll never know what could’ve been.
My cap and gown got delivered a few weeks ago, and I’m ready to put them on and walk away from this chapter in my life. In the future, I’ll remember this regret as a reminder to say yes to big opportunities that come my way, because the idea of missing out on trying new things is a hell of a lot scarier.