For some, the college application process may have been an exciting, if not nerve-wracking, experience. For others, maybe it was nothing more than a necessary evil. For me, it was slightly more intense.
When I was in 8th grade, I became obsessed with applying to the perfect college. Fueled by a Gilmore Girls obsessed frenzy, I meticulously chose my high school classes with college applications in mind. I challenged myself inside and outside of the classroom and said yes to every opportunity that came my way. Every activity, every competition, every officer position was dutifully recorded in preparation for the perfect college application.
As a queer person living in rural Kansas and suburban Missouri for high school, fantasizing about college was my preferred form of escapism. At one point, I even decorated my bedroom walls with college brochure pamphlets a la Rory Gilmore. Dreaming about college allowed me to picture a world where I could be independent and capable. I romanticized the college experience so much so that I never imagined what would happen if it didn’t work out as planned.
And then it didn’t work out as planned.
Two days before my first semester was slated to begin, I had to withdraw from classes. A combination of familial, financial and personal health concerns made it impossible for college to be on the table. The following semester, I tried again at a local community college and was forced to stop once again for the same reasons. The next fall semester I didn’t even apply.
I felt like I had gone from Season 1 Rory to Season 5 with none of the character development. I started avoiding the friends I graduated with and canceling plans with those who still reached out. I had no desire to answer what I assumed was a pressing question on everyone’s mind: “What happened with college?” School had become such an integral part of my identity that I embarrassingly didn’t know who I was without it.
It wasn’t until I told my therapist about how I was planning on avoiding lunch with some of my fellow high school overachiever friends that I realized how unrealistic I was. I knew I couldn’t keep hiding this part of my life from them, and I couldn’t avoid the conversation topic while they were all making their mark in their respective colleges. I felt like a failure in the eyes of the people who rooted for me the most.
The shame I felt was completely unwarranted, but it was nothing if not persistent. With the help of my therapist, I realized that the only way to feel less shame for my situation was to actively embrace it. I had to view this time off as a gift – one that I could joyously share with those who understood and had no obligation to explain to those who didn’t understand it.
After that conversation, I approached my time off from school differently. I started focusing on the present moment. I started talking more in therapy. I found out I love pulling espresso shots and making people smile. I took myself out on dates and started believing people meant it when they said they wanted to catch up. In time, I found people who couldn’t care less what I did with my life as long as it made me happy.
I won’t bore you by insisting that my three semesters off taught me more about myself than any class could. I think I always knew who I was and what I needed. Taking time off wasn’t glamorous and I certainly don’t have any cool stories about how I spent my time. But, embracing the pause forced me to allow myself the space to honor the person I get to become now that I’m ready to try again. My time off wasn’t something I had any choice over, but if I could choose to do it over again, I like to think I wouldn’t change a thing.
This time, when I decided to apply to college again, everything felt less big. I only applied to one school and I was perfectly fine with the fact that it wasn’t high school Kale Marie’s top choice. I realized that school and my career didn’t have to make or break the rest of my life. This time, I could accept that college wouldn’t happen perfectly.
I just knew I had to make it happen.