Finding the "Right" College

When I was in high school, my parents regularly emphasized the importance of getting into a respectable university. “Your alma mater will follow you for the rest of your life, so you have to think wisely!” they’d say. 

They were more lenient than the stereotypical Asian parent in many aspects, but the high-pressure nature of college applications led them to make sure I understood that there were two rules I had to follow: 

  1. The universities that I applied to had to be within the top 50 list of global and/or American university rankings. 
  2. The universities that I applied to had to be ones that they recognized.

Although these requirements seemed reasonable and well-meaning at first, I soon came to understand that they had created limitations that affected my final decision. By the time I had all my acceptance letters in front of me, it was too late for regrets and what-ifs — I had no choice but to choose the best (i.e. highest ranking) option. 

Photo by Spencer Russell

For what it’s worth, the university I enrolled in was a fairly prestigious one. The people around me seemed satisfied, so I tried to, for the most part, keep up the pretense that I was excited for my first semester as a college student. I was deeply dissatisfied with how things had turned out, but what could I do? My flight tickets were booked, I was registered for classes, and my new roommate had even added me on Facebook. The unfortunate blend of my negative feelings (bitterness about being rejected from my dream school, anger at being “forced” to go to a school I had no interest in, etc.) made it hard for me to want to socialize, and I ended up crying alone in my room on the weekends; of course, none of this was good for my mental health. While I was well aware that I was the one making myself miserable, I still couldn’t help but feel upset. Everyone but me seemed to be loving their freshman year. 

It was during one of these self-pity sessions that I discovered that there were a number of English-based undergraduate programs in Tokyo. After hours of phone call discussions with my parents (who were surprised at my sudden suggestion), multiple visits to the local post office, and weeks of agonizing over my future, I received a thick envelope from Waseda in the late fall...congratulating me on my acceptance to their School of International Liberal Studies! I was amazed by the amount of pride I felt before realizing that my genuine desire to study at Waseda is what made the moment so exciting. In comparison, the university I had been reluctantly attending hadn’t been nearly as interesting because, well, it hadn’t been up to me!

Photo by Dan Dimmock

Choosing the “right” college is a challenge because of the many factors that you have to consider. What may have looked like the “right” college through pamphlets and videos can end up being very different in real life; in the same vein, the school you were planning on transferring out of might reveal some unexpected charms that convince you to stay. I’m lucky because Waseda has granted me the opportunity to experience the college life that I hoped for, all while learning in an unfamiliar setting. Remember that the one studying is you — your goals and happiness are what matter most, so make the decision that is “right” for you, and you’ll be guaranteed to have a memorable college life!