How do you move on?

Recently, I’ve been struggling to come to terms with my college decision. I go to an incredibly competitive high school, and over a quarter of students go to Ivy Leagues and other “T20s” (I strongly dislike the term), with many others going to other very prestigious and well-known schools. I see everyone being so excited about college and posting pictures with merch all over, and I just don’t feel the same way.

Like many others, I experienced some major disappointments with college decisions this year. I know people keep saying that you should get really excited about the school you’re going to, but I just can’t. I feel like I didn’t do enough throughout high school; I realized too late how much is “expected” from high schoolers in order to get into prestigious colleges. I constantly feel like I didn’t do enough, that I should have studied harder and done more extracurriculars.

At the same time, I’m privileged in many ways, so I feel like there’s no reason why I didn’t do these things.

I’m going to Occidental, which is a great school. However, it wasn’t near the top of my list, and I basically applied there as a “likely” (my school uses reach, possible, likely, and safety). I know that prestige and reputation don’t really matter in the long run, but I keep seeing people recommending other, more “prestigious” colleges to those who are making a decision between them and Oxy. I wish I applied to more LACs (I applied to a few of the Claremont Colleges and Carleton), but I was rejected/waitlisted at all of them. Oxy was the only LAC I was actually accepted to, and I received a merit scholarship (which is nice, since I don’t get any need-based aid).

Just a bit of background on my future plans: I’m planning on majoring in something like physics, which Oxy isn’t necessarily known for (they’re good for things like international relations and biology from what I’ve heard). I know that students can take classes at Caltech, which might be nice. I also think I want to go to grad school, but probably just for a Masters. I think that I want to go into climate science.

How can I move on and stop focusing on what I could or should have done? I want to start over and have a great college experience. Any advice?

My niece went to Occidental and loved it. She also went to a competitive high school, private not public.

It is hard to step out of the culture of your school and peers, but from the perspective of most of us, it is very skewed. Once you are at Occidental these feelings will fade.

The emphasis on prestige is really destructive. Life is not a contest. And there is not some sort of hierarchy of quality among people. The idea of T20 encourages this kind of thinking. Ugh.

Some of the top schools are larger and have large lectures with grad TA’s leading discussions and grading. Occidental will probably have professors teaching.

Focus on the positives of Occidental and maybe some of the negatives of the top schools. There are many. Stress level, comparisons with peers and so on.

I hope you can get excited. My niece had a fantastic experience and has a great job doing what she loves. She is very bright and was happy to go. When I first heard she was going there I was impressed- it has a great reputation.

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Hello! First off congrats are on Occidental! Second, I completely understand where you are coming from. I had a similar issue, although I really did try, the school I wanted to go to was just a bit too competitive and I was just under their average which resulted in a deferral, and eventual rejection. It was awful. I cried, I was unhappy. However, I had to come to terms with it, and the best way I did that was by making a plan and moving forward. I still very much liked the school I was rejected from(Ohio State), and I still wanted to attend. Instead of accepting an offer to go far away to a school I didn’t love, I did one year of community college, and ended up with a 3.9 GPA and reapplied and got in. I am very happy to be going, and honestly it was the best for my scenario. I would say to go Occidental, and see if you like it, if you don’t, my advice would be to work really hard, get excellent grades, and keep doing EC’s and apply to some schools your excited about as a transfer!

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I can’t tell you anything that will make you get over it, move on, and immediately feel better. You’re going to wallow in this pity party until you don’t - we’ve all done it about something at some time and this is it for you at this time.

The good news is in August you will move into your dorm and start your new life at college. At that point, I will be very surprised if you held on to this pity party while you were meeting other students, going to class, hanging out on campus, and living your teenaged life.

Have you seen Beauty And The Beast. Like the teapot says, this is “a tale as old as time.” Teens have lamented their college choice, or even just going off to college (or summer camp, or a new high school, etc) as long as those things have existed. And you know what? Teens get over it. And you will too.

You’re wallowing now because you don’t know what tomorrow holds exactly. Once you’re in tomorrow, you’ll likely enjoy it.

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I think the way to get over it is to focus on other, more impactful goals.

For instance, do you feel strongly about climate change?

Then read up on careers that will allow you to make a positive contribution and find ways that Oxy allows you to do that (the opportunity to take classes at CalTech is nice in that it allows you to measure yourself; you’d also realize that classes would be as strenuous at CalTech and peers if you had gotten in to one of those schools). Basically, college isn’t some reward (as high schoolers are wont to think); college is an opportunity to develop in to a better you. The good news is that Oxy will give you as good an environment and opportunities to do so as many higher ranked “more prestigious” schools (actually, possibly a more nurturing environment than some more prestigious research U’s).

It also looks like Oxy has 3-2 relationships with CalTech and Columbia (though the merit scholarship won’t transfer over). So really, your future is in your hands. You can reach any (realistic) goal you have so long as you work hard enough to reach it.

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How do you move on?

Once you get to Oxy and love it and develop new friends, that will help. And my son did a summer camp there - raved about the food.

But mainly, you need to change your attitude in this regard. There’s millions of people out there who went to name your state school - and they’re running companies, living in million dollar homes, and contributing greatly to society. Heck, the president went to Delaware and law school at Syracuse.

Your problem - and this comes from upbringing - is the - I’m better because I went to a high end private school…but in this case it didn’t work out.

If Oxy is your fall back, you probably did not have a good list with reaches, targets, and safeties. You probably had reaches…and then Oxy.

Honestly, that’s an incredible fall back.

You’ll have tons of opportunity there. It’s a wonderful school.

Take advantage, march ahead, and be proud. Whether you are at Chico State, Harvard, or Occidental, you’ll become what you want to become…it’s about you, not about the school you attend.

Oxy will set you up nicely if you take advantage - and if you do, you’ll have lots to brag about - not that it should matter.

It’s all mindset - you have to lose the - I went to a high fallutin school. Therefore I’m better.

You didn’t say that’s what your mindset is - but inevitably that’s what it is.

Congrats on a wonderful opportunity and good luck to you.

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In our little SF Bay Area suburban court the most expensive car (an 100K+ Maserati) has proudly displayed Chico State alumna license plates. Lovely car-loving neighbor that didn’t come from money and has a very successful career in Silicon Valley.

To the OP, I’m hoping that your college experience removes the familial and/or societal blinders you find yourself looking through. If I were in your shoes I would jump at the opportunity to go to Occidental. Do you love learning? If yes, then you’re set for a wonderful college experience. Good luck OP!

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Thank you for your advice!

I just wanted to clarify that I go to a public school, not a private school.

Also, I didn’t mean to come across as saying that I’m “better” than anyone else because of the school I go to, and I’m sorry if it came across as that. It’s more that I just feel like a complete failure when I’m surrounded by tons of exceptional students who have amazing GPAs, have done research alongside professors, have leadership positions in multiple clubs, etc.

Oxy wasn’t truly my “fall back”; I applied because it was a LAC (which I love) and didn’t have an exceptionally low acceptance rate. The more I learn about it, the more I like it. You’re right: I know I’ll have plenty of opportunities there.

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It’s natural to compare to others (especially at your age) but

  1. Run your own race.
  2. Set your own goals.
  3. Make your own mark with your family, in your community, and on the world.
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This response was encouraging. I can tell you are a positive person. I think you will feel better soon. My niece lived off campus at some point and swore she would never leave (she didn’t go far). I hope you have a great experience- and a great summer too.

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Hi there. You are going to feel fine but it may just take a little time.

My outside perspective (international parent who had had two kids apply to US universities) is that the college destination system is incredibly gruelling on young people and it is hard not to see the college acceptance as a judgment on you as a person and something that determines what you get to do in the future. In reality it’s just a not very perfect system to allocate spots in educational institutions that can have the by-product of making people feel bad about themselves. Other countries, even with competitive entry to universities tend to do this differently (Canada and the UK for example have much more straight forward systems).

Now there is nothing you can do about the system you are in - but it may help to know that what you are feeling is natural but should be really temporary as the US has so many great colleges and universities, and you are clearly going to go to one of them- and you will have access to all the learning and life experiences there that will form the foundation of this next part of your life.

So finish high school, enjoy your summer and get ready for this next phase feeling optimistic about the future!

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yellowjello, I did not read your descriptions as a display of superiority, rather, I see you as a thoughtful young person who is temporarily weighed down by self-blame, as events have not transpired as you had hoped.
Some practical steps that I suggest are: familiarizing yourself with the physical surrounding of Occidental College, find out how to get around town by public transportation; plan for some sightseeing of local and nearby attractions; look through their course offerings, pick a major and chart the courses (for fun) for the next four years. In doing so, you will learn much more about Occidental and what it can do for you.
Enjoy the last few days of high school and the post-pandemic summer.

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Time is your friend: the relative importance of what your classmates are doing will drop precipitously, starting the day after graduation, and turning into shadows once you get to your new school.

My physics collegekid also went to a not-known-for science LAC (similar to Oxy). Like you she came from a hyper-competitive secondary school, with a significant chunk of the class going to super-fancy name colleges. Being at the upper end of her class at college was really good for her, and she was able to be a star at her school. She did some exceptionally cool REU’s* (Search Results for REU Sites | NSF - National Science Foundation) and got amazing LoRs.

As a result, the now-gradschoolkid had her pick of grad schools, with offers from all of the top 10 programs she applied to. She is now at one of the fancy name places for grad school- and does not regret a minute of the LAC she went to for UG. She had a fabulous UG experience, took all kinds of interesting classes just because she wanted to, and made good friends that she will keep as she goes forward in life. From a mom’s pov, it was wonderful to watch her grow into herself at her own pace.

  • REU’s are competitive, but a good pathway to get there is to do a (funded) summer research project at Oxy summer after 1st year (Summer Research Program | Occidental College) and apply to REU’s in the Dec-Jan period of 2nd year.
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Well, there was this dude who attended a pretty good prep school, which also sends about 1/4 of their students to elite colleges, and he also ended up in Occidental instead of an Ivy or another college with < 10% acceptance rate. He ended up doing pretty well, as a matter of fact.

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I promise that once you get there you will feel a million times better. You will make new friends and bond with other freshmen very quickly. The first few weeks and months of college are exciting! LACs create deep bonds between students that will last your entire life.

You said you love LACs. So you should be pumped you got into a good one because trust me, there are a lot of crappy ones. Oxy is a wonderful place to be. You will get hands on attention from the professors. Classes will be small. I work in higher education and I can tell you that the professors at Oxy are just as accomplished as they would be at more “so-called” prestigious places. Competition for professor jobs is crazy. In some fields you may have 200-300 people apply for one position, especially at a place like Oxy which happens to be in a major city. What this means is your profs will be the top of the top. You will make connections with them which will open up amazing opportunities.

I guarantee you that 4 months from now you will have forgotten all about feeling down about your choice. Start investigating the course catalog, look for student groups now that you might be joining, fantasize about the classes you might take at Cal-Tech (also an amazing opportunity).

Good luck and reach for your dreams at Oxy! And be proud of yourself that you received a merit scholarship. That is an impressive accomplishment.

PS: Print out all of these responses so when you’re feeling down you can pull them out and read them - there is a lot of wise and uplifting advice.

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I just finished looking at some brief bios of some very impressive kids graduating from a top LAC. One question they were all asked was what they’d do differently if they could do their 4 years again. One girl said “I’d stop being my high school self sooner.” Wow - what great advice!

Oxy is a great school. Throw yourself into the experience to make it what YOU want it to be. It sounds like you would have been excited about it if it weren’t for your peers, so move on! Congratulations!

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Hey YellowJello,
Oxy is a great school, as you know, and well-respected. It’s time to start reading about and focusing on all the campus has to offer. For a small LAC it has a decent sized Physics department and since it isn’t one of the most common or popular majors, that just means you have the opportunity to really stand out! Think big, YJ, because Oxy can launch you into grad school for either a masters or a PhD. Look for ways you want to get involved on campus and starting “owning” your decision (and not focusing on what your peers are doing). You’ll feel better when you start focusing on what’s great about Oxy. You won’t get over it until you choose to. Best -

Disappointment is a fact of life, both with college and in the future. This will not be the last time things do not break your way. All you can do is embrace the next stage of your life. You are going to school in LA, which is a huge positive, and you will have a great experience if you want to. It is up to you.

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