When you have to choose your safety school

There’s a moment when you step on campus, maybe talk to a student, where you just know. College admissions staff emphasize “fit;” for students, the buzzword is “vibe.” Either way, what I felt was home. I could easily imagine myself living out my next four years, and had already found a community within the school that I connected with. I had lunch with faculty and befriended many incoming students. But that was then, and this is now. Financial hardship and a global pandemic later, the easiest commitment of my life became a stressful burden that I couldn’t bear to put on my family. Ever since saying no to “the one” I’ve been struggling with some serious FOMO. There’s no way we could have made it work with peace of mind and without serious debts to pay, I know this.

Behind door #2 is a nice school, with a beautiful campus. Like most schools the students are kind. My mother was a student there many years ago. It’s affordable, and still allows me the opportunity to go away which is something I greatly desire. However, the “fit” and 'vibe" just haven’t clicked for me, I made the choice because it was what I could do with the options I had, given the recent changes. I really want to give this the best shot I can, but I’m just not sure how to get comfortable. Any advice?

I’m sorry that you’re going through this difficult time. Your disappointment and difficulty in embracing this new path are absolutely understandable. That being said, it sounds like you’ve made exactly the right decision given the financial situation.

It’s great that you already see some of the positive aspects of the school you’ll be attending, and continuing in that vein will absolutely help you to succeed there. I recommend that you follow the same steps with “door #2” as you did with the first school. Connect with fellow students (incoming and returning), professors, and others on campus who share your interests.

You will find many, many stories on these forums of students who were unable to attend their “dream school,” but who absolutely thrived where they landed. I am confident that once you’ve had a chance to work through the feelings of loss and disappointment, and when you begin to embrace the new opportunities ahead of you, you will have one of those success stories to tell! I wish you all the best.

You have written something my daughter could have written. She toured 13 schools, really connected with 2, and ended up making a different choice that was financially best for her and for our family. I have no doubt she will find her place there and will thrive.

She has joined admitted student groups on FB, Snap, and Insta. Several students on those platforms have reached out to her about some of the interests she listed. She is looking into a few groups that they described to her. It gives her something to look forward to during this stressful time.

Best wishes for a rewarding experience for you!

And if it’s any consolation, many students go to their #1 school then it turns out not to be a good fit after all, and/or individual factors (e.g., bad professors in the small major or a cruel roommate) turn things upside down. One very common thread I see, too, is graduates feeling the real pain of paying back student loans (which affect real job and living choices) and regretting that they went somewhere expensive. Never mind senior citizens who are still financially stressed because they wanted to support their kids’ dreams years earlier.

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Just a note that this thread is a year old.

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For most college students, the most important “fit” factor is the financial one.