By Hallie Underwood, ’20

Think about a kid in a candy store. Think about how a dog happily wags its tail when its owner gets home from school. Think about the feeling in your stomach when you’re ticking up the first hill of a roller coaster. Think about the excitement you have knowing the next three loop-de-loops will spike your adrenaline. That’s how I feel about my dream school.

I hear talk about dream schools in the hallways and sleepover discussions with friends. People leaning against lockers, conversing about their visit to their own personal candy store. Every day, there’s a student in my class sporting a sweatshirt with a college’s logo printed on the front, and typically when asked about it, they admit they’d love to attend.

Over and over again, my best friends and I have snuggled up in pajamas and talked about our college plans for hours. Often, we’ll all sound the same: “Ughhhhhh. I’d love to go to (insert our perfect university here). It’s perfect. Their programs are so good for what I’m interested in. Their student life is right up my alley. It’s just the right distance from home. It’s so hard to get into, though, so I don’t want to get my hopes up.”

Graphic by Sophia Shen

The idea is ever present in the UAHS student body, and I am no exception. I’ve read on the Upper Arlington website that 88 percent of students are accepted into their desired university. Frankly, that statistic looked me straight in the eyes and said: “Hallie, dream big.” So I have been. And let me tell you how daunting it is.

I have watched nearly every college video on YouTube. Not because my life is ridiculously college driven—all of what I spend my time on is for my own happiness and for others’ well-being. I click through university dorm tours and college day-in-my-lives mainly because it is a glimpse into a foreboding choice within me. It’s a world of freedom that is only a year away.

I can’t remember when I completely fell in love with my dream school, but it seems like it’s been forever. I’ve had “flings” with other schools, but there is one in particular where I always see my college self walking on campus.

As college grew closer, I fell into a hole. The idea of going to my dream school and only my dream school was the driving force in my education. I found a college application at the forefront of my mind and thus the forefront of my life. When I started to side with the extracurricular advisors who rambled on about how good this would look on the CommonApp, I’d had enough.

I won’t say my dream school isn’t still my dream school. I won’t say I find it almost beautiful that everything I look for in a college matches up to this place. I won’t say dream schools are terrible things, either, and I won’t say they’re uncommon at all.

I had a long talk with my mom at a Chinese restaurant down the street. We sipped on noodles, shared fortune cookies. University students migrated from the nearby campus, flooding the restaurant with talk about lectures and midterms. My mom and I talked about college, and I confided in her about all the stress I’d been having about not getting in to my dream school.

My mom told me I had lost sight of what really mattered. Not a 4.4 GPA, but a loving relationship with education and learning new things every single day. Not a massive list of meaningless extracurriculars, but activities that had worth in my heart. Not a college application, but worth in myself and who I was becoming, failures and all.

You’ve probably heard, “If a college doesn’t accept you, it just means you aren’t right for the school,” but I understand if you chose to listen to “this will look good on your resumé” instead. I encourage you to listen to the first message more. I encourage you to be aware of how the college application process is affecting your self-worth.

If you have a dream school like I do, realize that what will be will be, and if your dream isn’t exactly the same college on decision day, that’s perfectly fine.