Dream Schools are a Myth

Updated: Jun 13, 2019

Have you ever felt yourself falling in love? It’s called “falling” for a reason. You feel your stomach drop and coil into knots. You can feel that once you’ve begun falling there’s really no turning back. You can’t stop it. You have no control. For some of us, this can be … terrifying.

Sometimes, the person you love will be in your mind every morning when you wake up. And as you groggily open your eyes, you know it's going to be another 24 hours of agony as they make guest appearances in your thoughts all day long and remind you of how close you are to being together… even though you’re not. What makes the situation so painful is that you know you’d have so much potential together if they’d only realize it, too. Why does love have to be so hard? You know you care about them more than anything, that you’d do anything for them, that you’d support them through anything. You can’t offer up any more than your heart. Isn’t that enough?

If you have had or are currently having thoughts like these about someone, you know, at the end of the day, you’re screwed one way or another. I’m sorry my friend, but you’re going to have to confront your destiny. You’re going to have to willingly step up to your own proverbial chopping-block and put your pride on the line, because you’re at the mercy of your lovely executioner who is going to deliver judgement.

In this way, applying to college can be a lot like “making a first move” in love, in that you may have to take a leap of faith and put your heart on the line. Especially when you have a dream school in mind, even when you know it would suck if you don’t get it in, you really need to step up and go for it. It’s a good thing to care, so don’t be risk-averse. You’ve got to give it your all when it comes to putting forth your best effort. You have to actively shoot for your goals and discipline yourself. From what I’ve seen, if you have a college or a group of colleges you really love, it’s best to tap into your passion, be unafraid, and let that drive the power of your essays.

Don’t overthink it. Colleges aren’t lying when they say they want to accept people who are go-getters and passionate about actually being on campus, participating in activities, making their community a better place. If you genuinely want to be at a school and have a picture of what you would do there and why, that’s phenomenal because all you have to do is be truthful in your writing, capture that passion and execute. You shouldn’t try to get fancy and convince your dream school that you’re someone you’re not through your essays. Be open and honest.

So the takeaway here is that if you have a dream school, you have to apply and put forth your absolute best, positive effort to get in. But there’s another side of the coin. If you think about it, just as much as you love a certain dream school, as much as you know how much of a fit you’d be, there are countless schools that you may not have considered applying to that think exactly that same way about you. They think you’re amazing, have awesome potential, and are a cultural fit. They would love to have you!

Shoot for your dream school with all your heart, but try not to be too discouraged if it doesn’t work out. Obviously, not getting into a dream school can be really painful, but you will get over it and move on in time. You just will. At the end of the day you don’t have time to dwell on stuff like that. At the end of the day, no matter what anyone else tells you or what society dictates, where you go to college is not reflective of your capacity to change the world. You need to be open-minded and give yourself the best possible chance of going to a school that embraces you and invests in your development as a person.

When you begin this application process, I urge you to treat all schools you apply to the same way you treat your dream school. Give them all your heart. Make an effort to get to know them all on an individual level and be passionate their unique qualities. “Putting forth your best effort for all applications” may seem like obvious advice, but it truly is necessary. If there’s one thing I want you to learn from this book, it’s that you need to really go for it with all the schools you apply to. If you walk in arrogantly thinking you’re a shoe-in, that you’re “too good for a school,” or that a school is a safety school, you’re going to walk out embarrassed and rejected. There will be someone else who dreams of going to that school and puts in the passion. They’ll get in, you won’t. I’m dead serious.

From a psychological perspective, your goal shouldn’t be to “get into your one top school.” You shouldn’t do that because you can’t really control whether you get in - that decision isn’t up to you. This is a portion of your life where you are encouraged to be greedy. Your goal should be to get into as many schools on your list as possible. Again, just like how it comes to finding the person you love, there are plenty of fish in the sea and you should expect some heartbreak.

Even if you don’t get accepted to your dream school or schools, I can assure you it won’t be all that bad if you get into other great options or even get scholarship money and benefits. You can’t control what colleges think of your applications when they read them, but you can control how much effort and insight you put into applying to each one, and your success rates will reflect that.

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