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If you haven’t told your parents you got into Northwestern, now would be a good time

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This time last year, I still hadn’t told my parents that I had been accepted into Northwestern. Or, for that matter, that I had even applied.

I’m a transfer student, and the college application process looked a little different the second time around. Aside from the general disaster that was applying to college while in college – don’t take your college counselors for granted, kids – was the added pressure of knowing that this time, I needed to get it right.

Although my parents were generally supportive of my transferring, their only restraint was the same one they gave me in high school: I couldn’t apply anywhere that required boarding an airplane to get to (I’m from New York, and there are “plenty of good schools on the East Coast”). After talking on the phone with a good friend from high school who just so happened to attend what she described as “the best school on Earth,” however, I was persuaded to send in an application to Northwestern despite my parents’ rule.

“You can do anything you want here,” she said. “The campus is beautiful when you can actually see it through eyes that aren’t tearing up from the wind,” she said. “It has the perfect balance of fun and academics,” she said.

I still wasn’t sold.

Ever since this same friend’s purple-themed birthday party senior year – a Northwestern-inspired birthday cake, was she kidding me? – I had pegged Northwestern as a school disgustingly obsessed with itself. This probably had something to do with the fact that I still wasn’t into college at the time, and couldn’t have had a college-themed anything if I wanted to, but that didn’t stop me from referring to Northwestern as “the annoying people school.”

My perception of NU – not NW, as I was soon corrected – wasn’t helped when my year-younger high school boyfriend was accepted ED to the *NU* class of 2019. It was at this point that we had to admit to ourselves that Philly – where my old school was located – to Chicago just wasn’t doable. (The irony of us both ending up at Wildcat Welcome 10 months later did not escape us, though the foundation of a relationship it did not make.)

More out of panic about not getting accepted anywhere than ill-fated love for a school I had never seen and knew I probably wouldn’t be allowed to attend, I eventually decided to send in an application…a hot four hours before the deadline.

It took being asked what I would want my ideal college to look like for me to realize that I was essentially describing Northwestern.

Scrolling through Wildcat Connection – a site that I, admittedly, haven’t looked at since – I felt the irrational urge to join, right then and there, the dozen or so organizations I had found that were in some way related to one of my interests. This was a marked contrast to my experience at my own school’s activities fair earlier that year, where I had walked away feeling underwhelmed and out of place.

The fact that there were a whopping 585 organizations listed in the directory was reinforced by friends and friends of friends repeatedly telling me how “involved” NU’s student body is. The personality trait I had labeled as “annoying” was, in another iteration, unrestrained excitement about one’s field of study and extracurricular activities. A quality that I, too, possessed – it sure wouldn’t have been the first time I was called annoying.

When I received my acceptance email, an overwhelming urge to call my parents was channeled into the construction of a PowerPoint detailing the reasons they should let me go. (In hindsight, this was something only a Northwestern student would create.)

Once my parents were able to see past the fact that they were raising the world’s worst daughter, they reluctantly admitted that the school none of us had ever seen actually seemed pretty great. My mom’s tears of second-hand excitement when we finally pulled up to NU’s campus on move-in day were a pretty good indication that she had forgiven me.

Northwestern isn’t perfect – no school is – but these past few quarters have reassured me that what I was experiencing at my last school was more than just social-media-induced FOMO.

What I thought would be true about Northwestern – an overwhelming amount of opportunity, a beautiful campus, shitty weather, and, most notably, students with a limitless, sometimes annoying (but genuine), amount of passion – actually is.

“Maybe I should study [complete opposite of current major] instead…” and Other Pre-Professional Angst

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Declaration of Major.jpgMaybe it was being asked over Christmas dinner what I want to do with my life, anyway.  Or maybe it was talking to friends from home with majors that flow logically into a career path and feeling the need to overcompensate by saying, “I can do anything I want with this!” while actually meaning, “I have no idea what I want to do with this.”  Or maybe it was the regrettable decision to read the Forbes list of majors with the highest starting salaries.  But one way or another, during an interminable car ride – maybe it was my mom randomly bringing up how much I used to like building with Legos? – I found myself momentarily entertaining the idea that, maybe, I should have studied engineering instead of the questionable combination of English and social policy.

This thought was ridiculous, and also slightly alarming, for a few reasons.  First of all, my academic abilities do not exactly span the spectrum from math to science to foreign language to the humanities.  I did have a knack for basic algebra, but once triangles and graphs and logic got involved, well, let’s just say tutoring bills add up.  “But maybe I just wasn’t being taught in the right way?  Maybe that B I got in Physics was just a fluke?” I thought to myself as we drove by a billboard for an online university.  Maybe…but more likely, I’m just not particularly good at math and science.  Which brings me to second of all: the fact that I am blatantly not a math/science person.  Sure, scientific ideas are cool and technology is the future and it’s nice to have a basic understanding of the elements and forces that make up the world I live in, but it was hard to take that perspective after getting back a calc test with a number in the 60s or 70s written in the corner.

And that’s the thing: I have always loved English and Social Studies.  Not to mention the fact that I transferred so that I would be able to study more of the literature and sociology and education that I am truly interested in.  Worth mentioning that I am talking about this dilemma through writing.

The problem is not that I don’t love what I’m studying, but rather the fear that maybe there’s a major out there that I would love more, or that would lead to a happier life.  Call it academic FOMO.  Call it too much opportunity.  Call it crazy.  Call it what you will, but I figured that I couldn’t possibly be the only one who occasionally had these semi-irrational thoughts, so I asked my friends to tell me theirs.

  1. The Not-Quite Pre-Meds.

“When I was at my pediatrician over Thanksgiving, he reminded me of my childhood dream to be a doctor and told me that it wasn’t too late.  The pre-med ghost still haunts me as I suffer through my fourth research paper of the semester.” – Solange, sociology

“I didn’t even cringe that time on Grey’s Anatomy when McDreamy had to pull a piece of glass out of someone’s eyeball.  I could totally be a surgeon.” – Lauren, English

  1. The Freudian Leaper

“I realized in the middle of a voice performance in which I was playing a man that maybe I wanted to study psych instead.” – Megan, voice

  1. The James Patterson Wannabe

“I read books all the time, so like, why aren’t I an author?” Julia, chemistry

  1. The Almost Outdoors Leader

“I realized that I struggle to use public bathrooms, let alone trying to poop in the woods.” – Emma, history

  1. The Aspiring Astronaut

“Whenever I hear about outer space I think to myself “wow I would really love to study that”…but that’s not very practical, so instead I made my dorm room space themed and called it a day” – Sarah, art history

  1. The Just-in-Caser
    “I recently decided that I’m going to take the LSAT as a sort of “backup plan” in case I want to go to law school (since i always used to want to be a lawyer) even though it has 0 to do with my major.” – Jillian, interdisciplinary studies
  1. The Deterred-by-Numbers

“If I was good at math, I would definitely be studying astrophysics.” – Sam, journalism

“I considered switching my major from international security to geology…and then I got a 56 on my earth sciences final.” – Margo, international security

“They pulled up a graph and I walked out of the class.” – Alex, English

“I almost changed my major to Econ until I actually took an econ class and wanted to gouge my eyes out with a fork.” – Abby, political science

  1. And Finally: The Angsty Millennial

“Three or four times a month, I’ll get the urge to drop everything, move to Brooklyn, get a job bussing at a restaurant, share an apartment with four other twenty-somethings, and write poetry.” – Caroline, global ethics

I still have no clue what I’m going to do with my English and social policy majors, and I’ll probably always wonder what it’s like to be studying a subject that seems to guarantee a career.

But hey, I still have time for more car rides with mom to figure out where I’m going.

How to Transfer: The Real Life Fiasco

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  1. Freak out when you’re not happy every minute of every day – If college is supposed to the best four years of your life, then every minute counts, after all.
  2. Spend too much time scrolling through your Facebook newsfeed and wondering why your Thursday night is being spent scrolling through your Facebook newsfeed and eating Nutella out of the jar rather than “turning up.”
  3. Feel intense FOMO as a result of said scrolling through your Facebook newsfeed and said lack of turning up.
  4. Walk on to the varsity fencing team in the hope of channeling your anxiety into something productive – there’s nothing like stabbing people with a steel rod to make you feel more in control.
  5. Come home for Thanksgiving and try not to compare your college experience to that of your friends.
  6. Fail not to compare your college experience to that of your friends.
  7. Worry that what you’re feeling is more than FOMO.
  8. Become obsessed with the idea of spending all of junior year (and maybe also sophomore year, and maybe also senior year) studying abroad.
  9. Realize that you’re more excited about the idea of leaving than you are about the idea of experiencing new cultures and foods and places.
  10. Google “How to transfer”.
  11. Make sure you find a non-satirical guide (hint: this isn’t it).
  12. Try to casually bring up the idea during your weekly call home. Feel unsurprised when your parents tell you to stop being difficult.
  13. Try to casually bring up the idea to your friends. Feel surprised when they’re supportive. (Apparently they just want you to be happy??)
  14. Cry real tears the day you have to make a second CommonApp account.
  15. Forget the password to your College Board account when you go to forward your SAT scores because who knew that was something you’d ever need again.
  16. Have a mental breakdown as you try to figure out how to answer the CommonApp’s “Why do you want to transfer?” essay without coming across as entitled and unappreciative for wanting to transfer schools when most of the planet doesn’t even get to go to college.
  17. Share the GoogleDoc of your “Why do you want to transfer?” essay with 12+ people. Preferably people who know you. Preferably English majors.
  18. Don’t tell your parents you’re applying to half the schools you’re applying to because you’re technically only allowed to go to school on the East Coast (whoops).
  19. Wonder if you should let your future roommates know you might be transferring – you don’t want to screw anyone else over but you don’t want to be homeless next year, either.
  20. Play the waiting game all over again. Wonder why you did this to yourself.
  21. Feel a mixture of relief and guilt when you actually get in somewhere.
  22. Ask yourself, with irritation, what you’re going to do with your Haverford mug, sweatpants, pajama pants, t-shirt, long-sleeve t-shirt, sweatshirts (plural), baseball cap, and frickin squirrel decals that you painstakingly cut out fur tuft by fur tuft.Squirrel
  23. Shake your head at your current state of college apparel:Screen Shot 2015-05-27 at 11.09.51 PM
  24. Spend fifteen minutes drafting the perfectly-worded Facebook message to Susie, a potential future roommate, while having your friend at school scope the situation out. When one of your home friends asks for an update on the roommate search, go to send her the following screenshot:Screen Shot 2015-05-28 at 12.11.46 PMAccidentally click on Safari in the process of copy and pasting and realize with horror that the image has been sent to Susie instead:Screen Shot 2015-05-27 at 4.54.30 PM
  25. Concede that this is the type of thing that would really only happen to you.
  26. Watch your mom start to tear up as you’re hugging your best friends goodbye during move out day: “Thanks for getting her through this year.”
  27. Realize that you’re actually going to miss the place you put so much work into trying to leave because you put so much work into getting there in the first place. And you didn’t hate it at all – in fact, a lot of the time, you really liked it. It just wasn’t the place you felt like you could thrive. And that’s what college is all about, right?
  28. Or is it turning up?

Pseudo-Adulthood

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The Trials & Tripulations

Departs

Arrives

Fares

7:30

7:45

PEAK

Continuously snooze your alarm until you’re at the point where you won’t be able to eat breakfast and you’ll give yourself, and your Mom whose driving you, a heart attack trying to make the train.

7:45

7:50

PEAK

Search for your retainer that you still have to wear twice a week to prevent your fangs from protruding that somehow managed to fall out of your mouth and behind the bed last night.

7:50

7:55

PEAK

Get into a screaming match with your sister when you try to get into the bathroom to brush your teeth while she happens to be washing her face – “WHY DON’T YOU JUST GO BACK TO COLLEGE!!” – Think to yourself that you never thought you would see the day where you would actually miss dorm bathrooms (they may not be the most sanitary, but at least they have more than one sink).

7:50

7:57

PEAK

Look in your closet for “business casual” attire.

7:57

8:02

PEAK

That failing, look in your mom’s closet for something you can actually wear in an office setting.

8:17

8:20

PEAK

Practically burn your ear off in the rush to have more than the right side of your hair straightened and still make the train.

8:20

8:22

PEAK

Growl at your mom when she tries to talk to you about booking your plane ticket for Thanksgiving (because you clearly look like you’re in the mood to talk about this right now) as you throw food into your hot pink middle school lunch bag and yearn for either your dorm room where you could get ready in peace or middle school when your mom packed your lunch for you.

8:23

8:24

PEAK

Yell at your mom for taking too long to put on her shoes (you’re truly an A+ daughter in the mornings).

8:24

8:29

PEAK

Get in the same argument with your mom you’ve had every single morning about the fastest route to take to the train station – Mom: “If I go on Popham I’ll wait twenty minutes trying to turn.” You: “We’ve tried every way and that’s fastest because you hit both lights otherwise.” Mom (while waiting, maximum one minute, to turn): THIS IS WHY WE NEED TO LEAVE EARLIER.

8:29

8:30

PEAK

Accidentally stand next to a parent of one your friends from middle school (you can’t remember which one) on the train platform. Reach into your backpack for your headphones.

8:30

8:30:30

PEAK

Cringe on the inside as she turns to you and asks, “How was your first year of college?!” before you can get your headphones on.

8:30:30

8:31

PEAK

Respond with what you hope is a smile, “It was good!” before pausing and adding “But I’m actually transferring,” figuring that if you know your town at all, she probably already knows that.

8:31

8:32

PEAK

Don’t even pretend to feel surprised when she responds, “Oh, yes I heard that, to where??”

8:32

8:33

PEAK

Try not to show your relief as you hear the train approaching.

8:34

8:35

PEAK

Survey the packed train car and find an empty middle seat. Get the attention of the person sitting on the aisle and do a double take as you realize that you went on a teen tour with her to Costa Rica three years ago (and haven’t seen her since).

8:36

8:38

PEAK

Send a “look who I just bumped into” Snapchat to the one person you’re still friends with from the trip (who, notably, you had decided to go on it with in the first place).

8:38

9:05

PEAK

Proceed to annoy everyone sitting near you as you reminisce about how “young and naïve you were” (now that you’re practically adults with sort of jobs, that is).

9:05

9:08

PEAK

Exit the train and become part of a sea of polished professionals. Feel vaguely like you’re in a dystopian novel.

9:13

9:14

PEAK

Get to the subway platform just as the doors are closing. Feel personally victimized by public transit despite the fact that another subway will arrive in approximately two minutes.

9:16

9:26

PEAK

Listen to the only fifteen songs you have on your phone while simultaneously hating yourself for only using Pandora to listen to music and the subway system for having no service.

11:15

11:45

OFF-PEAK Get sent on an errand to go pick up a poster and end up at an upscale apartment building. Check the address again as the doorman asks you what floor you’re going to and tentatively respond, “the second?” Panic on the inside when he tells you that there is no second floor.

11:45

11:47

OFF-PEAK

Try calling your boss and get his voicemail.   Debate whether or not texting him would be wildly unprofessional.

11:48

11:50

OFF-PEAK

Have the brilliant idea of Googling the printing company’s address.

12:10

12:12

OFF-PEAK

Contemplate turning around and going home when you get to the address listed on the website and it turns out to be a Vietnamese restaurant. Think to yourself that you’re never going to be trusted with more important responsibilities if you can’t even manage to pick up a poster.

12:15

12:30

OFF-PEAK

Feel a headache coming on when you finally find the office (above the restaurant, duh,) and the poster turns out to be bigger than you are – there’s no way you’re getting that thing on the Subway.

12:38

12:45

OFF-PEAK

Try to hail a cab and feel like a fool standing in the street with your hand in the air. (You may have been born in NYC, but you’re clearly not a native).   Decide to call an Uber.

12:46

12:55

OFF-PEAK

Drag the poster to the Starbucks on the corner while waiting for the Uber to arrive. Spend a solid two minutes at the cash register trying to decide whether you should be using your own money or your parents’ money to pay for your medium iced coffee. Give up and pay in the two dollars and some-odd loose change that’s floating around your bag (and probably still isn’t yours but feels better than using the “for emergencies” only credit card that has taken on a very liberal definition of what exactly constitutes an emergency).

1:15

1:18

OFF-PEAK

Get back to your office and feel an uncontrollable need to tell everyone what you just went through. Think better of it.

2:15

2:18

OFF-PEAK

After thanking you for retrieving the poster, be asked by your boss to send him an email with any ideas you had from yesterday’s meeting about training that you were allowed to sit-in on. Feel one part exhilarated that he actually cares about your ideas and nine parts terrified to be expected to have ideas of your own.

4:00

4:05

OFF-PEAK

Stand there awkwardly as a relatively mundane office conversation shifts to the topic of everyone going out for drinks after work.

5:30

5:35

PEAK

Self-consciously tell the people sitting nearest the door to “have a nice night” while wondering whether it’s okay that you just left – you still haven’t gotten used to this whole “come and go when you please” policy.

5:40

5:50

PEAK

Think to yourself that there has to be a more efficient way of getting to the correct train platform as you go down three flights of stairs and up two.

5:55

6:05

PEAK

Push your way onto the standing-room-only subway car and realize that you have a newfound respect for the parent who has done this commute twice a day five days a week for the past twenty-five years – it hasn’t even been twenty-five days of this and you can barely contain your anger at the man who decided it would be a good idea to bring his large dog on a rush-hour subway.

6:10

6:13

PEAK

Put your backpack on the seat next to you and open the book that you’re too tired to actually read in the hopes of coming across as unfriendly enough that nobody will want to sit next to you.

6:16

6:17

PEAK

Feel slightly disappointed that your plan didn’t work when a tired-looking middle-aged man drinking a beer (where did he even get it?) makes a motion for you to move your bag so that he can sit down.

6:30

6:35

PEAK

Try to find the least rude way to text your friend saying that, no, you can’t go out tonight because you have a job that you have to wake up for in the morning.

6:35

6:38

PEAK

Realize that you can’t find a viable excuse to turn down her following offer to spend the evening watching a movie and drinking tea even though you’d kind of rather just crawl into bed and pass out.

6:40

7:00

PEAK

Fight the urge to take off your shoes on the walk home – the extent to which your feet are killing you is making you feel like a certified old person.

7:02

7:10

PEAK

Be asked by your mom how your day was and feel like you’re in high school again when you respond “good.” Groan when she asks you for more details.

7:30

7:35

PEAK

Grab the keys off the counter and tell your mom that you’re going to Gabi’s. When she asks you what time you’ll be home, fight the urge to ask her why she even cares and if it even matters – is a work night the same as a school night? – and instead tell her that you’re not sure while walking out the door.

With only one year of college under our belts (and really more like half a year considering the hot mess that is first semester), being back home for an extended period of time is, well, bizarre.  From working out whose supposed to be paying for what now that our parents are no longer legally obligated to support us (though buying us iced coffee was never exactly a legal obligation), to dealing with ears that have somehow become allergic to run-of-the-mill parental questioning and concern after a year spent reporting only to ourselves, navigating this in-between stage of a relationship with parents can be tricky.  At the same time, with an internship in the city (especially one that involves the infamous hour-long commute), it has become easier to appreciate certain sacrifices they have made, such as their sense of humanity (as opposed to sardine-ity) every time they have to step onto a packed subway car.  As far as a social life is concerned, an internship can certainly get in the way of one.  And if you were to decide that it would be a good idea to visit the high school on your day off, make sure to time your arrival during the middle of a period rather than the unfortunate right in-between lest you end up in the middle of a sea of high schoolers, feeling equally out of place as when you’re surrounded by well-dressed professionals in Grand Central.  Yanked from the newfound freedom of “college!!!”, we have to confront the fact that we may no longer be in high school, but we’re not adults yet, either.