It’s no surprise that I have always wanted to live in the big city. I would dream of going to college in New York City, Chicago, Boston, or LA. I was absolutely positive that I would thrive in that environment and I wouldn’t be happy anywhere where there weren’t skyscrapers and honking taxis.
I now attend the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Champaign is located in central Illinois, surrounded by nothing but corn fields. In fact, the oldest experimental agricultural field is located right smack next to the undergraduate library.
Believe it or not, I am the happiest that I have been in my entire life since I started attending UIUC. I’m home for the summer right now, and I can’t wait to go back to school in the fall. Surprised? Yeah, me too.
My junior year of high school, when I made the list of schools I’d want to apply to my senior year, I included one non-city school, Michigan State University, because that’s where my mom went and where I grew up. I was thinking New York University (my life-long dream school), Boston University, American University, DePaul University, Loyola University Chicago, University of Southern California, and University of California at Los Angeles. I ended up actually applying to two schools on this list, Michigan State and DePaul.
My senior year, after endless talks with my parents, I decided that I would apply to one city school in the Midwest, DePaul, and the rest of the schools that I would apply to would be Big Ten schools in the midwest. Private schools were extremely expensive, and living in a big city would be expensive too. Not to mention, living far away from home would be both difficult and costly for all of us. I applied to all state schools (other than DePaul), Michigan State, Indiana, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Northern Illinois, and Illinois. I got into 7 of the 8 schools that I applied to, and ended up with scholarships to 5 of those. My short list became DePaul and Illinois.
Before I found out that I got into Illinois (and got a scholarship), I decided on DePaul. It was perfect. It was in the big city of Chicago, and less than an hour from home. I got a very hefty scholarship, and I got into my preferred major, and the honors program. I liked the curriculum, and I found an awesome roommate who I was dying to live with (shoutout to Sam, if you’re reading this, because I am still super sad that we couldn’t be besties). It was all set and done. Then, a few months later, I found out within the same week that I had gotten into both Illinois and Indiana. Indiana had a top 15 journalism program, and Illinois gave me a scholarship on top of the in-state tuition.
I went to visit Illinois with my parents. I thought “I’m doing this for them. I’m sure I’ll hate it and then they can’t nag me anymore to consider all of my options.” I set foot on that campus and was practically swept off of my feet. My program was absolutely everything that I wanted and needed. The college of media was absolutely impeccable. My parents’ wallets would be sincerely happy, and the caliber of the university as a whole was very impressive. I fell in love.
It broke my heart to say goodbye to my decision to attend DePaul in the fall, but I committed to Illinois and bid adieu to my dream of being a city girl. It all felt so close, my dreams coming true. I’d be an honor student in college, and I would be living that big city, adventurous life that I dreamed of. I was hesitant to attend Illinois (UIUC) with a third of my graduating class, in the middle of sorority and fraternity-ville.
I got to UIUC, with a randomly assigned roommate, in a randomly assigned dorm. I experienced so much loneliness that first month. It felt like all anybody wanted to do was study, and then party. I saw so many drunk people puking, sorority girls happily holding their bid cards up, and extremely studious engineering students working on their honors projects. I felt like I didn’t fit in anywhere.
I was obviously studying a lot, college ain’t easy people, but I had a lot of free time. I felt as though I could be doing so many awesome things with that time if I was at DePaul in Chicago. I felt like the sore thumb at UIUC. I wanted to transfer.
As the year progressed, I joined extracurricular organizations that filled my time with awesome things. I made friends and became best friends with my roommate. There were definitely difficulties, but that happens anywhere and everywhere. The positives outweighed the negatives, though.
I was exposed to some cool classes that made me realize I wanted to change my major. Because of the extracurricular activities that I joined, I have gained a mentor for life who happens to be a professor with a PhD whose film premiere I got to attend, and whose house I’ve gotten to eat at. I’ve gotten to perform an original spoken-word poem in front of more than 100 people. I’ve spoken on a panel for a conference alongside people with doctorates. I have gotten nearly 50 pieces of work published, some through nationally renowned publications. I’ve gotten to go on a retreat to a lake to learn about diversity. I’ve gotten to show prospective students why it’s always a great day to be an Illini.
Socially, it’s been pretty good too. I gained some friends, and then lost some of those, and then gained more. I grew so close to my roommate that we decided to live together next year again. I went on a spring break trip to Florida with a group of 8 other friends. I went to a concert on campus with an amazing friend, and we caught the teddy bear that the singer threw out into the audience. I attended concerts, film festivals, and talks. I took a spontaneous road trip with friends. I’ve gone on some awesome photo shoots. I explored downtown Champaign and Urbana to find a lot of really cool things. I spent so much time at a certain coffee shop that it started to feel like home. I learned how to work the trains, and I took them to visit my best friend from home, and to visit Chicago. I spent a surprising amount of time doing cool things in Chicago. I’ve been able to have fun without drinking or being a part of Greek life, although it was hard at first. I’ve experienced disappointment, but I’ve made a few really great friends that I am endlessly thankful for.
UIUC is a great place. I’m challenged academically, and my passions are encouraged. I am extremely supported by the staff and faculty. I feel safe if I need to walk home from the library at night. I have found a few awesome friends, and I have experienced some awesome things. While I still dream of moving to the big city after undergrad, I know I made the right choice in terms of where to spend my first four college years. This place is already helping to shape me into who I want to be, and continues to surprise me with the amazing things that it holds.
To the kids who are upset because they aren’t going to their “dream school” this fall, give wherever you are going a chance. Try to make the best of your circumstance, and give it time. You never know what you might find, and there’s always a reason for a school having a big name and prestige attached to it.
The moral of this story is that I didn’t go to my dream school, and I’m more than fine.
I am endlessly grateful that I chose to be a part of UIUC’s class of 2020; my life is a million times better than it was before this place.
(y’all are supposed to scream “-INI” now. ok, bye)