At various points in my childhood, I fantasized about being a ballerina, owning a fashion empire, becoming a “Shark Tank” success story or discovering that Miley Cyrus was my older sister. At this age, I can confidently say that a few of those dreams won’t be coming true (naturally, I’m still holding out hope that scientists can explain how my Japanese mother gave birth to Hannah Montana).

But more recently, during my senior year of high school, I set my sights on attending what I thought to be essentially the perfect college. I narrowed down my list significantly when choosing where to apply, and although I would’ve been fortunate to attend any of those schools, I couldn’t help but feel most attached to one particular institution. However, after college decisions were released, I was forced to reassess my plans for the future when my dream school rejected me. Although there are definitely similarities between the college I’m at and the college I initially wanted to attend, I ultimately found that the differences between the two are what make the school I’m at a better match for me.

A big thing I’ve realized is that the college I currently attend is probably a much better fit for the type of student that I am. My dream college was an Ivy League school, and according to its class profiles from previous years, many of its students had nearly perfect grades and flawless test scores in high school. While I’ve always cared about doing well in school, I was never at that valedictorian level of success that was seemingly normalized at my dream school; frankly, some of the grades I’ve worked hardest to earn were only Bs. Because of this, I think it would’ve been difficult for me to stand out in an Ivy League environment, where my stats might’ve barely satisfied the numbers they were looking for—not necessarily because it wouldn’t be possible to handle the classes, but because reaching a place that I’d be content with in my classes would leave a lot less time for my non-academic interests. I don’t think I could’ve found fulfillment without striking a good balance between schoolwork and my other interests, and with the benefit of hindsight, I now know that having time to get involved in student organizations and other commitments outside of class was an equally important part of my freshman year experience. As a high schooler that was looking at colleges, academic programs were always one of the first things I researched, but from the perspective of a now-college student, I learned that what you do outside of class is what most differentiates you from your peers and is something worth factoring into your decision on where to attend.

Aside from realizing that the academic environment at my current school is more of what I was looking for, I also discovered there were aspects of my dream school that I focused on more than I should have. Specifically, I feel like I placed too much of an emphasis on arbitrary titles and rankings. One of the reasons why I trusted that my dream school must be an amazing place was that its programs consistently ranked highly and, as part of the Ivy League, its name alone was associated with a lot of prestige. I think that dwelling on how my dream school had such a great reputation and attracted tons of students caused me to idealize what my experience there would be like, but I lost sight of the fact that the “best” school I applied to wasn’t necessarily the best school for me.

Having finished my freshman year this past spring, I’m grateful to say that being rejected from my dream school led me to find somewhere better suited for me. I’m sure I could’ve had a good experience at my dream school as well, but in retrospect, I now believe that my rejection led me to where I was truly meant to be. I’m glad that being rejected forced me to think harder about my options and figure out what I really wanted in a school, and I feel especially lucky to continue my education at an incredible college. I may not be the ballerina, fashion mogul and entrepreneur I dreamed of being in my childhood, either, but I ended up just as happy being the clumsy bargain shopper that’s studying business at a place that (initially) wasn’t her dream school.

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