I had scheduled my only appointment with my school-based college counselor to have a one-time discussion about my college list. When I mentioned to her my dream school, her eyes narrowed and she said, “C’s are the kiss of death.” I had plenty of C’s. I then asked her if she had ever heard of the University of Pittsburgh. The college counselor grinned and pointed at her mouse pad, which displayed Pitt’s Cathedral of Learning, which would later become one of my favorite places to study. Even though I was convinced I’d never attend Pitt, it made me feel better that my college counselor had at least heard of it.
I was admitted to Pitt in November, three weeks after I applied and well before I heard back from any of the other colleges. My reaction was meh. I had no intention of enrolling at Pitt and was naturally much more eager to gain acceptance to my dream school.
Come spring of senior year, my friends were starting to receive admissions notifications. The envelope containing the decision from my dream school arrived in the mail. At the time, I was at band practice after school, so I asked another friend to pick the envelope up from my mailbox and bring it over to me because I couldn’t wait another minute. He ran into the band room waving a surprisingly small, white envelope and handed it to me. In front of a crowd of other band geeks, I opened it up and learned after reading the short paragraph that I was rejected. Naturally, I was disappointed, but I took it in stride, which wasn’t that hard to do because I was still waiting to hear from a number of other schools.
Over the next few months, I would learn that they all rejected me.
I was left with my “safety” – Pitt. Just the sound of the school’s name – Pitt – made my face scrunch with disgust. The disappointment was almost unbearable, and I spiraled into a sort of existential crisis. However, as summer moved along, I became more and more excited for the idea of college because, well, it’s college! I had no way of knowing that Pitt was actually the perfect place for me (and now looking back on it as a college counselor, I’m certain the schools that denied me would not have been as good a fit as Pitt).
Inadvertently landing at Pitt set me up for success I couldn’t have planned for. It was there I had the courage to pursue not one, but two bachelor’s degrees. It was there I pursued my dream of teaching and accrued a number of experiences to confirm that direction. I ultimately remained there to earn my master’s. And it’s because of my experience at Pitt I now have a job I truly love. I’m not so sure I would have enjoyed as much success if my college plans had worked out the way I had hoped in high school.
It’s important to have goals, and it’s important to go for them. But even more important is to invest your energy into what is within your control and to trust that you have the – dare I say – moxie to make the very best of any opportunity. It’s not where you go to college – it’s how you go to college.