As I write this, I’m sitting in my dorm lounge, surrounded by Linguistics homework, peanut butter rice krispies, and some of my closest friends. The sun is finally back again outside after a week of relentless rain (my bike seat and I have both suffered), my stomach is full of Wilbur Brunch’s pesto panini, and I can’t think of anywhere else I would rather be in the world.
Which makes it a little weird to think back to a time where I had no interest in ever coming to Stanford. In fact, the first time I even opened Stanford’s website and considered attending was the day after I got my acceptance letter. Way back in December of 2015, I applied to Princeton via their Early Action program, and after receiving my acceptance letter (a process that involved one very nerve-wracking all nighter before my IB Bio exam and wonton soup at 4am), I hadn’t planned on applying anywhere else. I had gotten into my dream school; what else was there to do? It only after some prodding from my parents that I sent out two more applications to Columbia and Stanford.
Four months later, long after I had already settled into a mental mindset of “Princeto-bound”, I received my acceptance letter from Stanford. When I first found out I had gotten into Stanford, it was nothing like how it had been with my Princeton acceptance. I had stayed up all night obsessively refreshing browsers for hours while waiting for my Princeton results, whereas Stanford’s letter showed up in my inbox during a session of groggy early morning social media browsing. I burst out crying when I saw the orange Princeton tiger at the top of my Google Chrome browser, while I just felt confused when I read “Congratulations!” under the Stanford emblem. After months of Google Street-view stalking Nassau Street, reading about eating clubs and convincing myself that I liked the color orange, there was a new variable. I wasn’t sure what to do with it.
Everything about Princeton felt like it was a place for me, from the intellectual vibe of the school to the mac and cheese shop right outside campus. For college, I wanted to be somewhere with snow, American history, a focus on humanities, basically everything that I had missed out on spending my adolescence in the Bay Area and East Asia. Princeton was the right school for the person I was and wanted to be.
For all of those reasons above, I chose Stanford.
If we were to organize all the adjectives in the English language in order of how much they applied to me in high school, “relaxed” would probably fall somewhere between “hexagonal” and “velvet”. I was a bit of a control freak, everything had to be perfect all the time, and my list of pet peeves ranged from people being late to when my friend Annabel would eat rice with a fork and scoop it with the pointy part as opposed to scooping with the side of the fork.
I was also incredibly opinionated when it came to education and acquiring knowledge for the sake of knowledge, and any mention of the word “pre-professional” earned an eye roll from me. In other words, Stanford, with a reputation built on engineering, California chill and intense focus on real life application, was all wrong for me.
I knew this. I knew I was uptight, and scared of math and computers, and disdainful of Stanford’s pragmatic attitude toward learning. So I made the decision to come to a place that, in my mind, was not going to naturally and easily enfold me. I thought that by doing so, by surrounding myself with people who thought differently from me, I would be challenged in a way that caused growth. Yes, I wanted intellectualism and white winters and historical dorm buildings, but the one thing I wanted most from college was to become sure of who I was, and to be sure of what identities composed “me”.
And so I ended up here. Currently recovering from a cold and frantically studying for my Greek Mythology midterm, but happy nonetheless. Stanford has been exactly what I imagined in some ways, and so absurdly, absurdly different in others. Like I predicted (and hoped), Stanford has made me far more relaxed. Instead of making me more appreciative of STEM, which I thought situating myself in Silicon Valley would, it’s made me far, far more certain of my decision to study humanities, which is just as beneficial. Over the past few months, I’ve done things I never thought I would do, like dancing in a hiphop show, and things I’ve been wanting to do since I was 12, like seeing Sarah Kay in a live show. All in all, I’m happy with the way college has changed me.
Now that decision season is coming up, my word of advice for all the soon to be high school graduates out there is simple: Go to a school that’s wrong for you. Go somewhere that’s going to prod you and poke you and cause you discomfort and make you question everything about yourself and what you stand for. Because that’s when you’re going to figure out who you are. Obviously there are some caveats to this: don’t go a music conservatory if you plan on being an engineer, don’t go to Maine if you get rashes in the cold, but go somewhere where you will be uncomfortable.
If the challenges to your identity just imbue you with more conviction, great! If they cause you to change, that’s great as well. The other night, while walking back from a “smash party” (where civil engineers get together and smash old prototype towers they built), I wondered out loud what my life would be like today if I had gone to Princeton. I think my friend Tucker had a pretty poignant response, so I’ll end this essay with his quote:
“Well, it’s February….so you probably would be cold.”