Imagine for a moment spending five years of your life dreaming, and working for that dream to become a reality. You lose your mind studying, make sacrifices, and mentally torture yourself each time you mess up. And then your dream finally materializes.
That’s what I did. I wanted to go to Northwestern. I did everything and anything I could. Took classes I hated so much they made me cry, quit my favorite activity for a prestigious summer program, abandoned all attempts at having a social life, and studied till my eyes bled. And got in.
And then…then I got there. My dream school. Northwestern. I had a wardrobe full of purple and a heart full of hope. There I was, in the beautiful city by the lake and my top-choice college with its top-ranked journalism school. This was it. I was going to become better, meet new people, learn, grow.
And. I. Hated. It.
It’s taken me this long to admit it, but it’s the truth–I hate my dream school.
Don’t get me wrong. The classes are pretty interesting. The professors are great. The campus is gorgeous. Chicago is awesome. There’s a beach here. Food’s good. Blahblah.
But let’s face it. I fit in here about as much as an Eskimo in the Sahara. I don’t get these people and I don’t feel like a part of anything. I’ve tried and tried joining clubs, but I just don’t feel engaged.
I hate the horrible weather, and I hate the way people expect me to spend my weekends getting so drunk I throw up. I hate the cliques. I hate the people who post on College ACB, demeaning others, sometimes by name. (Don’t believe me? http://collegeacb.com/sb.php?school=NW) And the people who tell their girlfriends to dress better so their stupid frat brother friends will accept them.
I hate the way student organizations are really just glorified social clubs, and if you show up without a friend, you’ll leave without one, too. I hate the way nobody ever talks about what they’re learning. I never hear anybody being passionate about biology, English, anthropology, or physics. Just movies, TV shows, parties, friends, drinking. I hate the way nobody reads books unless they’re assigned for a class.
Now before someone posts on here telling me how wrong I am and how I’m just an antisocial nerd who needs to get out more, I know that there are plenty of exceptions to what I just described. There always are. But the fact is that the prevailing culture here accepts and embraces it, and people like me who don’t like it tend to stay quiet.
For once in my life, I thought I’d be happy. I thought it’d be wonderful to get something I’d worked so hard for. After all, the best part of dreaming is making your dreams come true, and that’s what I did. On my own. I was so proud of myself, for once. I felt lucky that out of so many people I knew, I was one of the few who actually got to go to their dream schools.
But I guess fate tricked me once again.
This isn’t my place. All that work was for nothing. Those sacrifices? Meaningless. All for a dream that I would soon grow to hate. It might’ve been good for my brain (though most days I’m not even sure about that), but it was awful for my soul.
Now I’m stuck in a place I don’t belong, and it’s all my fault. That’s what you get for dreaming. I should’ve just let things happen to me, sat by and gotten B’s, gone to Ohio State like a good girl. Then I wouldn’t have to face the humiliation of achieving my dream and hating it.
I don’t know what it is. Everybody loves college. Everybody loves Northwestern. Something’s wrong with me and I don’t know what it is or how to fix it. Maybe there’s a gene everyone but me has. Maybe some crucial part of my brain is malformed. Trust me, if I could just take a magic pill that makes me normal, I would.
I’ve pissed away my entire freshman year trying and failing to make this work. I lie every single time someone asks me how I’m enjoying my Dream School. I say it’s wonderful. It’s not.
But at least I’m almost a quarter of the way through this torture.
My advice? Don’t waste your time. I learned in my sociological analysis class that even the most sound theories should not necessarily be implemented as policy because there are, essentially, a million ways in which things can go wrong. Same goes for individual lives. I’ve hit on one of those million ways, and now I regret ever having dared to dream.
Now I know I can’t trust my instincts, and I’m wondering why I should even bother working hard when I inevitably end up hating whatever it is I worked for. In high school, which I couldn’t wait to get out of, I at least had friends and a loving family to come home to every day. College is like high school without those saving graces.
I realize already that if any Northwestern people saw this, they would probably comment all over this saying that I’m an idiot and how dare I post this and what the fuck is wrong with me. Don’t believe me? Check out the comment section of any opinion article on the Daily Northwestern’s website. Enthusiastic suppression of dissenting viewpoints is as much de rigueur on this campus as money and skinny jeans.
In the meantime, these endless lonely hours have led me to do some research. My new dream school has the nation’s number-one psychology department. It has a beautiful campus and beautiful weather. I’d never have to wear the ugly down coat I practically lived in this entire winter. My new dream school is known for its lack of a party scene and its preponderance of nerds–people like me. It’s located near a city that celebrates diversity and inclusiveness, not snobbism and pretentiousness.
But my new dream school is Stanford, and even if I managed to get in–1% acceptance rate for transfer applications–it’s much too far away.
And besides, I think I’ve learned my lesson about dreams.
I understand what you are saying about the social aspect of school. It was a major culture shock for me. Miami is really more pretentious and beauty and wealth are highly valued, but I did have a diverse core group of friends who were down to earth and while we weren’t opposed to drinking, it wasn’t necessary for us to get drunk to have fun. As long as there was good music, food, and dancing then it was a good time. No one does any of that, it’s just sit around a drink and hook up (or get raped).
It’s also really hard to have a group of friends without being affiliated with something. I have a few friends on my hall, then I have my journalism friends, my mailroom friends, my work friends, etc. But I don’t have them all in one group of close friends that you can always count on to be down for anything like I did in high school. Not that it’s a numbers thing or whatever, but I’d like to have a group of 5 or so people to always eat with or something.
Being a journalist was harder than I expected and was mostly a negative experience for me, but the good thing though, was it gave me opportunities to go beyond campus and Michigan Ave. in Chicago. Lakeview East, Wrigleyville, Lincoln Park, and Wicker Park are great neighborhoods that no one ever thinks of going to because they get caught up in the materialism of Michigan Avenue. You’ll definately find alot more of a down to earth feeling you can’t get a lot of places.
It wasn’t as easy to adjust as I first imagined and sometimes I felt I could have done just as much at the University of Florida or even Florida State, but I did meet some great people, I get to watch my niece grow up and be closer to the rest of my family and I’m getting a good education, so it balances out.
Thanks for sharing your experience. It’s just comforting to know I’m not the only one slightly disappointed by the social scene. I guess I was really surprised by how big drinking is on campus. I mean, it’s fun, but it shouldn’t be the only way to have fun.
I’m glad you’ve found some upsides to being here. Hopefully in time, I will too.
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I completely understand you’re distaste. Not for the school in particular, but for a school that was held in such high regard, prior to arrival.
I started out my dream school. I maybe didn’t work as hard to get there(I don’t recall my eyes ever bleeding), but I know that when I got there I solidly hated 97% of what happened. And 3% isn’t worth that prestigious of a degree.
I took time off and spent time at my new dream schools so that I knew which one was really the right one, despite the fact that I have a lot of complaints, the percentage of what I hate is much less than 97.
And I know the arguments, but I was on a full ride where I was because I was that poor, but there is always a way to get the money you need, wherever you go. Or at leas that has been my experience. Even if starts with draining your life savings to go on a 3 month road trip around the country.
Then again, I tried to use the 1/4 of the way through argument as well. Maybe it will work better for you. I’m interested to see what happens.
And much too far away, is never really that far away.
Ah! I was sorry to read about this. I don’t think for a moment that you’re exaggerating. Perhaps concentrating a little bit too much on what is admittedly a very large majority, but that is understandable. An experience like yours will take some time to digest. It’s not something you can have a perspective on instantly. But you are in Chicago, so there are things you can do. First, visit other campuses and check out the more intellectual hangouts. Hyde Park is one obvious choice, but don’t neglect the schools other people would because they are less “prestigious.” Visit NEIU. The WTTW studios are right on campus, after all. And NEIU is the new cool school, full of offbeat, artistic people. Visit UIC, and Taylor Street. Columbia College and the Art Institute for sure — see what the artistic crowd is up to. Crawl around libraries, browse all the used book stores. Find out where the coffeehouses are near every major campus in the Chicago area. Then write an article about what you’ve observed. And get it published.
Another tactic — go to summer school. Go to California, or New York City. There are a ton of summer programs there, and some really offbeat ones (Like, want to learn to read Latin in a summer? They say it’s amazing.). Check out what isn’t obvious — the state schools, the City Colleges of New York. Steer clear of prestige, for once. You’ve worked so hard for what you were sure would make you happy, and now you have to work just a little more and in a different way than you were originally told in order to have it. That is not so unusual; it never was unusual, and it is especially not unusual now. But first and foremost, get away from this environment and clear your head. You really owe yourself that. And there’s no substitute for getting away. You can’t stay here in body and somehow leave here in mind. So give yourself a break.
I guess the reason I don’t want to go to a less prestigious school is because, academically, Northwestern is a really good fit. There’s a reason it’s ranked so high. My professors are all ridiculously smart and interesting, and next year I’ll probably have the opportunity to do research with them. My classes are mostly awesome. And when I go to apply to grad school or get a job, I’m sure it won’t hurt to have a degree from here. I would feel like an idiot transferring out of here for purely social reasons…
i totally get what you’re saying. i spent my entire senior year of college trying to get into my dream grad school, and now that i have been here for a year, i have to say that it isn’t what i made it out to be. the program absolutely sucks, although it is ranked as one of the highest in the country. The one thing I like about my school is that the other people in the program are really great. I don’t think I have ever been a part of a group of people as amazing as the ones I am with now. That will be the one thing that will get me through the next 2 semesters. I hope that you find something that helps you get through, if that is what you choose to do. One word of advice, if you choose to transfer do so sooner rather than later because a lot of credits will not transfer.
I wasn’t suggesting for a moment that you tranfer from Northwestern. I was suggesting that you take one class during one summer somewhere else — specifically, New York City or California. Ten weeks of your life, pick a coast. I think you would find it refreshing, and also easier (much easier) to deal with the things you don’t like so much here because you will know from firsthand experience that this is not all there is. That in itself tends to cheer people right up.
To me, it sounds like you need a coast. Just for a while. Don’t dismiss the idea.
Yeah, that makes sense. I’ve always wanted to go to the west coast (not just because of Stanford). Except LA, though. I can only imagine that’d be worse than Chicago where materialism and pretentiousness are concerned.
Well, my goodness! See about taking a class at Stanford over the summer! Getting admitted can’t be that hard. And if it involves expenses you can’t immediately meet, approach your parents and discuss it. My prediction: They’ll be thrilled and proud of you. (Remember, you are proposing to work hard over the summer, even if not for $$ at the moment, but certainly to build your future. Parents are known to like that sort of thing.)
Thanks for the advice, Sonja. You’ve got a good heart. 🙂
So I know you posted this like, forever ago…but I get bored at home while procrastinating on editing my final paper, so I’m going to comment on this. Since I stalk you periodically. (Sorry.)
Okay, so first off: WHOA THERE ABOUT STANFORD. Dude, are you kidding me? Stanford is FULL of shallow people. FULL OF THEM. I should know – I live in their town. Palo Alto sucks as a college town (waaaay worse than Evanston), and the city of which you speak (San Francisco) is ridiculously hard for Stanford students to get to. So you’d be getting Palo Alto, and I can definitely tell you…Palo Alto is nice, but NOT anything like San Francisco. Also, the weather isn’t as nice as people from out of the state think it is, and you have to deal with caterpillar swarms (which are gross), among other things. Stanford also doesn’t take care of its students at all. But yeah, it’s a good school and all…Sorry, but growing up right in Stanford’s college town has kind of jaded me towards the Ivy of the West. 😛
Also, I’d like to say that I kind of had your same “dream” trajectory, except I had my dreams crushed waaaaay earlier. And repeatedly. Oh, so repeatedly. In case you want to hear my story, just so my comment has some substance/I don’t really know what to say to people, so I just figure if I talk about myself, at least I seem like I’m contributing:
Basically, Northwestern wasn’t even really on my “dream school” radar – I applied on a whim and happened to get in. My top three schools were, in this order: Brown, UCLA, Wellesley. I got deferred/rejected to Brown, rejected to UCLA, and waitlisted to Wellesley. My backup from there was NYU, and when I got in and checked it out, I found it to be the most depressing school ever.
But then I got into the honors program at UC Irvine and Northwestern and Tufts, and I had some stuff to work with. Now, originally, I was dead set on going to the Northeast – either to Boston area or New York City. My dad’s family was from Mass and my mom’s family was largely settled in Manhattan. I considered those places my second homes already, but I didn’t know either of them nearly as well as I wanted – so I figured, why not college?
Like I said, though, NYU turned out to be a dud and Tufts, as it turned out, didn’t have a linguistics major. So it came down to Irvine’s super cool honors program or Northwestern. I ultimately turned down Irvine because I DIDN’T want to be at home at my school. Sure, I knew I’d miss California, and Irvine would have given me the best of both worlds – I’d get to be in a “different state” (SoCal) but still be in the same one (California).
To put it frankly, I knew that at some level, Northwestern was going to suck. I knew I would get homesick and hate the weather, and probably not fit in really well. But I guess maybe by expecting to hate it at some level, I was okay after awhile. I HATED Northwestern for the first couple weeks, largely due to band camp and my inability to march and play at the same time (I didn’t like the yelling and the sunburns).
But after awhile, I managed to work around what I didn’t like and make compromises. I also decided to keep throwing myself into stuff I didn’t like and, for better or for worse, try and change who I was (an immature brat) and grow up (a little). I still don’t always feel like I fit in, and I know that some of that is due to my decisions on what to do with myself at NU. I learned a lot about myself, though – for example, sorority rush taught me that at I’m actually really good at keeping an insanely good/positive attitude in the face of the worst aspect of the Northwestern social scene and that I have a fairly good sense of humor (AKA I can somehow find humor in people who tell me they don’t want me).
In the end, I still consider transferring every now and then, but I think that the things I don’t like about Northwestern wouldn’t necessarily go away if I went to a new school. Either that, or I’d go to a new school that didn’t have Northwestern’s problems, but it would have its own set of problems that Northwestern wouldn’t have had. This might just be me, but I think the things I don’t like about Northwestern are partially because of aspects of my own personality…I’m also someone who actually is terrified of staying the same. I like changing and adapting to my current situation. You might be different than that…haha.
Anyway, I guess I just wanted to say that I understand where you’re coming from, even though I think you and I have completely different attitudes about very similar situations. I could give you a list of different “dreams” I’ve had crushed, and whether or not I still feel like I’ll pursue them anyway, but I think that since I’ve already written a novel of a comment…I’ll save that for later. Heheh.
But on the topic of Stanford…GRAD SCHOOL. Stanford is MUCH better for grad school than it is for undergrad, in my humble opinion. Plus, you’d get to live in the spiffy new grad student housing buildings. 🙂 AND VISIT MEEEE.
Thanks for the comment! And it’s okay because I stalk your blog too. 🙂
I too spent a while thinking that it’s “my fault” I don’t like Northwestern–that my personality’s just screwed up, or whatever. Maybe it is. I’m an introvert. You don’t see too many of those here.
I tried changing–many times–but I can’t. Or rather, there are other things about myself I can change (for instance, I was once convinced that writing for campus publications just isn’t for me, but I’ve changed my mind), but the core trait that makes me who I am seems to be unchangeable. And if it makes me miserable here, then so be it, I guess.
I did actually change my mind about transferring because I realized that it’s a college problem, not a Northwestern problem. I just don’t like college. I want to start my life already. 🙂
I’m definitely going to try to go to Stanford for grad school, though, mostly because I want to get a PhD in psychology and that just happens to be the top program for it. Not that I’ll get in. But it’s worth a try.
Hahaha. I also hate my school! Luckily, lots of people I know hate my school so I don’t feel bad about it. It was something students bonded over.