An Open Letter to All High School Seniors

Euphoria.
Freedom.
Responsibility.
Stress.
Under-prepared.
Torn.
Contemplative.
Excited.
Nervous.
Joy.

These may be some of the emotions you’ve experienced this school year, first as college acceptance letters start to roll in… then as you started visiting campuses… and especially now, as you prepare to make “the big decision” and enroll.

I remember my senior year of high school vividly, despite being two years past that point in my life. I remember being so anxious for the year to end, but also dreading the end of my high school years. It’s a weird combination of joy and sadness, stress and freedom… but I’m sure you’re quite familiar with this unique emotional flurry caused by the college search process.

You’re in the middle of deciding where you want to spend the next four years of your life.  It’s a big decision.

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Since coming to Loyola, I’ve also been a part of the other side, thanks to my involvement with the Classics department and being a Messina Evergreen.

I’ve volunteered to work with a few offices and departments during events for accepted students, answering questions about programs and courses and life at Loyola. I’ve explained the core more times than I care to recall. I’ve answered countless questions about almost anything you could think to ask about a school, and probably even a few you’d never fathom asking.

I’ve seen the stress in a student’s eyes and the excitement in parents’ eyes, coupled with the hesitation and concern that come so naturally to parents. (Sidenote: Be patient with your parents. This is a stressful time for them, too. They’re going to miss you so much!)

As someone who has gone through the process before and has experienced the other side of it, I have a few words of wisdom for any-stressed out senior. And remember, I’ve been in your shoes.

Never be afraid of asking questions. It doesn’t matter how many times you think it may have been asked or how awkward it may be, if you have a question about something at the school you’re visiting, ask it. Don’t be shy; if something is important for you to know, then it’s important to ask questions about it. Ask what it’s like to take a class here. Ask whether or not the food is actually good. Ask about the social life on campus. Ask what the rooms look like if you have’t already taken a tour, physical or virtual. Heck, ask about the height of the beds if you’re curious as to how much stuff you can store under them. If you’re even considering living and learning somewhere for four years, you shouldn’t walk away from a visit with unanswered questions.

Reach out to faculty. If you’re interested in a certain department, reach out to the chair of that department to see if you can arrange a meeting with a professor. There’s no better way to get a feel of the department than to meet one of the people that could be teaching you during your career at that school. There’s no better way to learn more about a major you’re interested in than to talk to a professor in that department.

I was able to arrange a meeting with Dr. Walsh the summer before my senior year, and his passion and excitement about Classics was one of the main reasons I came to Loyola.

Take this process seriously. This is a major decision. You’re theoretically choosing what your life is going to be like for the next four years.. and, not to scare you, but far beyond that. (Ask any Loyola graduate who ended up living in a different place than where they grew up. I would bet nine of out ten times, they did not foresee making a life in that place before their path led them to Loyola!)

To use a Jesuit term, this is a time of discernment. It’s important to weigh all the pros and cons of each school you’re considering. Take the time to research each school. Follow the university’s social media or reach out to current students to get an idea of what life is like at that school: in the classroom, in the residence halls, on the weekends.

Take a moment to really reflect on what you want in a school, and see which schools fit your needs and your wants best. And be honest with yourself. If you want a small, friendly, liberal arts school near a major city (hey, that sounds a lot like Loyola…), then you probably should avoid giant state schools.

Stay calm and carry on. Even though choosing a college is a major life decision, it’s important not to fall into a stress spiral over it. If you’re honest with what you want from a school and earnestly research the schools you’re considering, the choice will be much easier. If one school really speaks to you as the right choice, go with your gut!

To paraphrase something I overheard a professor say, there’s no wrong choice. No matter where you end up, you’re going to be all right.

This is certainly a time of stress, but this should also be a time of excitement and celebration. I hope that you enjoy the remainder of your senior year… and I not-so-secretly hope that you choose Loyola as your home for the next chapter of your life.

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