I do not have a very dramatic story to be sure. I cannot say that I always imagined I would be going anywhere outside of my dandy New England bubble. The aphorism “life is full of surprises” has turned out to be true more so than false by my reckoning. It is ironically simple why I settled on applying Early Decision (ED) to Hopkins. I realized I found a kindred intellectual community that I did not anticipate, and which brought me no small amount of joy. I discovered people I was fond of, particularly in music and poetry and other hobbies (the Peabody Institute is a magical place, regardless of whether you have elected to study there). I cannot say I found one hundred people with my academic interests (nor shall you, at least in the manner you expect), but people ought not to be the same if they want to grow with the friendships they form. I suppose that was salient to solidifying my confidence in the course I had chosen for myself, finding people with the intellectual curiosity to entertain my eccentricities and listen to the stories I try to tell. While Hopkins had the programs I wanted (the Direct Matriculation Program in International Relations I found very attractive), it was the sort of people I found—stumbled blindly upon, in fact—that held the spirit of learning with them as a longtime companion. (An entertaining anecdote I recall entailed accidentally following the admitted students’ tour and having a lovely discussion about bee ecology and international power politics. I considered this stunning proof that I still had that spark myself, and that I would have no trouble making friends). I have found that no matter how intimidating someone’s accomplishments might be, they are often searching doggedly for whatever you seek also, especially friendship. (It is needed with the rigor. I recommend profusely that you find at least one good one! They are the real treasure, and without them, poverty is absolute).
I would impart more focused advice about the college process. Success in this endeavor is about hyper-focusing on your own interests and seeing where those could take you. Half the fun of college is realizing you were walking your whole life and can now begin to fly. I would caution about being pressured by anyone to enjoy programs you are uncertain about. When all else fails, go visit, and talk to people. I am one hundred and fifty percent certain that your social skills need a kick, like a generator, to start working.
Beyond social affairs, I advise knowing what the academic expectations are with respect to a core curriculum or distribution requirements. The thousands of universities and colleges that exist run the gamut from absolute freedom to a bit more structure. I appreciated the balance between those extremes at Hopkins. To those with more narrow interests, I would recommend thoroughly considering how you can grow, or where you can go for some laser focus on what you want to do. (Unsolicited advice! I say this kindly, do what you want to do—you have ONE life, ONLY ONE. Please, for your own joys and triumphs, pursue what you truly want without exception. The quest is the destination; to lose sight of one’s wishes in the morass of modern living is to lose one’s way).
In the end, do everything for yourself. Take the time to go to information sessions and make your own judgements. Don’t take anything at face value, look beneath, put in the extra legwork to find whatever it is you seek. I do not fail to appreciate the magnitude of the challenge, the pressure that builds, but life is not an easy endeavor. As all worthwhile things are, they come from a place of struggle. So, embrace it and go as far as your legs will go.