Letter to Self–Trusting Yourself
Dear Elizabeth in March 2005,
Even though it’s been five years, I remember what you’re going through all too well. Let’s see…you’re freaking out about passing precalculus, waiting on pins and needles to hear back from colleges, and wondering why senior year has been the complete opposite of the idyllic year promised by yearbooks and teen movies. Am I right? Thought so. You’re downing way too much bad coffee and even worse food (hello, Poptarts are not lunch) and things seem pretty bleak.
The thing is, it will work out. Over the past four years, you’ve studied incredibly hard, earned leadership positions in extracurricular activities, and poured your heart and soul into 14 college applications. You already learned to deal with disappointment when Vassar rejected your early decision application—that still stings a bit, I know. But going through that experience means that you can handle the harshness of the skinny envelope, so you will be able to do it again. Getting accepted is an awesome feeling and getting rejected sucks—but you will look back on the latter experiences and know that you learned way more from them than from the former.
The decision of where to go will come down to two schools and you will feel totally confused and frustrated. You will receive advice from family, friends, teachers, and many others. And then you will surprise many people with your choice because, ultimately, you trust your instincts. You’ll be so glad that you did.
I don’t want to give too much away, but you’re going to have the opportunity to spend more time with your extended family. And that will be one of the greatest gifts of this next chapter—cherish it.
College, like that elusive idyllic senior year, will be very different from what movies and magazines portray. You’ll fall in with a great group of friends at the beginning and then that group will fall apart. Things will seem insurmountably difficult at times before they bounce back and then some. Roll with it, take time for yourself, and don’t be afraid to ask a new college friend if s/he is feeling just as topsy-turvy. She’s going to say “hell yeah! Thank you for saying something.” Phew.
Speaking of friends, share your experiences with friends from home. It will feel strange at first, trying to picture each other’s campuses, classes, and new friends. It will take time for all of you to recalibrate, especially after that first winter break at home when everyone is feeling pulled back and forth between old and new lives. Don’t underestimate the worth of an e-mail, text message, and the oft-undervalued classic greeting card. When you graduate from college in what seems like the blink of an eye, you’ll be glad you worked as hard as you did to maintain key childhood friendships—and maybe wish you’d done even more.
As a freshman, you will map out an extremely specific plan to complete a double major and minor. And then as a sophomore you’ll ride out a series of dizzying revelations and realizations and rework “the plan” to a (different) major and minor—and trust me, you’ll be glad you did. As good as it is that you relaxed on that initially stringent plan, I wish you’d been even more open to different classes and different departments. And when you decide to take a sociology class as an elective, know that you can take a 200-level course that probably would have been more dynamic that slogging through the 101 course when you don’t have to. Just a tip.
You’ll keep a sporadic journal, often just in times of confusion and stress, but try to write in it more often than that. Memories can fade into fuzziness, making even a mundane anecdote committed to paper all the more valuable.
And last but not least, embrace the uncertainty. It’s scary, but it can also be exciting. Try to think of it as possibility instead of the unknown. You are going to suck the marrow out of college life through intellectual pursuits, engaging campus life, exploring a diverse range of extracurriculars, studying abroad, and so much more. I’m proud of you. Now take a deep breath, finish that precalc homework, and go to bed before midnight. Also, tell your parents to buy some stock in YouTube.
Elizabeth in July 2010
This letter was written as part of the BetterGrads special series: “Write a Letter to Your High School Self.” Contributors are asked to answer questions or concerns they may have had in high school, such as “What’s the purpose of college?” and “Is it worth it?” If you’d like to submit a letter for publication, please read our editorial guidelines and let us know here.