by Samantha Rose-Sinclair
“I like it a lot.”
A nice enough stamp of approval, but not the reaction to a wedding gown that Say Yes to the Dress conditioned me to expect. “The dress” is a big investment and a landmark decision that can drum up emotions of the future ahead. “Like” is good, but shouldn’t my sister be gushing about her love of the dress? Should she be crying? Should I be crying? Maybe I should cry.
My sister, mom, grandma and I sat in a lovely dress shop in Savannah awaiting Alex’s next thought. She twisted while carefully observing herself in the mirror and smoothing the lace. “Yeah, I really like it,” she said with a smile. She turned to us expectantly and asked, “But what do you guys think?”
For those of you who have never joined in on a dress boutique shopping adventure, here’s the play-by-play of what you can expect: the bride usually brings suggestions of styles she likes. With the help of a consultant, she picks out styles in their shop that match as closely as possible, with the occasional curveball pick or two. They retreat to a dressing room to shimmy on the dresses, and the bride then comes out in the ones she deems “entourage worthy.” We assess while the bride shares her first thoughts, then the group offers feedback and praise (or not) while she stands atop a pedestal.
Now from here, everything I knew about wedding dress shopping (which came exclusively from TLC shows) told me I should be watching for “that moment.” You know, the moment someone tries on their dress and “they just know,” or when there is an obvious blubbering mess of emotions spilling out into the room. Yet here we were, and Alex was very measured and surprisingly calm. Well, not too surprising… she’s a Pediatric ED nurse, so I probably should have expected the calm.
All those magical things, including the notion that you’ll “just know,” are also constantly repeated about the college search process. Even I, as an admission counselor, am guilty of throwing those ideas around. But the concept of a dream college and the idea of one true fit that “clicks” as soon as you step on campus… that may or may not be your experience, and that’s okay. Colleges are real places (flaws and all), and a “dream school” sets an unrealistic expectation.
Just because you don’t feel that magical “click” doesn’t mean anything is wrong with the school, or more importantly, with you. If you’re more analytical, consider asking yourself questions that evaluate what you’re experiencing a little more tangibly.
When you’re researching colleges, ask yourself:
- Do I want to learn more about this school?
- Where could I fit into the big picture of the things I’m reading about?
- Does the mission statement of this college resonate with me?
- Could this school help me fulfill the goals of not only what I want to do in college (and beyond), but why I want to go to college? (this one requires a bit of self-reflection.)
When you’re visiting colleges, ask:
- Am I counting down the minutes until I leave, or am I excited to explore more? (Note: as tough as it may be, try to separate out temporary things like weather patterns from your long term judgments. A gross rainy day can make you eager to leave, but that’s not what we’re going for here.)
- Am I looking forward to the possibility of coming back?
- Did I hear about any unique opportunities today that piqued my interest?
- Can I see myself engaging in this community?
- And for each of the above answers, ask yourself “Why?”
Sometimes a trusted confidant can help reshape things or put the process into perspective. The floor sample of the dress Alex was wearing came in an off-white that looked greyish purple. It was hard for her to get past that in order to make a decision, even though the consultant patiently reassured her the dress she’d order could come in ivory. After noticing the hesitation, I asked the consultant to grab a fabric sample of the ivory and we pinned it to the skirt of the dress. Now she could envision it.
Your support system can look at things in a way you may not have considered. You might be looking for a major in Game Design and overlook a program called “Computational Media.” A different term, but a perfect match. It can be helpful to have a second set of eyes to assist in navigating the roadblocks to a connection.
Alex also hedged her emotions a bit out of trepidation for the entourage in the room—mom and grandma’s opinions matter a lot. Sure, she liked the dress, but what if we didn’t like it, and we didn’t approve? Parents, guardians, and supporters: sometimes a little encouragement and praise can help! In the foreign environment of a college search, be reassuring. Your student may be cautiously expressive because they’re holding their breath for what you think, or they may doubt belonging there because impostor syndrome on college campuses is very real.
The dress matched everything my sister’s Pinterest board showed she was looking for, and she looked beautiful. But ultimately, Alex isn’t the “magical-fairytale-moment-crying-in-a-dress” type (Trademark, Sammy Rose-Sinclair). Remember, that’s okay. She still said yes! So with her family around her, we celebrated her decision with ”she/I said yes” tambourines (yes, I too just learned that’s a real thing, and now need one for all my decisions) and Alex bought the dress she’ll wear down the aisle next year.
She really likes the dress. She’s even thrown the word “love” around a few times since. Crazy, right? What’s most important, though, is how much Alex really loves her husband-to-be, Dave. They’re patient with each other, they’re thoughtful, silly, and kind. They’re incredibly excited about their wedding, but even more excited about the future that comes with it.
And that’s the real takeaway here: your college will be a wonderful place. I hope you really, truly, like it a lot. But it’s the things you’ll do, the people you’ll meet, the opportunities you’ll have, that will make it special.