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Ah, December. Usually a time for holiday cheer and festivities, the month can, and often does, take a different meaning for high school seniors: ED decision season. While the term can bring wonderful news, for a lot of students it can also be a disappointing time, their academic dreams either deferred or shut down completely.

I, for one, understand students in that latter position right now. I remember the moment clearly – I was studying with my friends, willing my heart to stop beating so fast and my hands to stop shaking, continually pushing the question – did I get in or not? – out of my head. Eventually, though, I had to check; the thought was too consuming for me to not. What I was confronted with when I opened my decision was not an answer to my question, but rather a delay: I was deferred.

Though I had steeled myself for this possibility, the disappointment still rolled through me in harsh and heavy waves. I went back to my room to think about what I was going to do next, but it was a hard possibility to imagine – the future seemed so far and removed from my present. I can see, in retrospect, how overly dramatic I was being; in the moment, though, every ounce of sadness and dread weighing me down felt entirely legitimate.

A year later, I’m watching my high school senior friends undergo similar processes and feelings. And while I try to comfort them, I know they don’t have the perspective that I do – they don’t know that life will go on as it always, always does. I get that it sounds cliché, but the best and only advice I can offer them is that it all works out for the better.

Hopkins actually wasn’t my ED school – I was choosing between JHU and a small, isolated liberal arts school. I know that, if things would have worked out differently, the college experience that I would be having would be so thoroughly distinct compared the experience I’m having now. It’s a hypothetical I have considered, sure. But I’ve never longed for it. Hopkins has given me an entirely wonderful college experience, characterized by extreme highs (and a few lows, too), and I could have never had such happenings occur had I not come to this school. I could have never imagined the random nights spent watching Shrek instead of doing work, the long trips to UniMini for some coveted mozzarella sticks, the calming walks I would take through the parks and back, simply chatting with my friends. Is this experience what I thought it would be? No, not entirely. Would it have been different if I went someone else? Definitely. But do I regret any of it? No.

Perhaps the most profound realization I’ve had since coming to Hopkins is that college is not what you think it will be. The stories people tell you about it, the way movies depict it, the expectations you yourself have – all of that will change when you actually get here. That idea of life at your dream school is a wonderful possibility, sure, but it probably will not be your reality. College is a clean slate. Wherever you go, you will forge a life for yourself; wherever you go you’ll accomplish what you set out to accomplish, meet wonderful, diverse people, grow and learn as an individual, and enjoy your college experience. It can feel like the end of the world now, in the midst of it, but I can promise you that it’s only the beginning.

Congratulations to everyone who did get in to their schools, and good luck to everyone still working on it. Either way, you’re in for a long, tumultuous, extraordinary journey – one filled to the brim with potential.