A few weeks shy of my 18th birthday, I made what I thought would be my last life changing decision for hopefully a few years. Choosing a college meant I was set until graduation, right? Nope. Of course, I was horribly wrong. By committing to go to the University of Central Florida, I had not guaranteed myself four years free of decisions… I’d actually just committed to a lifetime of them.
I did not come to that conclusion immediately. My first few months at school went by in a blur, an odd mishmash of freshmen events, late nights with new friends, and projects and essays not wholly unlike the ones I had in high school. It wasn’t until the semester started winding down that I realized something felt off.
I fought that feeling for a long time. It was particularly easy when I was with my friends, and thoughts of education and post-college decisions were pushed to the very back of my mind. I was having new, exciting experiences with my closest friends in abundance, which happened to be the best antidote for the persistent feeling of wrongness I felt unable to shake. It was usually in the time I spent alone that I suddenly became overwhelmed, a feeling of not belonging bubbling up in my chest so intensely and so frequently that I eventually could not ignore it.
I loved my beautiful college campus, my school’s proximity to Orlando’s tourism district, and my friends. I still do. But no matter how happy those things made me, I could not shake the feeling that I was on track to graduate and be no better off than when I started.
I know that’s a bit of a strong statement. And to a degree, I was learning in all of my classes, and I was even lucky enough to interact with a couple of truly remarkable professors. But beyond that, I was drowning. Attending a school that was home to nearly 60,000 students, I felt like a tiny, nameless fish in a very, very big pond.
It wasn’t for lack of trying, of course. With a year under my belt and some AP credits pushing me quickly toward graduation, I did everything I could to get assistance with finding internships, building a portfolio, and forging a path that would ultimately lead to a desirable career upon graduation. And all I got was slammed doors.
With each unanswered email or university misdirect, I grew more frustrated. My friends in other, smaller and more specialized programs were doing great, their departments and advisors more than happy to help them find jobs and take steps toward achieving their ultimate career aspirations. As happy as I was to watch them succeed, I knew I couldn’t stay stagnant, especially as their successes showed me how a college experience should be.
A year and a half after beginning my journey at UCF, I decided to transfer to Drake University, a much smaller university than I had grown accustomed to, with 4,991 students enrolled in 2015.
And it was one of the hardest decisions I’d ever had to make. Even though I knew UCF wasn’t the right place for me, it was heartbreaking to leave. Sure, I knew I’d miss the weather, the pools, the day trips to Disney or the beaches. That I could live with. But leaving my friends, the people who had made UCF my home away from home, was what made leaving truly gut-wrenching.
Despite that, even before I officially decided to attend Drake in the spring, I knew it was the right decision. Even from hundreds of miles away, I was already having a warmer, more helpful experience with the faculty. I talked to advisors, admissions counselors, department heads and even the Assistant Dean of Student Affairs, all before even committing to the school. For the first time in a long time, I felt like I could go where I wanted post-graduation and have the career of my dreams. Even as I sat alone my first night at my new university, homesick for people and places that were too far away, I knew I would be okay and that I had made the right choice, regardless of how hard it felt in that moment.
Now, months later, I’m sure of it. I’m almost one semester in at Drake, and I’ve made wonderful friends and had opportunities I would never have even dreamed of having by my sophomore year at my last school. And, because of these results, I’ve never been more sure of a decision in my life.
But to get here, to this place where I’m flourishing and making amazing progress, I had to trust that tiny, undeniable gut feeling that persistently grew until I could no longer ignore it. Even as I was having the time of my life with my friends, I had to face up to the fact that life at UCF was not what I needed it to be.
I’m glad I did. While trusting my gut took me hundreds of miles out of my comfort zone, the decision has been worth it… because it’s what I was meant to do. And, in a way, I think I was meant to go to UCF as well. I gained friends I’ll keep for a lifetime, and learned a lot about what I want to get out of my college experience… and even more about following my instincts.