I’m a high school senior in the process of deciding where to attend college. I’ve heard back from everywhere except one school, but everyone typically hears back from them really late. I’m planning on majoring in political science, and all of the schools have good programs for that. I’m just really worried that whatever school I pick will be the wrong one. One of the schools is a women’s college, and what if I get there and realize I don’t like it? Another is in Chicago, but what if I get there and realize it’s too far from home? Or what if I go somewhere else and realize it’s too big? Or too small?
Another thing: I’m scared that if I go super far away, something significantly negative will happen and I’ll have to drop out/ take a leave for a year or two, because that’s what happened to my mom when my grandma got cancer and I don’t want to have something happen and me not be close enough to do something. Don’t get me wrong—I love all the schools I got in to, but I don’t know how I can properly judge the schools without actually attending them.
I’ve spent the night and gone to classes at some of them, and I love them, but what if the classes at the other schools are better and I just don’t know? And I can’t decide if it’s better to go to a more expensive school that I love, or go to a less expensive school that’s a backup, and my fear is that whatever I choose will be wrong. Whenever anyone asks me what my plans are, I can’t honestly tell them because I have absolutely no idea. How on earth can I decide where I want to make a home, to get a degree, to grow as a person, without having a fully developed brain (because that isn’t until mid-to-late 20s, so whatever I choose will probably be wrong for me anyways, right?) How can I lose the fear of remorse?
The good news is, Auntie SparkNotes has coined a pithy adage that perfectly encapsulates the solution your problem. The bad news is, it contains the two most cringe-inducing acronyms on the planet and just thinking about it makes me want to punch myself in the face. But here it is, Sparkler:
There’s only one cure for FOMO, and that, my friend, is YOLO.
Which is to say, you’re right: for every choice you make, there will be countless options that go unchosen—which is why you’ve gotta choose your choices with both the consideration and the full-throated enthusiasm of a guy leaping off a cliff, wearing nothing but a YOLO hat, yelling “WHOOOOOOOOO!” all the way down. Naked YOLO guy isn’t worried about regrets. Naked YOLO guy did his research, decided on a course of action, and committed to it. And if it turns out that naked YOLO guy made a bad decision when he took that leap? Hey, he’ll cross that bridge when he comes to it.
That is, assuming his legs still work.
So okay, obviously this analogy only goes so far (the worst-case outcome of your particular choice being disappointment and a school transfer rather than, y’know, death). But the point is, you’re going to choose your college the way anyone makes any big choice: you’re going to research your available options and then make your best guess, based on the information you have, about what will make you happy. And you’re not going to know with 100% certainty that you’re choosing correctly, because that would require prescient abilities that are beyond the reach of ordinary humans—but you’ll be reasonably confident about it, and that’ll be more than enough. (Sorry to tell you this, darling, but even those of us with fully-developed adult brains still can’t predict the future.)
And sure, there will be times when it doesn’t work out and you have to choose something else, but that doesn’t mean you were wrong the first time. Sometimes things don’t unfold as expected. Sometimes your own needs and desires evolve in unanticipated ways. And when it comes to stuff like this, the idea of “right” or “best” is missing the point. It’s not like you’re facing a binary choice, where there’s one right school that’ll make you happy and a dozen wrong ones that’ll ruin your life. Of course it’s important that you do your homework and make an informed decision about where to go—but being happy and productive at college isn’t just about which school you choose. It’s just as much, if not moreso, about maximizing the experience once you get there so that it’s fulfilling and enjoyable.
Which is why it’s so important that when you do make your choice, you do it in the spirit of naked YOLO guy. The best way to avoid second-guessing your decisions, not just now but in general, is to commit to them—and let the various roads not taken fade into the rearview, where they belong. The schools you didn’t attend, the cities you didn’t move to, the guys you didn’t marry, and all the other things that might have been but ultimately weren’t: you can drive yourself crazy wondering “what if” about these things, or you can let them go, the better to embrace the life you’ve chosen. That’s how you get past the fear of remorse, and that’s how you live without regrets—even when your choices don’t work out as you’d hoped and you have to do something else.
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