75: It’s a Sure Bet

75: It’s a Sure Bet

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teens Talk Getting In...To College

It’s a Sure Bet

Things turn out best for the people who make the best out of the way things turn out.

~Art Linkletter

It’s a sure bet to get in... to get money... to succeed.

But to like it? Have it be the right decision? That I was not so sure about.

The long, thick white envelope stares at me from the kitchen counter. It’s from the University of Florida, my safety school.

“Well, what does it say?” Mom looks up excitedly from the papers she’s grading.

I feel the weight and shrug. “I got in.”

“You didn’t even open it!”

I sigh. “I don’t really need to.” Movies, books, guidance counselors —they all have prepared me for this moment. Big equals the thin words “you’re in.” Small and thin equals “Big fat no.”

My fingers unhinge the flap from the glue and I dump the many different colored pieces of paper onto the counter.

“Britt Leigh, is that how you treat your college acceptance?” Mom whines from the couch.

I roll my eyes. I sift through the registration forms, the schedule of classes, the dates-to-remember memo, and find the letter. “Yep, they’re giving me that scholarship.”

Mom does this weird shoulder shake. “Ooh. When do they need to hear back from you?”

I push the papers back into a pile intended for a spot on my cluttered desk. “Um, by May?”

Mom gets up from the couch. “Here, I want to see them.” She yanks them from my grasp. “Here it is.” It’s the verification form. “You can sign this tonight and have Dad mail it out in the morning.”

I bite my lip to keep my tone in check. “It’s only November. I haven’t even sent in the applications to the other schools yet.” I have some essays to write for Northwestern, Dartmouth, Yale, and Swarthmore.

“But what if you don’t get in, and UF has given your spot away?”

“Oh please, like they’d really tell a National Merit Scholar, no, sorry we don’t want you to boost our ratings.”

“Br-itt. Anything can happen. But, OK, miss. Say you do get into those fancy schools? How are you going to go? Because your father and I are not going to pay for it.”

“I don’t know! Anything can happen!”

I grab the papers and trudge to my room. I slam the door. The University of Florida isn’t so bad. It has more trees than the University of Central Florida campus. And less emphasis on the technology programs. Plus, the scholarship and promise of early registration dates showed that the Gator Nation was throwing itself at me shamelessly, and I didn’t even play a sport. It was the very definition of a “safety” school. I guess they figured since I was smart, they were safely assuming I was going to do research. But I longed to write.

That spring, I eagerly awaited fat envelopes from my “dream” schools. I ignored the much-touted formula of two dream schools, two reachable schools, and two safety schools. I wanted to wear the purple colors of Northwestern because it had one of the best Journalism schools in the nation. Not to mention it was the go-to school in any Chicago-set movie. Failing that, I happily would trade in my flip-flops for snowshoes if I got into Dartmouth. Notable students included Dr. Seuss and Don Shula’s grandson. The latter guy made my mom more open to the idea of me going there.

If we won the lottery, of course.

My third choice, Swarthmore, had the prettiest (and only) out of-state campus I visited. I liked discussing the role of women in Pride and Prejudice with my interviewer. And of course, I had to apply to an Ivy, like all the other smart kids in my uber-competitive high school. I chose Yale because it had a Nobel Laureate in English as a professor, and not applying to Harvard seemed like a really cool nonconformist statement to make.

As the fat letters from Northwestern and Dartmouth arrived, I did not think about the fact that I had never done any real journalism before, and Dr. Seuss did not major in children’s literature. That major didn’t exist at Dartmouth, and still doesn’t. When I got the waitlist envelope from Swarthmore, I was terrified at the loss of a pretty Pennsylvania campus with a real fall season, and not the amazing liberal arts education. When the thin, big fat no came from Yale, I naively thought I was losing the chance to study under Toni Morrison—which happened in the 1970s, as it turns out.

UF was looking more and more like a foregone conclusion. To me, the fancy names of the other schools translated into a secure future; the “safety” of UF was just in being able to get in. Would a state education really give me what I needed to succeed?

I was forced to find out. My family never did win the lottery So in August, my parents dropped me off at the hospital-looking corridors of Hume Hall at the University of Florida. Within a week, I had a brand new circle of friends. Within a month, I had the love of football. Within a semester, I had academic plans to go to Europe and get degrees in both English, specializing in children’s literature, and in Journalism.

Walking across the large field in front of the library, where the leaves had fallen (albeit in January), I finally figured out what the “dream” and “safety” words should really mean. My real dream for college was to find forever friends, balance school and play, and pursue my passions with full support. Maybe I would have gotten those things at the other schools. Maybe not. But ultimately choosing UF meant choosing to give myself the tools to secure my own future, regardless of the name of the school.

Right before I graduated, the University developed the “Go” commercials. One line said “Go write the great American novel.” When I moved up to Boston after getting accepted to my dream Masters program at Simmons College, I would hear that line and say, “Okay! That’s exactly what I’m here to do.” And since UF gave the opportunity to do so, I have to add, “Go Gators.”

~Britt Leigh

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