I hated high school. Not in the normal way people hate high school, when they can’t stand waking up early and the food sucks. I was emotionally, physically, and mentally crushed by my high school. I attended a college prep school forty-five minutes from my house. Most of the kids who went there had been going since they were three, and the other new ninth graders were from the area and had already seemed to forge connections before the year started.
The school was academically rigorous and influenced by the wealthy families who sent their children there. I felt like a complete outsider and also really under-qualified. In other words, I felt unintelligent. I was among the lowest-scoring people in my class and I attribute this mostly to my prior Quaker education, which focused far more on self expression and writing than it did on college level material. (No regrets there by the way; I loved Quaker school.)
That first year I left classes several times to break down in tears, either because I felt isolated by my classmates or incapable of completing the course material. I wanted to leave after my first year, but I continued to power through. Some days I would arrive to school at 7 a.m. and not leave until 10 p.m. I cried so many times on the ride home from school and pulled my hair out at least once a week trying to understand course material. My whole life I had been told I was smart; I had been praised for being accepted into this institution and I felt like it was all a lie.
When it came time to apply to college, I continued to feel as if I was out of my league. I was faced with the option of going to a well-known and well-regarded school in the south, or a small liberal arts college in Pennsylvania. A lot of people scoffed when I chose the lesser-known school. Even I was skeptical of my decision, but it felt right.
I felt something I had never felt in high school those first few days of college: I felt like I belonged. I understood the people, the classes, and the vibe of the school. I didn’t feel under-qualified or un-experienced. I felt smart for the first time in a long time. Four years later I graduated with honors, a semester of study abroad under my belt, two Bachelors degrees, and an internship at my favorite museum. I made the greatest friends and received incredible opportunities.
I know a lot of people will never understand why I didn’t go to a more prestigious university after suffering through college prep, or maybe those people think I never would have made it at one. Here’s the thing: after high school I could have survived anywhere, but instead I chose to go somewhere I could thrive. It’s so important to exist in places where you feel important, useful, and your best self.
Follow your heart, kids.
Kelsey Miller is a well-known meme historian and pasta maker. Her passions include bad reality TV, grey sweatpants, and fat dogs. She’s been faking it ’til she makes it since 1993 (although she hasn’t made it yet).