For the next four years I have ideas and plans and goals that I cannot wait to unleash from my head and onto a real, live college campus. I want to join the Badminton Club, DJ for the college radio station, and join the literary magazine. I want to be at the head of my art history class and explore art in communities. I want to establish my presence in the Baltimore Jewish community, running activities for Jewish youth at local synagogues, and the JCC. Right now, with the school I am going to, and in my current state of mind, I feel empowered.
The past four years have not been so consistently positive, especially in my junior and senior years, where the college search seemed to temporarily define my life.
I was asked to evaluate myself and choose a school that would help me achieve my dreams while somehow matching my personality. I was asked to evaluate myself and make a decision on that evaluation at a time when I had no clue who I was.
I was forced to soul-search a little too quickly.
And though I am clearly nowhere near the end of my self-reflective odyssey, I’ve uncovered a lot.
At the end of sophomore year I was anxious and lacked self-confidence. It was my destiny to attend Columbia University and be an English major. With that degree I would probably have to get a master’s or PhD and become a book editor.
I was miserable with these thoughts, but they felt like an imperative duty, like I was not smart or special unless I got into an Ivy.
I also began to convince myself that the odds were all against me and that there was no way my grades and extracurricular activities would get me into a school as magnificent as Columbia (have you ever seen that library? No, I hadn’t, but I had seen the way people reacted to the very name, Columbia).
I was entranced by the prestige. I knew I was smart enough to go to a school like that and I wanted everyone else to know it too. I believed in the transformative powers of Columbia so strongly I applied early decision.
By junior year I began to get confused. Plagued by self-doubt, I flip-flopped between the desire to attend Columbia and the pragmatic view that I better figure out a safety school to settle for. Also very defensive by nature, on those doubtful days I convinced myself that Columbia was not the place for me anyway, that only stuck-up aristocrats went there, that I was better than Columbia University.
The more I convinced myself of this “truth” and the more I researched other schools, the more I believed it, and the less appealing the Ivy towers seemed. Early decision results returned: I got wait-listed.
It was also my junior year that I enrolled in AP Art History and a formal art class in school. By then, being an English major seemed futile. I never really wanted to review books; I only wanted to read them.
Instead, I set my sights on art history. I visited every museum with renewed knowledge and enthusiasm, read art books, and prowled the Internet for more information. My college essay was about my crush on a Mannerist portrait.
While taking my SATs, ACTs, SAT IIs, and the like, I began to realize that I was falling behind on the college visits. The only schools even on my radar were the well-known ones or schools my parents had mentioned and even then all I knew were the stereotypes perpetuated about each one.
At first, that was largely how I decided what schools to apply to and which to skip over. Definitely not Brown, they don’t have any fun there; Rutgers is too big, with too many parties; Bowdoin is in the middle of nowhere — if they go to school in Vermont they must all be granolas. And on and on.
Eventually I came to be a senior and did some real research. Googling does very little when supplied with the words, “Best Art History Colleges.”
I compiled a hefty list of liberal arts and fine arts schools all with art history majors. They stretched from California (Scripps), to Illinois (School of the Art Institute of Chicago), to New York (yes, Columbia, Barnard, and Sarah Lawrence), and even a long shot from Canada (Ontario College of Art and Design). My parents will be the first to tell you that I left most of my applications for the night before they were due.
DON’T DO THAT.
I waited too long to do the soul searching. But after I did it was worth it.
I wanted to find a school with a great art history major but I also wanted to have a little fun with my education. I didn’t want to sit around writing the same essays forever, always doing the same things — I wanted to move.
That’s what I uncovered about myself. Columbia has all the prestige and resources in the world. But they also adhere to a classical, standard education. And all I want is innovation. I didn’t use to be so motivated.
In sophomore year, skipping college altogether sounded like a great idea. A relaxing, tropical vacation sounded more like it. Time passed, I got bored in high school. Then I got bored with being bored. In the vein of two negatives making a positive, I got excited for the future.
Finally, my favorite became clear: the Maryland Institute College of Art, where I am this fall, was the school I actually visited with some candor, that I prayed to get accepted to, and that I jumped for joy when I did.
I get to make art, study art history, and most importantly, have an academic breakthrough and be able to put it into action with the full force of MICA behind me.
I guess creative schools are like that, fostering creativity. Knowing there was a school for me, to do what I want to do, has opened my mind to be creative instead of negative.
I didn’t used to think I could be happy in school. But that was before I really knew what happy meant to me.
Julia Wolkoff, 19, graduated from Columbia High School and now attends Maryland Institute College of Art. She is a member of Nu’s teen board.