The day I was accepted to the University of Michigan, I thought all my problems were solved. I had been admitted to a top public school and knew I would get an education that would help me to grow in a productive way. At first, I was not sure if I was going to get in, and I felt reassured reading my acceptance letter. I never thought of myself as the top of my class. I could never get by just by reading over the study guide, and I always had to work hard to do well. That is why when I was accepted to this elite university, I was in awe and excited for the four years to come. I was excited to take advantage of the opportunities the University had to offer and was eager to jump right in.

But after being here for six months, I am surprised at the number of applications I still have to fill out, even after being accepted to and coming to the University. I recently applied to and was accepted to the Sweetland Minor in Writing, which was a program I did not expect to apply for. And I am continuing to struggle with the fact that I have to constantly demonstrate my commitment to my studies and activities because of the number of admissions processes looming after my initial acceptance.

I dreamed of college as a place where, once you are accepted, every educational opportunity is at your fingertips. When I came home for Winter Break to friends who attended other schools and had already declared their majors without applying, I was surprised to learn they were living my fantasy. I have noticed recently that friends my age become intimidated and question their interests as they hear about sophomores getting into different programs. I am constantly wondering if I am making the right decisions or if I am missing out on opportunities with applications that may come around once an academic career. When I see the congratulation posts on Facebook I can’t help but think, “I am interested in political science. Am I going to miss out if I don’t apply to the Ford School of Public Policy next year?”

I also question if I am applying to the right extracurriculars, because this campus offers clubs ranging from a capella to observing squirrels on campus. Am I missing out on opportunities by not spending time on going through rigorous application processes? And if I do apply, am I wasting my time trying when I know there is a slim chance of acceptance? Similar to academic programs, will I second guess myself after applying and realizing I have wasted my time and effort?

College is supposed to be a time to explore, but the culture created through competitive application processes disincentivizes exploration in favor of choosing one path and sticking with it. I’d love to spend my time exploring all my interests, but it poses a large challenge when I have to apply to and commit myself to few specific things.

Yes, it’s true that college isn’t easy and comes with lots of tough decisions. But these decisions should not limit exploration of our interests. College presents us with opportunities to grow, but if our explorations are limited by a yearly deadline, then how will we ever get the chance to explore our every interest?

I cannot deny the goals I have in transferring to an upper-level program have made me more invested in that program’s subject. But I worry that this has come at the cost of not pursuing other interests.

The constant need to evaluate my choices in what I have decided to dedicate myself to at such an early time in my career is exhausting. There is a time and a place in life to know that my professional decisions will have major consequences for my future, but that time and place is not in my freshman year. My freshman year should have been the time to explore all the opportunities that would feed my many interests. Instead, it was spent constantly looking over my shoulder making sure I was setting myself up for the best opportunities for success, and I shouldn’t have to feel this way.  

Michelle Phillips can be reached at mphi@umich.edu.

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