I was also getting ready to head off for my freshman year at the University of Notre Dame, a place I loved visiting as a high school junior, was excited to be accepted to, and yet...harbored a deep fear that I wasn't choosing the right school.
However, my initial hesitation is a common phenomenon among the college-bound. In fact, if I had to identify a student's single greatest fear prior to setting off for university, it is that they will choose the wrong school.
Does this internal conversation look familiar?
If I pick the wrong school, I'll be unhappy.
If I'm unhappy, I won't make any new friends and my grades will suck.
If I can't keep my grades up, I'll fail out.
If I fail out, my parents will disown me and I'll never get a job.
WHOA. Hold up. Rewind.
It's ok to rank the schools you apply to in order of most to least preferable. But you should be genuinely interested in attending any one of them. Because you will get into some, and not others. You may not get your first choice, or even your fourth.
So how do you make what you once considered a less preferable option feel like a first choice?
Make Yourself At Home
You can't choose all of your classes, but you do exercise some control over electives, which professors you learn from, arranging your schedule in a way that works for you,and what major you end up declaring.
Keep in mind - YOU are the one who will be sitting in the classes, doing the homework, taking the exams, and reading the books. So choose to major in something you like, or at least can be interested enough to get up for an 8 am class.
If you or someone else (likely a parent) is concerned about how "practical" this major is, consider if this major helps you develop marketable skills such as written communication, critical thinking and analysis, research, and public speaking. If you are going to a liberal arts school, I can pretty much guarantee you will be honing these skills regardless of the major you pick.
Find friends. They might be people you meet in class, your dorm, the guy you sit next to at the football games every weekend, or someone you keep running into at Juggling Club meetings.
Now, make time for these friends. Eat meals together, hang out on the weekends, get weird together studying during exam week, and just generally be there for one another.
You are planning on either getting a job or continuing on to a graduate or pre-professional program, right? So get strategic now. If you want to go straight to the job market, utilize your campus's Career Office and alumni network to schedule informational meetings with professionals in your field of interest and find internship opportunities.
If you are planning on grad school (or business, med, law,etc school), let some of your professors know your intention. I've had so many teachers acting as a mentor for me through applications process, because they know how grueling it is. If they recommend you do some extra work outside of class, do it. If they put you in touch with a professor at another university, follow up.
Organize an applications schedule well in advance, because applying to grad school is a time-consuming and sometimes expensive process.
No school comes pre-packaged as right or wrong - you make it the right place for you.
Yep. It turns out the secret to choosing the right school, is making the school you attend what you want it or need it to be.
Also, consider that "right" may not mean the most fun, easy, or comfortable experience. Sometimes the best fit school is the one that will help you accomplish what you need so you can move forward with other goals.
So your fear about choosing the wrong school? Let it go.
[And I'll leave you with this disclaimer - if your experience is truly intolerable due to overwhelmingly difficult coursework, a hostile social environment, or just a general feeling that you aren't supposed to be there - it's ok to investigate other options. Consider taking some time off, transferring to another university, or asking yourself if you need to find another path entirely.]