Why I Let Go of My Ivy League Dream

In the summer of 2008, after my junior year at Dominican High School outside Milwaukee, I would say "Olly olly oxen free" every time I heard the ominous word "college," hoping somehow to keep the end of childhood at bay. The application process loomed, and I saw it as daunting. Rather than prepare for SATs or college essays, I was wondering what happened to my kindergarten vow to attend a school a few miles from home so I could eat lunch with my mom. Farewell, sweet naiveté.

Soon enough, I had to play the admissions game. After browsing for hints and how-tos on the Internet, I was less intimidated by the prospect. And, having decided to study graphic design, I even had a hunch that a portfolio of my artwork might be in order. However, I struggled with the decision about where to apply. Should I be pragmatic, or try for what I thought would be the ideal school—regardless of how realistic (or unrealistic) that goal might be?

I opted to "reach," convinced that my dream school was an elite private institution with a relatively small student body. I came up with seven schools, and Brown University topped my list. I confess that some of the reasons for this choice were strictly clichés. To me, Brown seemed to gleam with prestige. At the same time, its superb academics and flexible curriculum would provide an optimal environment where I could cultivate my talents.

The $50,560-per-year price tag did prompt an interesting talk with my parents about financial realities. But we put aside our differences, and afterward I agreed to remain open to other options. One of those was Creighton University, which I regarded (albeit reluctantly) as a potential winner. I had enjoyed my visit to the Omaha school during the summer and had felt comfortable there. Creighton even offered a graphic-design major. In hindsight, it was only my urgent need to attach myself to an Ivy League school that kept me from giving Creighton more serious consideration as a possible first choice.

I seized on Brown's motto, "In God we hope"—and I did. But come April, it turned out that all my fervor and hope in God weren't enough to gain me admission. Brown turned me down. I was disappointed, maybe even a little disillusioned. But those feelings passed quickly. I realized I was the same person as before—that rejection hadn't stripped me of my capabilities or confidence. I still believed I could succeed at Brown but realized that I likely wouldn't have been a standout there. But the same passions that I'd hoped would win over Brown might enable me to emerge from the student pack as a leader elsewhere. I pinned the rejection letter on my bedroom wall, and I actually smiled.

Admittedly, the smile came easier because I had another option. A few months earlier I had been accepted to Creighton. When I was still under the sway of Brown, my admission to Creighton felt like a consolation prize. But as I thought more about the school, I realized it just might be the right place for me. It not only fit all my original criteria but had also radiated such warm, hospitable vibes during my visit that I'd felt as if I were only a few miles from home. With a proud tradition bolstered by generous scholarship opportunities, Creighton now appeared to me in a different light—as both an ideal and a pragmatic choice.

In my high school's production of The Wiz, I played the titular con artist from Omaha, whose misadventure with a hot-air balloon lands him in Oz. The Wiz believes, above all, in the benefits of "power, prestige, and money." But of course the Wiz is a fraud. So on campus in Omaha, I will try to keep those aspirations in their rightful place. Perhaps on my way to school I will stop to admire a cornfield, or even spot a balloon among some cumulus fluff. Maybe I didn't have to bid goodbye to sweet naiveté after all.