How Would Your Life Be Different if You Chose a Different College?

My dream is that someday a virtual reality machine will exist that will let you go back to a crucial decision in your life, make a different choice than you did, and relive your life (fast forwarding as needed) following the alternate path. The machine would work Inception-style in that you could relive  years of your life in the machine in mere minutes in reality.

Grown-up Jamey taking wedding photos at Wash U.

I have several significant decisions that I always wonder about, some more scandalous than others, but one that comes to mind every now and then is the university I chose to attend.

I was very fortunate that my family had the resources (also thanks to some financial aid) to attend Wash U here in St. Louis. Of all the campuses I visited, this one just felt right. The number one determining factor was that I was truly challenged by the first-level Japanese class I sat in on during my visit, while second-level classes at other universities were easy in comparison.

I had a good time at Wash U, I fell in love with St. Louis, and I had probably the best year of my life when I studied abroad in Japan. Also, Wash U looks much better on my resume than any of these other school. But it also costed a lot of money when I could have gotten a comparable education elsewhere, I missed out on the thrill and camaraderie that comes with rallying around a D-I sports team, and there are certain social and educational aspects that I struggled with.

So, just for fun, I thought I’d quickly mention the other schools I applied to and got accepted into. I feel like I should include the University of Virginia on this list, but my memory is failing me–I can’t actually remember if I applied there. I always considered it a safety school, so maybe my memory is tricking me into thinking that I would have been accepted there, but I really don’t know. Thus in the name of accuracy, I’ll just list the schools that I know for sure I got into and could have attended, as well as how things might be different now if I had attended those schools.

This is how they receive their diplomas at Middlebury. Really.

William & Mary: I’m from Virginia, so this would have been by far the least expensive of the schools I could have attended. College debt hasn’t weighed me down, but I wonder how nice it would be to not have to worry about it at all. Other than finances and location, the only thing I know would be different is that my sister and I might not get along as well as we do now because she also went to W&M. I think we needed a little space after high school, and I’m so grateful for the relationship we have now as a result of that space.

Middlebury: Middlebury is a very small liberal arts college in Vermont. I have the feeling that I would have thrived socially at a smaller school like Middlebury–I picture it more like Hogwarts than a big college. It’s out in the middle of nowhere, but that’s good, because I’m never the person who says that “there’s nothing to do in this town.” I love not having anything to do in this town because it means more time to just sit around and talk about anything and everything with people who know you inside and out. Also, based on a yearbook a friend procured during a visit at Middlebury, 95% of the girls there were super hot. That would have been nice. The biggest downside that I would have learned the hard way at Middlebury is that I truly want nothing to do with cold weather, and I would have been freezing for most of the school year up in Vermont. Oh, and I also would be a much better writer by now, as Middlebury is all about the writing. Maybe I really should have gone there…

Macalester: I had by far the worst college visit at Macalester because it seemed like no one actually wanted to be there (to the point that just now when I looked up how to spell the school, I was genuinely surprised that it still exists). It was cold, everyone smoked, and the dorm rooms seemed like prison cells. The one redeeming value was that there was a 24-improv marathon going on when I was there, and I don’t think I’ve ever laughed that hard for that long. So many if I had gone there I would have had a lot of funny friends.

If Harry Potter went to college, it would be at a place like Swarthmore.

Swarthmore: I was very pleased to get into Swarthmore because they have such a low acceptance rate. The campus is absolutely beautiful, like some sylvan hideaway in the woods–it’s another town where “there’s nothing to do here.” I think I would have been overwhelmed by the wealth there. Not the school’s wealth; the wealth of the students. But I think it’s the type of place where I would have had a somewhat magical college experience and walked away with lifelong friends like the people in The Big Chill (I just saw it for the first time this weekend–highly recommended).  I also think it’s the type of place where a lot of streaking happens. I’ve never streaked, but it seems like the kind of thing I’d enjoy in large groups. So perhaps I would have ended up in a nudist colony after attending Swarthmore.

Overall, I’m very happy and grateful for the path I chose, and I don’t dwell on the past. But I certainly am curious about it.

How about you? What were your other college choices? Is there any one in particular that you think would have led you down a very different path?