06/30/2014 01:20 pm ET Updated Aug 30, 2014

What I Learned From Turning Down My Dream College

This post was written by Jilliann Pak, an incoming freshman at Johns Hopkins University. It was originally published on The Prospect, a student-run college admissions and high school/college lifestyles website. You can follow The Prospect on Facebook and Twitter.

You know what's worse than getting a rejection from your "dream school"? Getting waitlisted. It seems dumb, I know, but for some reason the uncertain limbo that is a "waitlist" is far worse than a flat-out no. Because a waitlist is the equivalent of a tiny, tiny sliver of hope amidst a sea of miserable rejection. But that's exactly the fate that I was subjected to. After a string of acceptances, I patiently waited for my final decision (coincidentally my first-choice school), and was devastated with the result. What I thought to be one of the most trying times of my short 17 years of life (I don't know, this period in my life made me weirdly dramatic) turned out to be one of the most enlightening periods, in which I learned a bevy of useful life lessons.

For me, I knew this waitlist meant it was the end. The school I had applied to accepted around 40 people off of a waitlist of 1000 students. In other words, not happening. So, I allotted myself a few days of mourning, after which I toughened up and did what I was repeatedly told to do: I fell in love with my second choice. This school was by no means a "safety" school; actually, it had a lower acceptance rate than my first choice. But for some reason, my first choice always seemed more alluring to me.

Fed up with my moping, my mom told me, "you deserve to go to a place that wants you." She was absolutely right, there's no good that comes from pining after someone or something that doesn't reciprocate. So I went to a bunch of admitted students weekends, and the moment I stepped onto my "second choice" school, I fell in love. It felt right. You know that scene in movies where you fall in love and everything slows down and the camera goes in circles? It was like that for me, except with my school. Here, I learned my second lesson: find a place that feels like home. Even though it's thousands of miles away from sunny Southern California, I was enveloped in comfort and a sense of belonging. I ended up splurging about $140 on college gear, and for the first time since that waitlist notification, I felt at ease.

But a few weeks later, I got a call while at lunch. It was my dream school, asking me if I was still interested. I felt my stomach drop quicker than a Bassnectar beat. I said yes, of course I was still interested, and received a financial aid offer. They gave me a short amount of time to make a final decision. Unfortunately for me, financial aid didn't make the decision for me as I had hoped; neither offer was a deal breaker. It was an absolutely excruciating decision to make.

Let me just put this in perspective. It was like my ex-boyfriend, whom I had been deeply infatuated with had said, "I'm just not that into you," then had come back to me just a few weeks later, right when I had found happiness with a new, way more down-to-earth guy, to say "Babe, I want you back." To use a relevant comparison, it was like when Edward left Bella and Bella fell for Jacob and then suddenly Edward came back with his stupid sparkly skin and perfect hair. All the reasons why my dream school was my dream school came rushing back. I asked parents, teachers, friends, everyone and anyone for advice. This was a bad idea, because while asking for input from others is helpful, the responsibility to make a decision is always something to be carried alone.

I was bombarded with contrasting opinions and comments and felt more conflicted than ever. That's when I learned that pros and cons lists really help. Writing every single positive and negative aspect of each option, no matter how trivial, really helped make things clear. But I still tortured myself over my final decision, until I remembered a piece of advice I had seen on Tumblr and had discredited as some dumb post. It was Johnny Depp of all people who said, "if you love two people at the same time, choose the second. Because if you really loved the first one, you wouldn't have fallen for the second." Now, I don't really know what the context of this Johnny Depp quote was or if it's even real, but it helped me come to terms with the fact that if I had really loved my first choice, then I never would've hesitated to say yes. I never would've fallen in love with another school.

I think I was forcing myself to find reasons to love the school because it had been my dream school. But that's exactly all it was. It was a school that was perfect for me on paper, but not in reality. Sometimes it's hard to just say no, because I felt a weird obligation, but I realized how ridiculous my reluctance to say no was because all it did was hold me back. After all of this internal turmoil, I declined the offer. There were a lot of people who told me I was dumb for "giving it up" but I honestly don't see it that way. I wasn't giving anything up so much as I was realizing that it was something I grew out of and no longer wanted. It's a hard thing to admit, but once I did, I knew I made the right choice.

So I chose my Jacob, and my decision may be my biggest "what if" of my life, but I know with absolute conviction that it will never be something I regret, because I trust myself enough to believe I made the right decision. I also trust that I'll be able to make the best out of any situation.