Emily Hunt, a recent graduate of Petaluma High School, will attend UC Santa Barbara in the fall.


Study after study in social psychology, from the Cornell University studies of Dunning and Kruger to those of Carl Rogers, indicates we as individuals tend to overestimate ourselves. Even without formal evidence, it is certainly difficult to deny the existence of those well-intended but flaw-riddled parenting techniques through which children come to believe they are “the fastest, the prettiest” and, of course, “the smartest.”
With the monumental numbers of applicants and only a toddler-aged economic recession, the years 2009-2010 have seen one of the most difficult college admission processes in recent years. In fact, the University of Chicago and Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., both had record lows in acceptance rates, while even the University of Virginia experienced a dubious increase in its acceptance of higher-paying, out-of-state students.
The connection? When college acceptance letters came rolling around last April, many of the starry-eyed academics of the class of 2010 were met with a rather disheartening “welcome to the real world, kid.”
But we’ve heard this story before. Students have evaluated, cursed, re-evaluated and decided before finally heading off somewhere in the fall.
The aftermath? Sometimes indignation: As a friend told me, “If they don’t want me, I sure don’t want them.” Some of the most brilliant and interesting students I knew were either denied by, or couldn’t financially handle, their first-choice schools, and they were feeling a little insulted.
Sometimes, however, the reaction was pure excitement to become independent; a small town, for some, can feel restrictive after 18 years. And then sometimes it was shock; the prospect of leaving parents, of packing up our lives into three large suitcases, is perhaps the saddest, sweetest finale of all.
As a San Francisco-born girl who thought she was going to be a Columbia University Lion and is now a UC Santa Barbara Gaucho, I was full of apprehension. UC Santa Barbara’s outward stereotype relies mainly on the image of droves of good-looking surfers and raucous weekends, not exactly on its cultural and academic rigor. Parties and tanning sounded great, but would I risk wasting a nonrefundable education? Or, could it be that parties and tanning were all I was good for? I had overestimated how colleges would view me on paper; maybe I had overestimated my own abilities.
When I went to my UCSB orientation I was again confronted with reality, but this time with a hopeful nudge toward the entrance doors. Intelligent and interesting people were everywhere! They weren’t merely “book smart” and dour young scholars; these were savvy, unique people with hobbies and talents, who had simply chosen to go to a good school under the Southern California sun. Shame on me for being such a Northern California snob!
I was still wary of the potential awkwardness of socializing as a stranger among strangers. I went through high school with a tightly knit group of friends whom I love and who already know and love me. In Santa Barbara, no one would love me.
Yet, judging from my experiences at orientation, there is a certain adorable desperation inherent in incoming college freshman, stemming from fear of loneliness and forcing students to desire a connection with just about anyone. Opening up even just a little bit and projecting a level of confidence (even if you don’t really have it) can make you a friend in about the amount of time it takes to say, “So what’s your major?”
Even Sharon Baer, a working college advising consultant, had similar counsel: “Remember, it is not so much where you ‘land’ as it is what you do with where you are at. Be confident and have faith in yourself as you open a new chapter in your life.”
I was right: No one in Santa Barbara loves me — yet.
I’ve heard stories similar to mine countless times from my friends and acquaintances, ranging from the University of Oregon to Bard College in New York. In the end, we were each admitted to four-year universities, and why on Earth would we not be excited about that?
My father always told me that regardless of where I would go, I would meet all fractions of the “bell-shaped curve.” I am inclined to believe that. Not only is this the start of our true academic careers, this also is the start of our lives as adults living where, let’s face it, we don’t already have people to love us like our mothers or fathers, brothers or sisters, girlfriends or boyfriends do. And that’s a little scary.
I know I’ve seen the interesting effect it has had on my friends: a group of lovely, confident girls who are just now realizing that this may be the last time they will call Petaluma home. Some are traveling to foreign countries in an effort to demonstrate independence; some are re-evaluating their goals or are deep in self-discovery. Some are going through premature quarter-life crises. The point is, they are all excited (even if bordering on hysteria).
Male Australian Aborigines must survive alone in a wilderness for six months to signify their entrance into adulthood. Some of us have it easy: We go to college.
Rather than feeling like a child leaving home, feel like a capable person beginning to experience life according to his or her own rules. Because ultimately, whether we’re going with a reluctant nostalgia or going with an unabashed joy to get outta here, going to Yale University or going into the work force, the important thing is we’re going.