As I was visiting multiple colleges in my junior and senior year of high school, I always heard people talking about the “aha moment”: the moment you have when you know where you are gonna spend the next four years of your life. No matter where I went, I was always searching for that moment, willing it to happen. However, for me, the moment was much more than just a single pinpoint. In fact, I think I had an aha moment at every school that I visited. I was so excited and the simple prospect of being in college made me think I was having moments left and right. After about the 7th aha moment, my mom finally reeled me in and made me recognize that just because I was excited to be in a new place, it did not mean that was the place for me.
So, how did I get to USC? When I was young, the idea of California was so appealing to me. Between the weather, the way it was portrayed in movies, and the proximity to beaches, I joked around with my parents and family that I would ship across the country one day to “live the dream” per se. Of course, an ambitious minded 7 year old was not taken completely serious, but they still played along.
Fast forward 11 years to college application time. My original college visits were done on the east coast simply because most of the schools that I applied to were clumped in that area. I had only applied to a couple on the west coast, so we decided to wait for the results to come back before we made that long trip. Lo and behold, my acceptance to USC came in the mail, and I knew I wanted to visit (especially since I had never been to California before).
Immediately when I stepped into the Los Angeles air, I looked at my mom as if to tell her that this was the one before we even got to campus. Rightly so, she gave me the “I don’t wanna hear it” look and settled me back down to wait until we arrived on university grounds. With a clear mind and a peering eye over my shoulder, I set out to find what really fulfilled my aha moment: the facts.
Everybody looks for something different in college. Whether it be climate, academic prowess, program strength, collaboration, research, class size, job security, or even the people, we all have a utopian idea of what we want OUR college to be. I came here with lists of questions, ready to bombard whoever I could talk to with the tough stuff. To my delight, before I was even given this opportunity, most of my questions were answered in presentations. Somehow USC had read my mind and knew what was important to me. Aha.
There were several key components to my eventual arrival to Los Angeles. One, the emphasis on collaboration within my major. I had talked to many students in aerospace engineering and received the same answers about how being an engineer here was not about cut throat competition. Secondly, the countless opportunities to conduct research as an undergraduate had me drooling. In addition, I took tours of the Rocket Propulsion Lab and the Dryden Wind Tunnel and saw how I could get involved outside of my classes. A HUGE part of my decision to come here was that ability to be hands on outside of class, and I have not been let down. Between in class projects, clubs, and research I have seen my learning come to fruition and have been able to expand my knowledge beyond textbooks and formulas.
On the more casual side, the campus was beautiful. I was continuously hunting down potential hammocking spots and envisioning myself boarding throughout campus. The weather was also a big factor. 80 degrees and sunny pretty much every day of the year did not seem like a bad gig to me. Also, I could not ignore the fact that the beach is twenty minutes away, there are sports teams galore, Los Angeles is a giant culture mash up, and the opportunities I would have post graduation seemed to be endless. Aha.
In the end, no one can tell you where you belong or what your aha moment should be. That is for you to decide. Take some time to think about it yourself and where you think fits your needs the best. Do not search for an instant gratification moment or expect there to be a special feeling immediately. Do your investigations and find out where YOU want to be for the next several years of your life and develop as a person, scholar, and impactor.