Grinnell and Carleton. Those were my top two college choices when I applied. I’ll be truthful — Carleton was my top choice. I had a friend going there, and he sounded like he was having a lot of fun. “Oh man!” I thought. “I wanna have fun too!” I hadn’t figured out by this point that most people have fun at their school; that’s why they chose it.
I’ll be truthful again: I got wait-listed at Carleton. So while I hung around to hear back from them, I went to go check out Grinnell. I drove down here for an overnight stay and was 100 percent terrified. I’m not a big fan of stepping out of my comfort box, and I considered sleeping on a stranger’s floor in a state I’d never even stepped foot in before as definitely outside the box.
My host picked me up at the admission office and took me over to her dorm. We made small talk, and by small talk, I mean I’m-really-outside-of-my-element-here-someone-please-take-me-back-to-high-school nervous talk. Then I noticed this giant paper clock on the wall next to her room, divided into 12 sections, each with a different location on it (Food, Burling, Class, etc). There were several hands on this clock, each with — as I soon learned — the name of one of my host’s roommates on it.
That’s right, they had built themselves a Weasley family clock from the Harry Potter books. It took me about five more minutes of small not-so-nervous-anymore-because-you-guys-are-awesome talk for me to realize that, forget Carleton, this was the place for me. Actually, the clock was just one of many little tip-offs I got as a prospective student at Grinnell. There was also a shirt. Specifically a T-shirt worn by a rather attractive friend of my host, a shirt that came from the same webcomic as the one I was wearing. It was the connection to the webcomic that gave me the clue: maybe I was in the right place. It wasn’t the attractiveness of the guy wearing it (but while that didn’t influence my decision, it was nice that Grinnell students turned out to be about 41 times more attractive than any possible prospects I had at my high school).
After that initial awkward walk, I felt more at ease, as if I was with people who could understand me. I hung out with a handful of Grinnellians and one other prospective student who was visiting at the same time (whom I forgot all about, only to later re-meet in my American Lit class three semesters later). We played Loggia Frisbee, which meant I got to run around on the roof of our first-floor walkways catching Frisbees thrown from the ground. Wicked fun, even if my catching skills matched that of, say, a T-rex. But a T-rex who was thoroughly enjoying herself!
Some people talk about a sign they received in the final decision-making moments — a sign that somehow told them they needed to go to Grinnell. Someone got cut off in traffic by a car with a bumper sticker from her other top school. Another met a Grinnellian in their as-far-away-from-Iowa-as-possible hometown. While I was still deciding, I learned that my own hometown was like a Grinnellian super-magnet or something, because Grinnell people were popping up out of the woodwork. My across-the-street neighbor’s mother was a librarian at Grinnell; the mother of the family I babysat for was an alum; the son of a woman in my mother’s exercise class had just been hired by Grinnell’s English department.
Grinnell just wouldn't leave me alone!
I never regretted choosing Grinnell over Carleton. And often, such as when I’m running off to the Star Wars trivia contest where I’m maybe only the 34th most knowledgeable person there, I’m thankful I decided to come to here.
“Your father and I didn’t want to say anything to influence your decision,” my mom said to me after I’d sent in my housing application to Grinnell, “but we never thought Carleton would have worked for you.”
And as parents usually are (much to our disgruntlement), they were totally right.
Molly Rideout '10 is an English major from Madison, Wisconsin.