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The pressure of choosing a college: How I found happiness in my decision

This is part of a series featuring student voices. Read more articles written by high school and college student authors here.


One of the first major decisions of a young adult’s life is what they plan to do after high school. The options are pretty much limitless. Some will choose the college route, and picking a school isn’t as easy as it sounds. This is definitely the hardest decision I’ve made. 

There’s a lot to consider when picking a college. Some pretty common factors are cost, distance, and offered majors. The one thing I took heavily into consideration was the school’s creative writing program. I was looking to attend a college that had a strong creative writing program within North Carolina.

I did apply to all the colleges that I wanted to, but my parents also wanted me to apply to some local historically Black colleges or universities, known as HBCUs. There are 12 in North Carolina. My parents were expecting a good amount of the expenses to be covered because these schools were meant to cater to African-Americans such as myself.

I understand what their intentions were, but I really wasn’t feeling a lot of the schools. My dad attended North Carolina Central University, as well as a friend of my mom. NCCU is in Durham, where I live and just graduated from Riverside High School. 

Other friends of the family recommended that I attend these schools, and with recent protests going on within the community, I couldn’t help but to feel some type of pressure. On one hand, I thought that maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to attend an HBCU and carry on something that my dad started, but my heart just wouldn’t let me. North Carolina State University is the school I wanted to attend, and its creative writing program is ranked second best within the state.

As a kid, I didn’t talk at all in elementary school and people thought it was weird. I was just always too shy, so I’d write down whatever I wanted to say. It was way easier expressing myself with a piece of paper and pencil than to use spoken words. Eventually I started writing little stories and poems for people to read, and I stuck with it throughout the years. I’ve always kept multiple journals filled with poems and short stories. I really fell in love with it my junior year of high school while taking a creative writing class.

I could be as free as I wanted to be whenever I started writing, especially when it came to poetry. 

When I was accepted to NC State, I was ecstatic and basically decided to attend right on the spot, but I also feared that my decision might send out the wrong message to a lot of my African American peers. I was also accepted into a lot of the HBCUs I applied to, and a lot of older friends of the family expected me to attend one of these schools. I thought they would think that this was my way of turning my back on my people, when in fact, it wasn’t that way at all.

There’s been a ton of big names, like Rickey Smiley and Mikey Williams, who have encouraged parents to place their kids into HBCUs as a silent protest to support Black excellence. Recently, Makur Maker became the highest-ranked college basketball prospect to commit to an HBCU since the ESPN recruiting database started in 2007. He committed to Howard University. I’m all for that, but going to these schools just isn’t the move for me.

I feel as though I’ve worked hard to be accepted into college, and I’d love to go to the school of my dreams.

So after many restless nights, I finally convinced myself that I don’t have to please everyone and live up to their expectations.

I’ll attend the school of my choice and be happy with it. At the same time, I feel like not all of my friends see it like that. A lot of them chose to go to HBCUs this year while I’ll be attending NC State.  

My mom has helped ease some of the pressure and constantly given some words of advice, my favorite being:

“It’s what you want to do. The thought of nobody else really matters. They aren’t going to school, you are. Do what makes you happy.”

Jarek Harris

Jarek Harris is a rising freshman at North Carolina State University and former staff member of the Pirates’ Hook at Riverside High. He plans to major in creative writing while minoring journalism.