You Asked It

Just Wondering

Advice about confidence, college and abortions.

I’m a high school senior who recently applied to college, and I feel like I won’t have the life I want unless I go to a highly selective school. I read Hazel’s article about getting rejected from your #1 school, and I realize that, as she says, “You are not your application.” But I still can’t help thinking that you’re only as good as where you go to college, because all the people I admire most graduated from choosy and expensive places: Chelsea Peretti went to Barnard, Ira Glass went to Brown, Lena Dunham went to Oberlin. Virtually nobody I admire graduated from Illinois State University or Southern Illinois University, the realistic schools for my financial situation. I feel like I’m being excluded from the path to success. What do I do? —Emma, 17, Springfield, IL

Emma, GURRRL. I’m going to build on Hazel’s advice and take it one step further: You are MOST DEFINITELY not the college you attend! While it might seem otherwise based on the people you cited, for every successful person who went to a fancy Ivy League or liberal arts college, there are at least five who went to a state or community school—or who didn’t go at all. Personally, I fit in that latter category: I didn’t go to college, mostly because of money (and also because it wasn’t the thing I wanted to be doing at the time), and instead opted to live my college-age years moving around the country, trying out different jobs, and educating myself as much as I could. Through gumption, lots of hard work, and talent, I was able to become a professional, paid music journalist by the time I was 21, even with a big ol’ blank spot in the education section on my résumé. Now I have a successful career as a writer and editor, and I even TEACH a college class at New York University. (Yes, my employers know I didn’t go to college!) And I’m not the only one—here’s a short list of successful people who went to a state school or even dropped out: Tina Fey (University of Virginia), Charlyne Yi (UC–Riverside), Miranda July (UC–Santa Cruz), Oprah Winfrey (Tennessee State University), Sandra Cisneros (University of Iowa), Patti Smith (Glassboro State College), Junot Diaz (Rutgers University), bell hooks (University of Wisconsin–Madison), Wes Anderson (University of Texas–Austin). Also, I looked up alumni of the colleges you mentioned you might attend, and I have to say, there are plenty of awesome people who went there, including Michelle Williams of Destiny’s Child, Syleena Johnson (an amazing R&B singer who’s on a couple of my fave Kanye West and Cam’ron songs), Bob Odenkirk, and THE INVENTOR OF DIPPIN’ DOTS, ICE CREAM OF THE FUTURE! Dippin’ Dots are the best!

But that’s beside the point, really. You didn’t say what you’re interested in studying at college. It might be different if you’re going to be a businessperson or, like, a surgeon, but if you’re interested in the arts (which I guess I’m assuming based on your list of “successful people,” it ultimately really doesn’t matter AT ALL which college you went to, because as far as I can tell, the biggest thing creative people take away from their college experiences there are their interpersonal relationships. I have some friends who graduated from Ivy League schools who don’t feel that their educations were particularly exceptional, and I have others who do. This sounds really cliché, but I think you probably get out of college what you put into it. And, yes, there are little pockets of nepotism in writing and film and television that are entirely contingent upon whom you know—but my point is, while some colleges might help a little bit, no college can exclude you from a path to success! I don’t think you need to worry so much about your specific college defining you, because no matter what you do or don’t get out of it, you’re still going to be YOU. To quote the boss Lupita Nyong’o, “No matter where you’re from, your dreams are still valid.” Nothing is set about your future, except that you’re about to step into the vast awesomeness of it, and it’s going to be super exciting! —Julianne

I suck at interviews so, so badly. Whenever I’m asked a question, I don’t know what to say—I’m so awkward when put on the spot like this. I was recently denied a space in this science and technology forum because my interview was so bad: I stuttered and squeaked when they asked me the SIMPLEST QUESTIONS. It’s like I become stupid in front of the exact people who are supposed to think I’m smart, and it’s freaking me out because I have to partake in my college entrance interview soon, and I don’t know what to do. Any tips on how to ace an interview? -Lizzie, 16, New Zealand

Throughout my professional life, I’ve been lucky enough to have one of the strongest, smartest, and honest life coaches working for free for me—my mom. One of the things she taught me early on was to practice my talking points ahead of time in order to be prepared for my turn in the hot seat. When you train your brain by rehearing messages ahead of time, it makes it easier to feel confident.

This TED-Ed video backs up my mom’s advice with cold, hard science. It explains how clamming up after being put on the spot is a normal human reaction that’s part of our “fight or flight” response to extreme stress, an instinct that can make every public conversation feel like a matter of life or death! But it also explains how we can control our response to feeling freaked out when it’s time to speak up.

Over the years, I’ve asked my parents, friends, and mentors to ask me challenging questions about my career background and personal interests, ranging in tone from friendliness to downright hostility, before presentations and job interviews, so I can feel prepared on game day. I swear by this form of verbal and mental “training” to the point that I sometimes dress up and record myself in advance so I can work out nervous feelings, physically see myself in action, and know that whatever comes my way will be old hat because I did my homework. However many times you may have heard this adage, I have to say that practice really does make perfect. And if I’m still feeling nervous, I dust off my copy of a book by Christine K. Jahnke called The Well-Spoken Woman, which is full of helpful tips on conveying concise, compelling, and consistent messages.

I believe in you, Lizzie, and I know you have what it takes. Congratulate yourself for getting your interview, and own your expertise. You already have the qualifications and experiences you need to interest your interviewers and stand out in a crowd. Good luck, Lizzie—you got this! —Jamia

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27 Comments

  • maxmaxmax March 4th, 2014 11:19 PM

    In the description of the article it says there is advice on stand-up from a comedian, but that is nowhere to be found. I would really like to read that :(

    • Amy Rose March 5th, 2014 12:38 AM

      Sorry, love! It’s coming next month and will be worth the wait.

  • Violet March 4th, 2014 11:49 PM

    <3 <3 <3 Amy Rose

  • sadie lidji March 5th, 2014 12:01 AM

    AMY ROSE U ARE AMAZE-Y-ROSE

    • hollysh March 5th, 2014 7:52 AM

      So true. One thing I appreciate week after week is the extreme (XTREME?) honesty in this column. Y’all are lovely <3

  • kirsten March 5th, 2014 12:46 AM

    beautiful response from amy rose. i’m with you, m. <3

  • alylee March 5th, 2014 12:51 AM

    This was perfect timing, especially for the interview question. I can only second practicing! I also practice with my mom, I actually just did a practice interview tonight since I have one on Friday I am very nervous for.

  • Maddy March 5th, 2014 6:42 AM

    On the note of interviews, that’s pretty solid advice. I recently went through like 5 college interviews and they got easier and better. I found it helpful to write out answers to common questions before hand and practice saying them aloud so they don’t sound unnaturally memorized. My best interview was when I went in with no expectations and just tried to be relaxed. The guy was a good interviewer. Sometimes that can be a determining factor, but convey that you’re qualified and excited either way. Interviews may seem like they’re deceptively easy, after all, it’s just talking, but they can be difficult when you are starting out. With practice though, you’ll get the hang of it! Good luck!

  • hollysh March 5th, 2014 7:50 AM

    On college – there is nothing more terrifying than finishing college and coming into the full realisation that you have $20,000 (or $40,000, or $60,000 or $80,000 . . .) in debt from going to a school with a fancy reputation. I thought that was *the most important thing* when I started college and even transferred from from one fancy place to an EVEN FANCIER PLACE. But then I failed a bunch of classes, racked up a pile of debt – which would still be sizable even if I hadn’t failed those classes- and realised that I probably could have gotten an equally good, if not better, education somewhere else. My sister, on the other hand, opted to go to state school and is graduating debt free. While it took her longer to adjust to her less-than-first choice, she will have the freedom when she graduates to launch into whatever adventures and fun stuff she wants to do, while I have to make sure I’ve got at least an extra $4000 to cover my debts for the year. Think of the awesome trip you could take with $4000!!! Seriously, if you’re going to look into doing a career in the arts where you are probably going to have to live on a shoestring for awhile until you break into success, you don’t want to have that debt hanging over you. I really wish I didn’t.

  • Eileen March 5th, 2014 9:40 AM

    I have sweated over every last educational opportunity NOT available to me. I even opted out of high school, (something I really would like to do), because my mom thinks homeschooling is the only way I am going to be successful, given our 1 and a half star rated high school in our 1 and a half star rated town. It’s nice to know I MIGHT NOT become a loser first semester. Do you think its too late for me?? I’d be going in a senior. D;

  • -alexandra- March 5th, 2014 10:55 AM

    Hi Julianne, I am a high school senior seriously considering not attending college to pursue a career in the arts and would really love to send you an email about this to learn more about your experiences/any advice you may have! Is there an email address I can reach you at? I would appreciate it so, so much.

    Alex

    • Julianne March 5th, 2014 6:17 PM

      Sure, Alex. Jawnita at gmail dot com!

  • nerual March 5th, 2014 12:17 PM

    Sorry to be annoying, but Northwestern U is a private school. I go to University of Maryland, and it was the last place I wanted to go when I was a senior in high school. Now I’m a sophomore and I am really starting to love it. Nothin’ wrong with state schools!

  • puffling March 5th, 2014 1:35 PM

    Excellent response to the abortion question, Amy Rose.

    Life after abortion for me… it was hard for a little while. But mainly for the same reasons that there was no way I could have a child – I was mentally ill with no home, no income, no relationship and no self esteem. So, of course, after being told my whole life that abortion was wrong and would ruin me, I occasionally blamed my misery on my abortion.

    But now, because I was able to terminate my pregnancy, I’ve been able to turn my life around. I have a home, a job, a loving partner and I’m applying to go back to university.

    The only feelings I have about my abortion now are gratitude and relief that I was able to do what was right for me – and such sorrow for the women across the world who can’t access those vital services. And such anger to those who would deny us our rights to our own bodies and our own lives.

    Some of the most amazing, wise and inspirational women I know are my abortion sisters and I think that says something – it takes real courage and strength to do something about a situation you’re unhappy with.

    Love yourself. One in three women will terminate a pregnancy in her lifetime, and we all love you too.

  • Flossy Mae March 5th, 2014 2:55 PM

    I love this column. I’ve been waiting for something to be written about abortion on Rookie, as a little while ago I found out my mum had an abortion a little bit before I was born, and I didn’t really know what to think about it, so I came on Rookie to see if anyone had even written about abortion and I came back empty-handed. (PS if you do have any articles on dealing with/making up your mind about abortion please can someone send me the link??). x

    Oh, on a lighter note, I just wanted to let someone know that the category links aren’t working for me and haven’t been for a few days…this might be my browser but I thought I’d let you know in case there was some kind of other problem! xx

  • Erin. March 5th, 2014 3:33 PM

    Is forming interpersonal relationships really so super important when it comes to post-secondary school? ‘Cause, I didn’t do that. I commuted to my school for all four years, and only made a few friends, most of whom I had never seen outside of class. And now, a couple years later, I’m only in contact with one person from my uni. (She is really great, though, and we’re both writers, so it works.) But is this, like, a super terrible situation to be in? I’ve never been good at making friends, and I’ve always been all right with this, but the way other people sometimes talk about stuff like this makes me feel like a major loser.

    • Laurataur March 9th, 2014 12:53 AM

      My sister had a similar experience to yours and she’s awesome and totally fine. College is whatever you want it to be :)

  • whiskeytangofoxtrot March 5th, 2014 4:34 PM

    emma – Have you ever considered trying schools in Canada. There are many top-notch Canadian universities whose international student tuition and fees are lower than fancy Ivy League schools in the States. Also, I think no matter what school you go to, you will get out of it what you put into it.

    Lizzie – I TOTALLY FREEZE DURING INTERVIEWS!!! It’s the worst! I have found what helps, along with doing mock interviews to practice, is to ask for/or accept a drink of water. Taking a sip of water gives you a few seconds to re-organize your thoughts before answering, plus gives you something to do with your hands! I have also found, for most places I’ve interviewed, it really breaks the ice to actually just honestly say “I get exam-like anxiety and nerves during the interview process, please be patient, how I interview does not reflect how I work!” Most places will understand, and if they don’t, would you want to work there, anyway?

    M. – I really empathize. This is a huge decision, and everything Amy Rose said rings so true. I made the decision to terminate a pregnancy, and while it was very emotional, I haven’t looked back with even an iota of regret. Not because I am cold and unfeeling about the situation, but because I recognize all the important opportunities afforded to me that I would have otherwise had to pass on, and that feeling grateful for being able to take those opportunities is okay. So, yes, the process does involve some self – forgiveness and making peace, but it is also YOUR process that no one else can criticize you for or tell you how you go through it.

  • bedroomeyes March 5th, 2014 6:04 PM

    Spot on advice rookie! I dropped out of a state school simply because it was boring. Although I nearly aced all my courses i felt really unhappy and like I was missing out on a lot. Now I’m going to community college in my hometown and feel waaay happier even though community colleges are supposed to be “worse” than state schools. Regardless what you do after high school whether it be going to the Ivy league school of your dreams, or taking a gap year, just remember it’s not where you start but it’s where you end up!

    • Laurataur March 9th, 2014 12:58 AM

      Thanks so much for the destigmatization of state schools in this article! I used to go to Bryn Mawr but it was seriously expensive and I was truly unhappy there, so I went to community college in my hometown too, and I’m transferring to a state school this fall and cannot be more excited!

      Also I just wanna give a shout out to Kathleen Hanna, one of the coolest people ever, who also had an abortion when she was young but continued to be amazing and trailblazing.

  • Puppies March 5th, 2014 6:40 PM

    Just a note that, depending on how far along you are in your pregnancy, your body will take 1-3 weeks after your abortion to re-adjust your hormone levels. This means that you may feel more moody and emotional than usual during this period, and I thought it might be helpful for your to know to expect this so you can ride it out with some more calmness.

  • Ozma March 5th, 2014 8:45 PM

    My mom had an abortion when she was 19 and all I can say is thanks goodness she did! Because if my mother HADN’T had that abortion I wouldn’t be alive!I mean, if she had that baby she never would have met my father. Moreover, she never would have gotten to do all sorts of amazing things like bicycling all the way across America, living abroad, fighting for migrant workers rights, and helping to provide people with HIV/AIDS and drug addictions with access to health care. Just think of all the wonderful things that can happen because of your decision to have an abortion!

  • blueolivia March 5th, 2014 8:58 PM

    sending love your way, m ♥

  • Caroline Hanna March 6th, 2014 12:10 PM

    Hello, rookie. I am a seveteen year old high school senior sobbing in the school library because i was not expecting this to hit so close to home. When I was a freshman, fourteen year old me went through the struggles of deciding whether or not to have an abortion. I go to a large school, but news still travels fast. My then-boyfriend told his friends I was pregnant and asked if they could loan him money because neither of us had $300-$400. I became a charity case and a freak. The Christian Club approached me in the hallway and tried to talk me into doing the “right thing” (having the baby, giving it up for adoption.) I was too afraid to tell my parents, but the news eventually got back to my mother. She was extremely supportive and helped keep the situation quiet, at least within the family. I decided an abortion was the only way I felt comfortable dealing with my pregnancy, and, even then, I still felt as uncomfortable as ever. Three years later, after mean tweets, people talking behind my back, and people avoiding forming any type of relationship with me because they know, I am still learning to cope. I’ve been waiting for something, anything, dealing with this subject. Amy provided really excellent input. Life goes on. There are days when I don’t even think about it and there are days when I couldn’t avoid it if I tried. Things are getting easier. It’s always nice to feel like you have support. Thank youxxx

    • Amy Rose March 6th, 2014 3:37 PM

      Hey, Caroline. That sounds really hard, and I think you are incredible for handling it the way you have thus far. People are jerks, and you should be proud of yourself for being so strong and self-assured. Mad love to you.

  • Jamia March 7th, 2014 12:07 AM

    Humbled by your abortion stories. Honored to witness your truth and your experiences. Sending love and best wishes to you on your journey. Amy Rose, your advice was so beautiful–the dignity, the strength, the courage, and the compassion–all of it moved me.

    Thank you!

    Here’s some info I wanted to share about supportive organizations working to shift the conversation + culture around abortion stigma and to offer support and care :

    Sea Change Program- seachangeprogram.org
    Exhale Provoice: https://exhaleprovoice.org

  • julalondon March 23rd, 2014 6:40 AM

    Amy Rose. <3 I love you more every time I read something you write!!