Two things are freezing this January: the river (finally), and grade 12 students whenever they think about the expectations placed on them for the coming year.

Freezing up is a perfectly normal response to the heaps and heaps of information about universities, jobs, housing, insurance, etc. being piled on you. Now that it’s January, graduation and the uncertainty of next September feel a lot closer than they did in December. It’s a completely new world out there, unlike anything you’ve ever experienced before. You will be expected to make many more decisions on your own than you ever have before, and frankly, that can be terrifying. At least it was for me.

One of the first decisions you’re expected to make is whether or not to go to university or college, and if so, which one. I thought that I had to be really really sure that I wanted to attend a particular university before I applied. Because I didn’t know where I wanted to go, I just put off applying until it was nearly too late. I wish somebody had told me that it’s okay to just apply. Apply to all the universities, even if you’re on the fence about going at all. That way, if you change your mind you don’t have to scramble to get an application together three days before classes start. The trick is to get started.

Make a goal to submit a new application every day, or one per week, to each university or college you’re even mildly interested in. You’ll be surprised at how easy it is once you start.

I also wish that I had known about deferring. You can apply, and get accepted, and then tell the university “Hey, I’m not really feeling it this year. I’ll be there next year though!” This gives you a whole year to relax, travel (why not check out CMU’s Outtatown?), stay home, make money, spend money, do nothing, do everything, do anything—all without the stress of whether or not you’ll be accepted to university hanging over you.

Another thing: you don’t have to go to university or college at all. It’s not a requirement, although it can feel like it is. If you’re at school just because somebody else thinks you should be, odds are you’re not going to enjoy yourself. You might be surprised, and find some class or program that lights a fire in you, but you might also end up spending a lot of time, money, and effort on classes you don’t want to be in.

Taking the first step is the hardest part. You’re frozen, after all. Applying is the metaphorical band-aid. Once it’s been ripped off, it’s a lot easier to move on, do more research, ask more questions, and try to figure out what you’re going to do with the next 12 months of your life

Ayla Manning is one of CMU’s Student Ambassadors

Discover CMU at one of our campus visit days