I am attending my safety school, and I could not be more excited. I applied to The University of Tennessee – a university whose reputation had always reached me in a fairly negative light – as a backup plan in case I did not have the financial means to attend any of my other college choices. It's the best public school in my state, it's affordable and has an immense network of successful alumni; however, I still didn't really want to go there.

I ended up applying to their top honors program on a "Why not?" basis, and after a series of challenging essays and interviews, I was chosen as one of the members and awarded with a full ride. Because I had decided to give UT a chance, I discovered that it had everything I could possibly want in a university. For those who don't know much about the school, it appears to be merely a place for SEC football, Greek parties and a particularly loud shade of orange. In reality, it is so much more than that. 

UT is the ideal school for me. As a Nashville resident, the flagship campus in Knoxville is close to home, but not too close. With buildings from the early nineteenth century still standing, the campus is historical, to say the least. The facilities are up-to-date and the campus is environmentally friendly, boosting the motto "Make Orange Green." There is a huge network of support staff who really care about the success of their students, including academic advisors whose job on campus is to ensure that we are doing well in school. There are nearly 400 campus organization including clubs, rec sports and sororities and fraternities, and if there still isn't one that intrigues you, you can start your own. UT, which is partnered with Oak Ridge, the largest laboratory in the nation, is quickly on its way to becoming a Top 25 Public Research Institution. The people at Oak Ridge even discovered a new element, which is going to be named Tennessine, after the state! The research program is amazing, and many of the professors and alumni are internationally known for their advancements in their fields. Although the state has recently stopped funding the Office for Diversity and Inclusion (a decision I vehemently disagree with, but that is not the purpose of this article), the student population is incredibly diverse, with students hailing from all around the world and every walk of life, which allows us to become exposed to others' unique perspectives and backgrounds and become more informed and interesting people.

Most notable, the school was founded on the ideal of being a "Torchbearer" and shadowing yourself to give light to others. Student leadership has always been important to me, and the school places an emphasis on this principle. Just this week I attended a freshman program through the Center For Leadership and Service in which I backpacked, hiked, whitewater rafted and camped in the Cherokee National Forest while forming meaningful relationships with other new students. 

And of course, UT is a fun place to live. With Big Orange Fridays, an incredible game day atmosphere and a location in a town full of culture, music and a different festival or events apparently every week, there is always something to do. The campus is just a short drive from national parks and forests, service opportunities and any number of tourist attractions and local favorite spots.

Here's the moral of the story: if I had stayed set on a particular "dream school," I would only have known the negative portrayals of UT, but they are far from actuality. Any university is what you make of it, and I am choosing to make this one my home.

Lead Image Credit: Dinesh Weerapurage via Flickr Creative Commons