I am not a fatalist, but when I was applying to colleges I never felt that my decision mattered very much. Wherever I ended up would probably be just fine. In many ways, my story of getting to Oberlin is pretty uninspiring, and it's certainly brief. I hated applying to college and so I invested minimal time and resources into it. At the time I was a lot more interested in practicing drums, and working for my high school newspaper as editor-in-chief (and writer, layout editor, copy-editor...it was a small staff). I also did a great deal of other extracurricular activities (I think 14 was the worst it got, everything from mock trial to jazz band), not to mention schoolwork itself.
I also felt like the college applications process brought out an unseemly character in a lot of my classmates. The specter of admissions turned almost every situation into a competition and incentivized achievement in a way that I find perverse. As is usually the case for teenagers, my parents' well-intentioned urging ("please write your goddamn essay!") typically backfired. In general, my response was to tune out and avoid dealing with the college applications game wherever possible.
The schools I remember applying to were the University of Maine, Skidmore, Columbia, and Oberlin, but I know there were a few others. The only reason I even heard about Oberlin was because of my guidance counselor, who urged me to apply. I didn't visit, and a quick trip to the website was actually really discouraging--it looked like it had been designed by a high schooler with an old version of Adobe Dreamweaver. (Prospective students of recent or future vintage, you owe a great deal of thanks to Ben Jones for the redesign.) I was able to ascertain that Billy Hart, whom I greatly admired, taught drum set here, and some third-party publications I found confirmed the high quality of music at Oberlin. I also was captivated by the statistic about Oberlin College's graduate school placement, since being a professor has always been one career ambition of mine. (This remains true.) I didn't see many photos of the campus; I didn't talk to professors; I didn't read any promotional material. I never stepped foot on campus before orientation.
Columbia wait-listed me and I got into the other three. Skidmore offered me a music scholarship for classical piano, but at that point I think I was too burned out on the instrument to accept. One of my best friends from high school told me she was coming here, and that she had a lovely visit during an April event for accepted students. I put the deposit check in the mail in late April. My guidance counselor put a pin in Ohio on the "college acceptance" map. AP exams loomed.
At Oberlin I have undoubtedly flourished, and it's hard for me to imagine having gone anywhere else. My skills, my career ambitions, and my interests have been shaped by this place, and my sense is that Oberlin was uniquely able to cater to the interests that I had in high school - music, politics, writing, et cetera. But I also still feel more or less how I did in high school, which is that any college I ended up at would be formative. After four years of a place, how can anyone imagine anything different?