As I walk down the senior hallway, I can feel tension all around me. This is college application season, and conversations surge in front of lockers and in classroom doorways: “Are you applying early or regular? What’s your top choice? How many essays do you have to write?”

I can sense the anticipation — a hopeful yearning for decision day and knowing once and for all whether a school will throw open its doors to those who seek to enter. And above all, I have the overwhelming sensation that our futures are straight ahead, so close we all can almost touch them, if only we can send in all these applications on time.

And this — the proximity of the future — is the most invigorating feeling of all. For me, applying to college is more than just filling out forms or crafting the perfect essay. It is a chance to navigate forward, to be self-reflective, and consider the many directions I have the freedom to take.

I remember walking into the college fair last fall. After pushing open the field house doors, I was confronted by a sea of tri-board displays and waving college reps and a flood of thick brochures and the sheer number of opportunities held within a single cavernous space.

I wandered around the endless displays, unable to find the colleges I was looking for. But in becoming lost, I started to forget what I “was looking for” and discovered several colleges I had never even heard of, and which today are some of my top choices. In my meandering, I realized for the first time just how many universities exist in this nation, especially as these visiting schools only represented a fraction of the colleges in the United States.

In one row, gigantic schools with 40,000 students advertised their massive sports stadiums and rambling campuses. Across the aisle small liberal arts colleges touted their isolation in some New England forest (but also their tremendous spirit and picturesque jogging tracks). There were research institutions and music schools, Big-10 schools, religious schools, experimental schools, all draped in red, or purple, or brown, and every shade in between.

And in the process of searching, my stress about the college process began to change into a kind of resolution, a determination to see this all through to the finish line. There are limitless opportunities in this nation, and we are all blessed to have the freedom to pick and choose among them.

As I work through college applications, I am awed by the number of options out there, not only for me, but for all the students in this high school and all high schools. Yes, this is certainly a lot of work, but dedication is always needed to achieve success. And at worst, if a school says no, I shall stand up again, and keep searching until I find the place that’s right for me.

So to those still finishing their applications, I wish you the best of success. Remember, there is a college out there for every taste and style, and every quirk and talent. I’m rooting for all of you!

Chase Smith is a senior at Wilton High School. He shares this column with five classmates.