Caitlin’s feeling a little down in the dumps about the college aspirations she once had for herself and the reality that’s seeming to be a little different these days. I’m guessing there’s a few dozen of you out there feeling the same way.
I’m a recently graduated senior and salutatorian from a high school where most kids come from very poor socioeconomic backgrounds.
Hey, you sound a lot like me. Me in 1992.
I’m a sperm bank baby, my mother has never been married (and thankfully doesn’t bring around boyfriends either!),
Thankfully. Now that you’ve got me thinking on it, I can’t say that I’ve ever heard a specific *advantage* of a mom who brought a bunch of boyfriends around. 🙂
and I have no siblings. However, I’m still lucky enough to have an EFC around the $20,000 mark, meaning no aid, and my mother is already stretched thin because of our mini-farm, and cannot help with a PLUS loan or other expenses (but she wishes she could…).
Bummer. I’m an only child myself, and financial-aid time was about the only time I wished I had about six or seven brothers and sisters.
Anyways, my sophomore year I got a scholarship to take classes at a local community college in tandem with regular high school classes, and spent my junior year on a scholarship-funded foreign exchange (only person at my high school to ever go on a year-long exchange, to the best of my knowledge) to Germany. Although I knew no German beforehand, I became fluent and even wrote a little book in German about the differences between the American and German cultures. I translated it into English and submitted it as part of a portfolio and even won a regional journalism award from the National Alliance of Young Artists and Writers.
Wow, that’s an excellent entry on your resume, Caitlin. The foreign language fluency is great on its own, but having authored something in the second language is even better.
Sadly my senior year I was COMPLETELY overwhelmed with reverse culture shock, a heavy course load (remember, extra classes at the local CC), and marching band. Not to mention, I returned to America with just 16 years under my belt, and was intimidated by the extreme pressure I was under. And I cracked.
How exactly did you crack? Just curious — you’re salutatorian, so I’m guessing you didn’t crack so badly that you derailed your academic career.
I threw away my dreams of going to a top of the line school for Northern Arizona University, because it just seemed safest for a kid afraid of starting off an independent life. And the bills were less intimidating (I received a tuition waiver).
Well, a couple points to note here:
a) You’ve just now graduated from high school, so whatever dreams you think you’ve “thrown away” can be snatched up out of the trash as soon as you’d like to do so. You’re waaaaaay short of the whole “point of no return” thing, so you’ve still got the option of going whichever way you decide is best for you.
b) Having said that, starting out at a smaller, cheaper school is nothing to feel bad about. In fact, in a lot of cases, it’s an extremely smart move. The first two years of college are awfully similar for students in community colleges, small schools, big schools, prestigious ones and not-very-prestigious ones. In most cases, you’re gonna hack away at some relatively generic required coursework: science, math, English, history, humanities, etc.
Now, sure — you may have to work harder for an A in Philosophy 101 at University of Chicago than you will at NAU. But wherever you’re taking the class won’t change the amount and content of what Plato and Aristotle wrote during their lifetimes. It’s the same for everyone, and my point is, you’ll get out of the class exactly what you put into it.
And not for nothing here — the school where you take those first two years of intro classes will very likely have NO overall effect on the rest of your life. Sorry — for most people, it just won’t. So don’t beat yourself up over that, because it’s all in your head. In my life, I’ve found very little correlation between people who live happy lives and people who went to academically rigorous colleges. It’s much more about you and your attitude than the school you attend.
However, I have started to feel inadequate. I applied to over 24 scholarships (I eventually received three local ones and one from NAU, but up until March 23rd I had received only rejection letters),
Hey, that’s one out of every six applied for that you’ve won. Nothing to sneeze at, homegirl.
but it sucks to be told your whole life that smart people go to college for free – and then having a reality check.
It’s true, reality checks of elevated hopes always suck. However, it’s good to get them, because they get you in better touch with reality, and from there you can move forward with a more educated and realistic approach.
Truth be told, high-achieving smart students often *can* go to college for free — just not ANY college. We’ve got millions of those students here in the U.S. alone, and the elite colleges may only be able to accept a couple thousand of them apiece. But as I’ve said, you don’t need an elite-school education to achieve any goal.
And if getting an elite-school education actually *is* your goal — then you should come up with a different goal. Education is wonderful unto itself, sure, but for most students, it’s a means to an end, or at the very least a door-opener to the great exploits they want to achieve later in life. And again, very few exploits require an elite-school education.
Another big reason for me choosing NAU is because I come from a small town, with the typical mentality that you’re not supposed to ever leave it.
Whose mentality is that? Trust me, even your biggest hometown boosters expect most small-town kids to leave the nest for a while. They’ll tell you they want you to stick around (and sometimes they’re even telling the truth!), but even in the tiniest of towns, they expect you to go off and do your own thing for a while.
Doesn’t matter, though, what anyone else’s mentality is — it’s yours alone that matters. If you wanna stay, stay; if not, go. It’s your life, and you don’t owe anyone else input into that decision.
I feel like it’s an octopus trying to devour me.
Eh, I’m guessing a lot of that’s in your own head. Do what you want to do — the world doesn’t have much choice but to adapt. Try it and see.
But that’s not what I want, I don’t want to go to a university like NAU that no one’s ever heard of.
If you don’t like NAU, don’t go there — BUT, don’t go there just because “no one’s ever heard of it.” I’m being a little tough on you here because you and a million other college students get way too caught up in what other people think of where you’re going to school. I was that way myself back in school, so I know how you feel.
Here’s the reality, though: for the most part, once you’re out of college for a couple years — no one cares where you went to school. Sure, Harvard and Yale will always have a great ring to them no matter how old you get, but short of that — people stop asking after a few years, and that’s because it no longer matters (in the job world anyway).
I want to get a stupendous education, because I respect myself and think I deserve it. But this struggle has just left me feeling… like I can’t make it. After my freshman year my plan is to transfer to a more competitive university with an amazing economics program (although I’m still working on my search, some examples are University of Chicago, NYU, MIT), and hopefully to one with major endowments so that I can receive more aid.
So, would you mind assessing my situation and telling me if my plan is feasible?
It’s more than feasible — but you need a change of mindset, quicklike, if you want it to happen. We both know that Chicago, NYU, MIT — these are very competitive schools, right? If you get in, you’re going to have to bust ass to succeed. But, if you can’t slog your way through a year at a less competitive school like NAU, you have to honestly assess your chances of succeeding at the top schools. If you can’t hack a year at NAU, you won’t make it at MIT.
So…do you have what it takes? Judging by your list of accomplishments, I’d say sure, certainly you do. You’ve got the tools — you just need to buckle down and apply them, and the first part of that is believing you can do it. Which, you can — if you want to badly enough.
As a bit more background, I recently organized a book drive for a local group home, have more various community service, was a member of a handful of clubs, scored 2100 on the SAT, and did a study on perceptions of socialism vs. capitalism (3rd place at a science state fair). Especially with these credentials, I’m shocked that other kids who I personally know are getting scholarships that we both applied to, even though they don’t have nearly the same credentials.
I couldn’t say since I haven’t seen the other students’ resumes, but again — yours looks pretty good, and if you can keep up the level of work and squeeze out your absolute best efforts, you should be fine wherever you end up.
I think I have issues marketing myself. I don’t see anything else that could explain it, other than kids getting chosen for local scholarships over me because they’re more popular and known by the judges.
Yeah, you definitely have to market/sell yourself well, and for what it’s worth, that NEVER changes at any point in your life. In fact, the need to do so only intensifies as you get older and further along in your career. That’s a whole other post, though.
In sum — you seem like you’ve got the tools, but you just need to accept that your current spot is just fine, even if it’s not what you imagined it would be a couple years back. Don’t screw it up now because of pessimism — you’re going to look back on this time and see that you were sitting in a fine position. You don’t want to regret tossing away whatever dreams you have because of a false perception that you’re somehow screwed by being at a state school at age 18.
Hope that helps!
What about you all — what should Caitlin do? Let us know in the comments below.