Sounds crazy, right?
Why on earth would someone turn down FREE school in favor of paying for it?
I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me start from the beginning.
I fully admit that I was a word nerd in high school, but it's not like I was a crazy genius or anything. I was a really conscientious, hardworking, overachiever who figured out how to be a good test taker. I took A.P. courses and I was involved in a ton of activities. I did very well on my SATs, but not astronomically well. I spent a ton of time on my applications, meticulously crafted my essay, and made sure to request recommendations from teachers who knew me as a student and as a human being. (That last part--the human being part--is almost more important than the first part.)
In the spring, I was accepted to every college I applied to, and two of them offered me full-tuition scholarships (room & board), and a third offered me a significant merit scholarship (tuition only).
That sounds like a lot of bragging. Awwwwkwaaaaard.
That was all really just to tell you that though I'm smart, most students who put in the time and effort could very well find themselves in that same situation.
Students like YOU, that is.
Anyway, back to the story.
I eliminated one of the full-tuition schools immediately because it was too close to home and too small and too safe.
I eliminated the merit scholarship school because it was a little too specialized. It had a theater conservatory program, so my chance at scoring a role in the musicals was slim. (Yes, I was undeclared, and yes, I declined a school because of extracurriculars.)
I was down to two schools: one that was free and one that wasn't.
I spent the night at both schools to get the feel of the campus so I could make my final decision.
My night at the full-tuition school was rough. The students who hosted me didn't seem to be people I would be friends with, there wasn't really anything to do, and the whole day seemed to be gray and gloomy.
The not-free school seemed beautiful and friendly and comfortable. The students who hosted me took me to a campus movie and showed me around. Everyone I saw seemed like someone I wanted to know. I wasn't totally at ease there, but I felt like I could be.
I wanted to go to the not-free school. But how could I turn down a free education?? FREE!!!
I struggled with the decision. And the guilt.
The not-free school was a state school, so the tuition was the lowest of any of the schools I applied to...but it was still not free.
But the not-free school was where I felt the most comfortable.
So in the end, I attended the not-free school. And I had four fantastic years at SUNY Geneseo. I loved every moment.
Even looking back now, I feel guilty for making the more expensive choice. But it really did make me happy. It's better to be slightly poorer and happy than slightly richer and miserable.
So when you look at colleges this spring and summer, really look with your eyes open. Do you see people that you'd want to be friends with? Can you picture yourself trudging through the quad on your way to class? Are there professors teaching classes that you're really interested in? Would you want to eat in that dining hall? Could you be happy in the dorms?
The answers to those questions are worth more than anything.
Oh! Wondering about the third full-tuition scholarship? That was for grad school. More on that another time... ;)