How My College Dream Almost Ended

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“Be stubborn about your goals and flexible about your methods.”

Throughout the past two months of my life, this quote has been my mantra. Though hard at times to believe and follow, I know that I have to believe in it for my current life situation. To be more specific, I’ve recently had to transfer out of my dream college to come back home and commute to a local college due to financial issues. It’s hard at times for me to talk about—I just broke down at a recent BBQ when someone asked why I was transferring, I’m growing stronger with each day and able to tell my story with pride, dignity, and absolutely no shame.

Ever since I was a little girl, I dreamed of attending college. Partly because my parents told me that they would cut me out of their will and because I want to be successful when I “grow up.” I couldn’t wait to start the college process. Of course, I went through career phases, but once the college application process began I was committed to being a business major—specifically, accounting. So many hours of hard work were put into this process and it all paid off in the end. But, once my applications were submitted, I tackled the FAFSA and CSS Profile.

Once the acceptance letters came in the mail, financial aid followed. Colleges found their way off the list because of the lacking aid. However, my dream college offered me a large financial aid package and I ended up committing. On that college’s Accepted Students Day, my mom and I met with my financial aid counselor. While discussing several concerns, my counselor reassured us that the aid would stay consistent from year to year and I should consider myself lucky because more than half of the cost of attendance was covered. My mom and I walked out of the meeting with smiles on our faces and headed to the bookstore to buy everything with the college’s name on it.

When I got home, I deposited and this dream became real. I had the chance to go my dream school and most importantly, I could afford it. Yes, the price after the aid was still expensive but it was doable for my family. My parents told me that they would be paying freshman year in its entirety and would help with the remaining years. Whatever wasn’t covered plus graduate school would fall on me. I found that to be a pretty good deal and off I went to Bed Bath and Beyond to go dorm shopping (coupons in hand, might I add).

So just like that, freshman year was paid in full. It flew by in the blink of an eye. I made lasting friendships, had great relationships with my professors, I had an awful roommate experience, and the communal bathrooms were a warzone. I wouldn’t trade it for anything else.

My parents and I should have taken the following situation into consideration when we filed the paperwork for my upcoming sophomore year. Last Thanksgiving, my grandfather unexpectedly passed away and my dad received a death benefit due to his fire service. Looking back, we had no idea what this would do to my financial aid.

I’ll never forget May 29, 2015. The financial aid awards for sophomore year were released. In just a matter of a few seconds, my life began crashing in on me. I only received my merit scholarship. The other aid was mysteriously gone. Naturally, I thought that there was a mistake. Someone can’t lose that much money from one year to another. I frantically emailed my financial aid counselor and obsessively refreshed my computer.

That night my parents and I compared the 2013 and 2014 tax returns. As it turned out, the increase in “income” turned out to be the total of the death benefit. The most upsetting part of this is that the money from the benefit was used to pay for the wake and funeral expenses. I just prayed that everything was going to be okay.

I called the financial aid office to figure out the “mistake.” But, when I called, there was no mistake at all. The school stated that I could afford $40,000 due to the financial paperwork. My counselor told me that my situation was unfortunate but she said she could do nothing for me. Imagine how that felt to hear. Nothing. It felt like someone punched me in the stomach.

I asked for an appeal because I shouldn’t be penalized for my grandfather’s death. My counselor said, “yes” to my appeal but sternly warned me to, “don’t count on anything.” I asked about other ways to afford the tuition and she quickly told me to take out a loan. I knew that I would have to take loans out to finish funding my education. But, taking out almost full sticker price of the university was something that wasn’t planned. Almost near tears, I told her that I couldn’t possibly borrow over $100,000. While trying to plead with her, I stated that I would be forced to withdraw from the university and transfer somewhere else. The counselor didn’t care and just like a knife through my heart, she said, “do what you have to do, and it’s your problem.”

Heartbroken, I hung up the phone and figured how much it was going to cost continue my studies there. To stay was roughly $125,000 without interest and with interest it would be almost $200,000 for a Bachelor’s. Grad school wouldn’t be an option anymore. I swallowed my pride, bandaged my ego, and mustered the courage to transfer.

I got on the phone and called a local private college near my house. I dreaded making this phone call. I didn’t want to. Why did I have to leave my dream school? It wasn’t fair and I was devastated. My life was changing rapidly with each sentence that I was saying to my transfer coordinator. I explained my situation and begged for help. The next day, I found myself sitting at her desk with an application in front of me—more change. The pen that I was holding felt like it was 100 pounds. I didn’t want to sign it but I knew that I had to. I knew that without enrolling in this new college, I would have no chance at achieving my dreams. I’ll forever be grateful to my coordinator for talking me off the edge of a nervous breakdown and making me realize that this change is the best thing for my life at this moment. I completed the application at her desk and within 30 minutes, I was enrolled in a new college and I was numb.

Whether or not you agree behind my decision to transfer, that is only up for you to decide. My after college dreams mean a lot so why should I give them all up for an undergraduate degree? I would be giving up everything if I returned. Without transferring, I would walk away from that university with no money for grad school and an enormous amount of debt. As an accounting major, I would like to pursue my CPA and then my MBA with a concentration in finance, work for a Big 4 firm, climb up the corporate ladder, and ultimately be a CFO. I want to live in New York City, have my own apartment, walk into a store and not look at a price tag, but most importantly, I would like to have a family. The more I thought about the enormous amount of debt, I started to realize all of these dreams would be further away from me. My ambition and hard work can only get me so far; everything comes down to money, which is a painful reality. I have decided that I’m not going to let this bump in the road stop me from getting an education. I refuse to.

If I could travel back in time to about a year ago, I would make sure that I was better informed about the financial aid process. I thought that I was receiving a great “deal” and believed everything that the counselors told me. I was told to not worry about my aid changing from year to year. But, the fact is, that statement couldn’t be farther from the truth. I am in no way a financial aid expert, but after hours of research, I found out colleges across the United States like to practice “front-loading.” Front-loading is when colleges award their potential freshman students with over-generous aid packages, hoping that they enroll. These colleges do not have the intention of awarding all of the money from freshman year over to sophomore year.

Change is easy for some and not so easy for others. I absolutely hate change especially when I’m settled into something. I was so established at my previous college. My professors loved me, I was so close with my academic advisor, I was involved with so many clubs, and my friend was solid. But, for a reason that I don’t know yet, I am exactly where I need to be. I am supposed to be a commuter student living at home where I am thirty minutes from New York City. This change is so scary at times for me that I just cry. I cry for the unknown. I can’t be afraid anymore, I have to keep pursuing my dreams and keep striving to be the best that I can be.

I want to make the most of all the opportunities at my new college. So, I reached out to Career Development and got chosen as a Career Ambassador. Impressed by email and resume, the director called me in for an interview and I was awarded the position. When the director told me that I got the position, I was thrilled. I proved that I will be successful wherever I am. It’s extremely difficult to make such an “adult” decision at 19 years old but I have so much peace. I can now not worry about graduating with 6 figures in debt. I am still able to achieve all my goals. Embrace the change.

This situation has taught me many lessons. I had to make a decision that was best for myself—not for my friends or strangers. I didn’t listen to the gossip that was flying around about me. I just kept moving. What ultimately helped me finalize my transfer decision is the life I want after I graduate from undergrad. If I borrowed all of that money, I wouldn’t have my MBA or my NYC apartment. All my money would go towards paying loans back, other expenses, and I would be at home once again.

I know that I can’t be the only person to have ever faced this situation. This change is beyond scary and it’s a fear that I almost cannot describe. I want everyone to know who may find themselves in this situation that it’s okay to be afraid and nervous—I know what you’re feeling. I’ve decided that I’m not going to lose sight of my dreams and goals and I’m going to take every new opportunity that comes my way. I found the fight within myself and I know that I can achieve anything. I’m going to take my situation and prove to everyone who has questioned me these past two months but most importantly to myself that I can do anything and nothing will stop me. Can you say the same?

Photo by Always Shooting