Spring is always an exciting time for high school seniors, and I was no exception. I applied to nine colleges and universities; some as reaches, some as backups, and one as my dream school. I thought my dream school had everything I wanted. Its location, in the heart of Boston, seemed like an ideal place to start my journey into adulthood. It has Division 1 athletics and a huge sense of school unity. At the time, I thought that all I needed for this dream to come true was to receive my acceptance letter. When that letter did finally arrive in early spring of my senior year, I was beside myself with happiness. What I didn’t expect, however, was how disappointing my financial aid statement would be. This statement is what ultimately caused my dreams to vanish.
At the time, the tuition to attend my dream school was just under $60,000. I received only $1,000 in aid. This meant after four years of school, I would be in debt over $200,000. Since I was planning on a career that would ultimately lead me to graduate school, I made the decision that this school was not my best option. I simply could not afford it.
By no means did I make this decision easily. I understood that going to a less expensive school would be better for me in the long run, but I didn’t want to accept that, although I was smart enough for my dream school, I just didn’t have enough money. It broke my heart that I had better grades and better SAT scores than many students on the wait list, who would ultimately attend the university because they could afford it. I cried when I sent my deposit to my backup school, the University of Massachusetts Amherst. I nodded my head when my parents told me what a great school UMass is, that I would love it, and that I would be just as happy there —
It has now been two years since I made the decision to go to UMass, and I can easily say it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. I fell in love with UMass during my freshman summer orientation and now, as a sophomore, I am still discovering new things I love about this school. It is a very large university, which I wanted, with Division 1 athletics and more school unity than I could have ever imagined. In two years I have made lifelong relationships with a wide variety of people. I joined Greek life and volunteered for several organizations. My advisers and general education classes assisted me in deciding what major I wanted to settle on and now I am completely in love with it. So far, I have had an ideal college experience and have gotten this at less than a third of the cost of that big university in Boston.
It’s funny to think that two years ago I didn’t want to come to UMass just because of a price tag. My dream school seemed glamorous, and I was upset that money could keep me from pursuing anything I wanted in life. What I didn’t realize is that the school you attend doesn’t matter — you will get out of college as much as you put into it. If I had gone into my freshman year here expecting to hate it, sat around, and didn’t try to make friends, I probably would have hated it. But I didn’t do that; I gave my all to UMass and in return I fell in love with this school. This university has provided me with the best times of my life and a promising future in the career I want. I wish I could go back in time and thank myself for choosing a future at UMass. That decision has made me happier than I could have ever expected.
Ann Blegen is studying kinesiology at UMass Amherst.