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To all Seniors who are facing their college applications and eventually, their college decisions:

This is coming from an incoming college freshman who has six days until she leaves home for the first time. And this isn’t a two-hour drive we’re talking here… this is ten hours. Shit’s gettin’ real, and quite honestly, I’m scared shitless

Let’s start with a basic description of me: I’m eighteen years old, and I was born and raised here in Tampa, Florida. It’s hot and humid as hell nine times out of ten here, but this is the kind of climate I know. I freeze my 115-pound butt off in sixty-degree weather, and I am way past miserable if the weather even thinks about dropping into the thirties. This is home. Sweating like a pig, tanning, and a palm tree every block = home. I am still super close with friends I’ve known since Kindergarten, even after graduating from high school. And due to crew, I not only strengthened some of my middle school friendships, but also made new ones that are just as dependable. And I have three cats and two dogs, as well as an older sister and, of course, my parents.

So a year ago when I was in your shoes, I was racked with stress about my impending college application-fest. I was not one of those kids who popped out of the womb knowing that I was going to go to UF and be pre-med. I didn’t have a friggin’ clue where I wanted to go, or what I wanted to study, I just knew I didn’t want to do it at my parents’ alma mater: USF. 

So I approached it with an open mind, and applied to far too many schools (I’m talking like seven/eight schools)… Considering that each douche-y one decided to have an application fee of 50+, it cost a pretty penny. But I wanted options, which was understandable. My mom is a stay-at-home mom, and my dad works like a mofo, so going way out of the way to tour 7-8 colleges was completely out of the question. It was my job to do the research on my own, take virtual tours, and talk to people to get the information I needed. Getting in was not going to be a problem for me—I’d worked hard throughout high school, and purposely avoided schools that I anticipated rejection from (UF—although goddammit, I could’ve gotten in!!—, Ivy Leages, etc.), so it was pretty much a matter of cost for me. For my parents, however, proximity was also a key factor.

My parents continued to urge me to look into Florida schools more heavily than out-of-state schools because 1) I was almost guaranteed cheaper tuition due to Bright Futures and 2) I would be closer to home. Now for the somewhat rebellious teenager, being close to home is not the ideal situation, but I looked into Nova Southeastern for a good long while because something about it seemed interesting. It was located nicely in sunny Fort Lauderdale, FL, and the kicker was that the head rowing coach was really interested in recruiting me… I was still somewhat undecided about rowing in college, but I knew that no matter what, recruited or not, rower or coxswain, I was going to do something that involved crew, because I was not ready to be done with this wonderful sport. So I humored them… but the fact that Nova was such a small school with little to no school spirit kinda killed it for me. Sure, their rowing team kicks ass, but I was almost positive they didn’t even have a football team. For the longest time, I played that off like it was no big deal—it’s just football, right?—but I couldn’t get past the image of me cheering like a banshee, having a blast watching my school’s football team kicking ass, surrounded by my friends who are all painted with my school’s colors just like me. It was haunting me, being the Achilles’ heel to Nova Southeastern. 

And one day I remember just surfing the Collegeboard search website and entering all these details about what I want for college into their “advanced search engine” (-_____-) and I somehow stumble across Alabama. I’m like, “Hmm… well it’s somewhat close to home, and my friend and teammate Bailey has family there, and they have every possible major imaginable, as well as the most impressive school spirit I’ve ever encountered….” Basically, I applied on a whim, and it was the easiest application I ever filled out (Nova’s was super quick and easy too, though). 

Long story short, I got in. And I remember jumping up and down with excitement as my parents were filled with dread. They could see it clear in front of them that my mind was, for the most part, already made up right then and there. It wasn’t that simple, but it was the only school I was ever that excited for. I struggled with the decision mostly because of Nova’s persistence in trying to recruit me, but ultimately I kept coming back to Bama. Touring the campus sealed the deal for me, and despite my parents’ pleas, come decision day (which really isn’t a huge deal), I declared that I was officially Bama Bound. :) 

Months have gone by since then, and I’ve gone through a bit of a nightmare in preparation. At orientation, my dad and I discovered that the tuition rates had risen even higher, and my somewhat measly half-tuition scholarship just wasn’t going to cut it. It wasn’t coming close enough to what Bright Futures was offering, and my dad panicked and decided that we just couldn’t do this anymore—his solution? I was going to cancel everything at Bama and enroll in USF instead. Long story short, I felt like this was some cruel sick joke to bring me all the way to Tuscaloosa and tell me in the parking lot that I couldn’t actually have this dream that was so close I was already tasting it. The rug was being pulled out from under me, and I was a wreck. Internally, when I wasn’t bawling up a storm, I was kicking myself for not chasing down every possible source of money months ago when I had a much better chance of getting results.

Had I scored one point higher on the ACT, I could’ve been guaranteed 2/3 tuition. Any higher than that would’ve been full tuition. Honestly, if I could go back and beat the shit out of my lazy ass for not doing so, I would. I hate myself for that decision so much. But since I can’t change it, all I can do is implore you to leave no stone unturned. Exhaust every possibility you have in your power. Work harder than I did. Put yourself through the hell of the ACT with the image of you sittin’ pretty in college as your guide and motivation. Please, I beg of you, if you get anything out of this, learn from my mistake. 

So now, as an eighteen-year-old, I’m already almost $5,000 in debt. It’s not going to be fun having this cloud hanging over me for all of college until it’s paid off. And the debt doesn’t end there—it’s just that the rest of it is under my parents’ name. Honestly, there are days when I just feel so racked with guilt for putting my parents through this, and I wonder if it’s really worth it. I fought my parents tooth and nail about being able to at least have one year because it would have been so embarrassing having to tell everyone, “LOL JK, I’m not actually going to Bama after all!” My pride kept me from conceding, as well as feeling like I deserve to be able to go away to college. But I still can’t escape knowing that I’m putting this crushing burden on my family—and myself too! 

And here’s the kicker—an even sicker joke! On July 19th, 2012 of this summer, Nova Southeastern sends me a letter in this real official looking folder to notify me that I’ve been awarded full tuition. I know, you’re probably thinking, “NOW?!” Yeah, they sent that to me in July. Months after decision day they finally decide to tell me that I’m receiving full tuition. Months after I can be recruited to their rowing team, they decide to let me know that I could go there for free. THANKS A LOT, NOVA. 

I don’t know which school I would’ve chosen based on this new information. It definitely would’ve been a much harder choice to be faced with. All I know now is that I’m attending Alabama in the fall and spring until further notice. BUT I also know that my scholarship at Nova still stands as long as I remain a Florida citizen and keep my grades up. The opportunity is still there, which is somewhat comforting. But for now, I have at least one year at Bama where loans and killer football await me. 

I have so little time left before my departure—it’s unreal. I never thought this day would come. I’m going pretty darn far from home. Far from my cozy bed. Far from my elementary school and high school. Far from my friends who I’d gotten so sick of by the end of Senior year, but who made high school so worthwhile. Far from the Hillsborough river, where I “mastered” the only sport I’ve ever felt good at or felt like I belonged in. Far from my whiny, loud, stinky dogs, and from my fluffy kitty, my “Babycakes.” Far from my parents who spend more time arguing than anything else, and my sister with her newly broken clavicle who needs me to tie her hair in a ponytail for her because it hurts too much. Well, Jennifer, you win with physical pain, but here I am with a boatload of emotional pain. I just want to cry because I feel so bad for ever wanting to leave such a huge hole in their hearts. I guess I never realized till now what a huge hole I’d be leaving in my own, too. 

I know it will be a fun and exciting experience, but it will also be a hugely devastating experience too (at least at first, until I can begin to make Bama truly my “home away from home”). People tell you that “You’re going to love it,” or “You’ll have a blast,” but rarely do they tell you, “Some days you’ll just cry because you’ll realize your days with everything you know and love are numbered.” I’m not trying to depress the shit out of you, I’m just imploring you to think about what it is you truly want out of college, and actually consider the consequences of the choices you make instead of just brushing them off the way I did. Yes, the thought of being far from home seems glittery at first, but it isn’t all gold. I know your family is annoying—trust me, mine is too—and I know you want to get away from them, but please please weigh heavily the costs of your decision (the literal financial costs as well as the cost of leaving everything you hold near and dear). 

Honestly, no, I don’t think I will spiral into depression because I won’t be able to pet my cat whenever I want to. But I do know that some days I will miss home so much it’ll hurt, and that there will be days when I’m on the water with the Bama crew team that I’ll pine for my high school crew team. I know that when months at a time go by without seeing my closest friends that I’ll cry like a baby because that chapter of my life came to an end and there are too many miles between us to just hit up the Moe’s on Columbus and Dale Mabry. But I also know that I will smile and welcome new friends, and just enjoy being on the water, and enjoy having a place for me in two entirely different states. I know my heart won’t always ache when I say, “Roll tide!” and that my true friends will remain in my life forever. But for now, I will say my goodbyes, feel guilty, and cry my eyes out. 

Please, incoming Senior, choose your college wisely. Weigh your options heavily, work your ass off with your studies, and retake the ACT/SAT as many times as you can until colleges are making it rain on you. Pass your AP exams and get college credit. Graduate with the highest honors imaginable. Be the kid who gets the departmental awards from teachers who will never forget you and vice versa. Fight for your friendships, even when anything and everything they do is pissing you off amongst all the stress that comes with this year. And please, don’t be so quick to say goodbye to everything you know and love. This is a hard time for your parents, too. Please understand that if you love your family, their being hurt will hurt you too. Maybe not during the decision-making process, but I promise you I didn’t anticipate how hard it’d hit me. Do what you have to do for yourself, but please, consider the pro’s and con’s, learn from the mistakes of others, and spend your time with your family, pets, and friends in the most meaningful way possible while you still can. At the end of the day, be someone you would be proud to know. And most importantly, good luck. 

Notes

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