“Your best bet is to just stay in Georgia,” my high school counselor said when I showed him my top 10 choices for college. He wasn’t wrong. I knew I would get into all of the schools I applied to in my home state and that my 3.7 GPA made me eligible for the Hope scholarship’s full amount.
However, in my mind that would be too easy.
I was a senior in high school and had never once stepped out of my own house without my dad or some other family member. Even though my house contained just my dad and I, there was also a whole village that included my grandma, aunts and cousins. My incredibly loving and overprotective family had kept me alive for the last 18 years without me having to break a nail.
“Yeah, I know,” I responded to my counselor with a smile as I submitted my college applications which only included two Georgia schools. Although I deeply appreciated the village and city that raised me, I couldn’t be held back from my dreams. Living in Atlanta meant I was open to a lot of opportunities to do what I loved. I rode the train for 15 minutes every weekend to my journalism internship and spent the week attending dance class in the world-renowned Dance 411 Studios. I already had so many connections in the city so I could do the things I wanted to.
Money was the biggest factor.
Contrary to what they tell you, graduating in the top ten percent of your class and living in a single-parent household did not guarantee a full tuition scholarship at any of my schools, including those in-state. I discovered pretty early on that if I really wanted another four years of school to be worthwhile, I had to make big sacrifices.
Like many other kids growing up in the United States, I saw movies, commercials and TV shows centered around the joy of going to college. Specifically, the one most ingrained in my mind is College Road Trip. In the movie Raven-Symoné plays Melanie, an 18-year old with big dreams of leaving home and going to her dream school. Like me, she has a father terrified to see her handle life alone. Me, an eight–year old with starry eyes, filled with excitement about the idea of in ten years doing what Raven did, and follow my own dreams.
Now ten years later, my dream school New York University was definitely out of my dad’s budget.
I decided to make a schedule to apply to at least five scholarships every week starting fall of my senior year. My goal was not to just barely afford NYU, but to prepare for the worst financial situation possible. Despite my efforts from August all the way up to my high school graduation date, I had only been able to win two small scholarships.
My dad and aunt were both first-generation college students and strictly opposed to me taking out any loans. However, despite the preaching from them, counselors and a lot of older adults in my community, I had my mind set on NYU. My whole college admission process turned from something that I thought would be fun and exciting into the most stressful period of my life.
Everyone around me was very specific about what my exact plan should be, the exact career I should go into and the school I should attend. A lot of arguments occurred about the person I should be, ironically during a period when I was and am still trying to figure that out.
Despite how much my dad would tell me that it was best to take the advice of other people, I just couldn’t. For my sanity, I realized the best thing for me to do was listen to my inner voice. She was telling me that anything worth having meant some sacrifices had to be made. I had already started making sacrifices in my last year of high school by increasing my involvement and taking on more leadership opportunities in clubs.
Although I wanted to be successful for my family, it was also important to do it for myself.
My family pleaded with me for months before decision day. I had kept quiet about my acceptance to NYU. My counselor, family, friends and all the people who had a part in my college process told me explicitly how crazy and honestly stupid it would be to attend this school. The only people I felt I could tell when I first got the news were my parents because even though I knew, their worries would trump my initial excitement.
Even though mentally my bags were already packed and ready to be shipped to Manhattan, I knew there were hurdles to jump over in Georgia before I could cross state lines. Everything blew up very quickly. My aunt called my father demanding, not asking, that I not be allowed to take on so much student debt. In her eyes, Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University was perfect. “FAMU has everything she needs,” she would say every chance she had. It was a school worthy of my student debt. Before I knew it, I was missing weekend plans to drive four hours to visit FAMU with my aunt and dad. However, I still couldn’t envision myself at that campus.
My aunt was definitely not the only one calling with threats of a terrible college experience unless I went to the school of her choice.
Calls and texts like the one my aunt made went on for months from family members and friends of family members. My grandmother cried for weeks before I left. “A young woman should not be allowed to go thousands of miles away and live by herself.” This is exactly what I wanted to flee from. All my life everything had been so easy for me. My biggest fear was enduring four more years of schooling that didn’t live up to all those long hours of work in high school in order to please my family.
I had wanted to go to New York University since the eighth grade after visiting with my uncle there. Instead of going on a formal tour, I walked around campus with him on his graduation day. In my head I kept thinking to myself, “I could do this.” From that day on, I knew that if given the chance I would.
My dad was the only one who went to college out of state, yet his choice was taken more lightly than mine considering he was still only a couple of driving hours away. My aunt and dad still have debt from their schools. However, I noticed that not once did they say they regretted the choices they made.
I’m not saying that student debt is okay, it actually sucks a lot, but in the pursuit of an education and experience, we do it anyway.
There has to be some meaning to it right? I could have easily gone to an in-state school and saved a whole lot of money and a whole lot of my parents’ grief, but where’s the great story in that? In just my first semester, I have learned so much more about what I am capable of than I could have ever imagined.
In the end, no one who loves you really wants to talk you into creating hardships for yourself. Although this isn’t true for everyone, I knew that if I stayed home or didn’t go for what I wanted, then I would regret it later in life.
High school was not a walk in the park for me. Sometimes I would hate having to wake up at 6 a.m. in the morning to attend club events or miss hanging out with friends to stay home and study for the ACT and SAT. From high school, I learned that when you have a goal, obstacles with arise and things are never going to be ideal.
The day I hopped on my flight to New York I didn’t think twice about it. This is just one part of a long race to what I hope will be a life that I am content living. This 8,000 mile run from the life I once knew is a difficult one, but I guess I have no choice but to make it to the finish line in four years to truly know if it was all worth it.