I went shopping for colleges over fall break … price tag not included! Realizations while exploring Mid-Atlantic favorites. Did someone say Chapel Hill?
As I left on a plane headed to North Carolina at 5:15AM, in my head I went over all of the colleges I would be touring: Davidson, Wake Forest, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, Duke, University of Virginia, University of Richmond, and William and Mary, the weekend planned perfectly jammed by no one other than myself.
Crazily scheduled touring trips are normal for the St. Mary’s population during breaks, especially juniors. We use this time to see all of our limitless possibilities at schools around the country, and no matter how many colleges end up packed into the day, we take our time to get a “feel” for the campus, imagining ourselves working in the library, eating in the dining hall and lying in the quad.
We desperately try to find our fit.
This idea of discovering a personalized “fit” before even applying has wooed the hearts of sophomores and juniors, eager to get started on finding the college for them. And I admit, I am in fact one of them. For some reason, college — finding it, going to it, studying at it, living in it — seems like the biggest deal in the world at the moment. And because it seems like such a big deal to everyone around me as well, I feel the need to find my fit.
And colleges themselves are not making this any easier. Spurring students’ imaginations, schools pull us in with emails, dazzling websites and summer programs telling us, “We want you!"
Why would we not want to take a chance, see if *insert the school that most recently emailed you* is our fit? They obviously want us.
So, we make our wishlists: small or large, urban or suburban, private or public and so on. Then, we do some intense shopping.
We pack up our families, buy plane tickets, book hotel rooms and go out in the “hip” college towns to explore boutiques, restaurants and coffee shops. We walk the campus, lattes in hand, mentally keeping track of each box on our personal wishlist: we shop.
Except, there is one issue. The price tags are blank.
Yes, their snazzy handout has their “estimated tuition,” but we truly do not know what the net price — scholarships and financial aid included — until after applying. There is no guarantee that the school we fall in love with — the school in which we see ourselves working in the library, eating in the dining hall and lying in the quad — will end up being the school for us. In fact, today’s ever-decreasing acceptance rates and staggering costs make the college process highly uncertain.
That is what changed the game for me.
After my trip, I learned that I do not think college touring is a bad thing. Seeing the campus is good. Getting a feel is good. The problem lies in this idea of “my fit.”
The college process is not about finding the school. It is very unlikely that one college will magically have every single item on our wishlists; and, if there is one, getting in and paying for it is a whole other story. No matter how much we may think a school may be the “fit,” there is no point in pouring our hearts into one perfect university.
We, as High School Students of America, do not get to pick and choose.
The reality is that once the price tags are attached, we will then get to make a choice; thus, real time shopping can commence. Until then, all I can do is idealize my future alma mater and give thanks for the ability to see my options, keeping in mind that they are, in fact, options.
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