My Road to UF: Finding Where I Needed to Be

For as long as I can remember, my mom’s favorite saying has been “let the chips fall where they may.” I still don’t quite know which chips she’s referring to (poker or potato?), but she says it, and it became the household motto as I stressed about college admissions last year. What she basically means is put forth your best effort, then leave the rest to the universe. As a major control freak, I’m not a big fan, but I think that’s why she said it to me – especially during college application season.

I had big dreams about college but no dream school. For me, it was about the city. At the time of applications, I wanted to major in journalism, although I ultimately decided on English. I wanted stories to chase and new places to explore as much as I wanted to continue my education, so that became a big part of my application process.

However, obviously, I didn’t go to Boston or Washington D.C. like I wanted. A year ago, I felt hopeless about it, but now, I think I ended up where I needed to be.

Expectations, Expectations

When I started the application process, I focused on out-of-state schools. My full application list was Boston University, George Washington University, American University, University of North Florida, University of Florida, University of Miami and Emerson College. Every day after school for two weeks I went to Starbucks, bought a venti iced coffee (which, if you’re prone to anxiety, is a truly horrific idea) and wrote application essays. My Coalition Application essay was decent, but I didn’t put as much energy into it as I should have.

Because I was going out of state, I told myself UF was a back-up school,. I’d worked hard. I’d done everything I was supposed to do. I would get the money and scholarships I needed. That’s what I told my parents all along when they warned me that even if I got into these schools, I’d have to receive significant financial aid in order to attend.

UF decision day turned out to be very strange. Since I was in IB at a Florida high school, about three-quarters of my classmates had also applied. Some people wanted only to talk about the decision, while others wanted to talk about anything but. I fell somewhere in the middle. When I got home from school, I spent the final hour before decisions came out counting down the clock. I knew UF was my top in-state choice, so getting in mattered.

Six o’clock came.

I was accepted.

I screamed, jumped up and down, and did all the other cliché things seniors do when they’re accepted to college (in addition to eating three rolls of celebration sushi). I was happy, yes, but the college decisions I really cared about came later.

When I got my first acceptance to an out-of-state school, Emerson College, I was standing in the middle of Forever 21 with three friends. Not only had I been accepted, but I’d also been admitted to the honors college and given a significant academic scholarship. My financial aid was low, but I didn’t think it mattered when I’d received so much merit-based aid. I waited until I got home to tell my family, and then we did all those cliché I-just-got-into-college things for a second time. Then, my dad had a question.

“How much money did they give you?” he asked.

I told them the number. They asked how much it would be to go in total. I gave them that number. It was quiet for a moment - a long, long moment.

“It isn’t enough, is it?” I finally asked.

“Let’s not worry about that right now,” my mom said.

“But it isn’t, right?”

She looked at the scholarship again and pressed her lips together. “Let’s see what other schools give you.”

When Reality Hits

Ultimately, I was accepted to every school I applied to except one and got into the honors college at two, but the acceptances became complicated.

With each one, there was the split-second joy of achievement, of reading Congratulations! and realizing that four years of hard work had paid off. Then, reality hit. I had to check the financial aid and scholarships I’d received. At every school, I received some academic scholarships, but my financial aid was minimal. Since the total cost of each of these schools neared $70,000 per year, and on average I received about $35,000 in scholarships and financial aid, that left a significant amount of money to pay out of pocket each year. My family simply couldn’t afford it. Eventually, all I felt was frustration. What was the point of getting into these schools if I couldn’t actually attend them?

That narrowed my decision down to the in-state schools.

I didn’t feel think UNF would be the best fit for me, so that left me with UF and UM. When comparing the two, I knew UF would be less expensive overall and closer to home. I’d be with some of my closest friends. I’d toured the school. I would know my roommate. I wouldn’t be in debt afterwards.

But something still didn’t feel right.

I felt like I’d betrayed myself. When I started high school my freshman year, I knew I’d work hard so I could achieve great things. I got straight A’s, played sports and did a variety of extracurricular activities, holding leadership positions in many of them, all with the goal of doing something few others did. Plus, I have the fatal flaw of comparing myself to others incessantly (tip: don’t do that when it, especially when it comes to college). Seeing other people getting full-tuition or full-cost scholarships hurt because they were doing something I couldn’t.

I committed to UF, but I couldn’t bring myself to be entirely happy about it. Whenever something went even slightly wrong – not getting accepted to the honors college, not getting the dorm I wanted – it seemed like a sign that I’d made the wrong choice.

Letting the Chips Fall

When I arrived at UF, I knew I would achieve nothing by sitting around brooding, feeling sorry for myself and being a pessimist. UF is where I was, and I needed to make the best of it.

I found a solid friend group, some people I knew before college and some people I didn’t. You always hear that your first friends aren’t the friends you stick with, but my roommate Erin and I became close with girls we’d met at Preview. Before long, there were eight of us, seven people I could rely on for anything. I found that I loved my creative writing workshop and decided on adding mass communication and Spanish minors. I settled into a rhythm and found myself enjoying the steady quietness of Gainesville. After just one winter in Gainesville, I realized that I’m a complete wimp in the cold and would’ve froze to death up north. Sometimes, I still wonder what college could be like elsewhere, but not often.

It was a long road to get to this point, though.

I had to recognize that happiness comes and goes and that I have a large role in ensuring it stays. I had to learn that not going out of state like many of my high school classmates didn’t mean I was a failure. I’ve come to appreciate the little things, like being able to go home because I miss my dog or because my little brother has a band concert. I realized that I can’t control everything, only my effort and work ethic, and that some decisions – like financial aid – were out of my control.

Most of all, I learned that being happy somewhere can be a slow process. There were probably a thousand different indicators that UF was where I needed to be, but I didn’t fully know I’d made the right choice until the end of the fall semester.

Before final exams, my friends and I decided to do Secret Santa. Everyone gathered in my dorm room sitting in a circle on my floor as Erin put on music and started dancing. Two people were late – which is standard for our group – but when they came, they brought eight peppermint hot chocolates from Starbucks as a surprise (I still wish I could’ve seen the barista’s face when one person ordered EIGHT drinks). As we went around opening gifts, I realized that if I’d gone to another school, I never would’ve met half these people, and I’d come to consider them a second family. Warmth spread through my chest (which is cliché, I know, but it happened), and suddenly, I felt completely and utterly satisfied with where life had brought me.

As she’d be delighted to hear, my mom was right.

The chips fell exactly where they needed to be, even if it had taken time to realize it.

 

This article is part of a series welcoming incoming students to UF. Have a question you want us to answer or explore? Email us at [email protected], and follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook for even more incoming student advice!