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UF Wasn’t My Dream School, But It Is Now

While I now feel so incredibly lucky to be attending the University of Florida, there was once a time when I felt underwhelmed about the idea of moving to the Swamp.

After living in Miami for my entire life, I was determined to make it out of Florida for college. I knew I wanted a change, to venture away from the constant alteration from the humid heat to annoying rainstorms. So, when it came time to applying to colleges, in-state schools seemed more like a backup plan while out of state schools were the goal. And I couldn’t think of moving to anything but an urban city. My main city of choice: Boston, Massachusetts.

For some reason, there was this underlying impression in high school that if you stay in-state, you’re somehow less than those who choose out-of-state (Spoiler alert: this is completely incorrect). I became enthralled with the idea of moving to a big city. I envisioned myself wandering new streets, strutting confidently in some pretty cool boots. Like so many others, the idea of living it in the big city consumed my dreams.

However, I still kept in-state schools in mind. Particularly, the University of Florida. While I couldn’t deny UF’s prestige, the idea of living in the middle of a swamp only a six-hour drive from home left a bitter taste in my mouth.

Over spring break of my senior year, I visited Gainesville to check her out in action. However, we all know that Gainesville has its good and its bad days – I visited on one of the bad.

The weather was disgusting: The skies were a dull gray and the yucky humidity paired with cold temperatures was not very appealing. Since I visited on a Sunday, campus paths were virtually empty, and the campus was essentially dead. (For those looking to visit, Sundays are the day where the libraries are packed, and streets are empty. I kept on thinking, is this really UF?

While I couldn’t deny UF’s prestige, I still left feeling unsettled about the idea of actually going to school there. And to top it all off, during the car ride home from Gainesville I got an email from Emerson College – basically my dream school – inviting me to visit their school for three days *for free.*

Let me start off by saying, I’m not very well-traveled. I had never travelled outside of Florida, nor did I think I’d be able to afford a vacation outside of Florida anytime soon. So, when I got this email promising payment for my flight, hotel, and food, I was exhilarated.

During my college search, I was early intrigued by Emerson’s Writing Literature and Publishing Major which isn’t offered in any other school in the country. For those who don’t know, Emerson College is a small liberal arts school with majors focusing solely on communications and the arts. With programs like no other, esteemed alumni and network connections, and with such an embracement for creativity, this school centered in the heart of Boston made my heart ache.

After I was accepted through Early Action, I became heavily invested. I joined group chats, made social media friends, even meeting up with some people in my area that were pretty set on attending as well.

When I received my insufficient financial aid package, I stripped everything Emerson away from my mind. But when I got that email, all my emotions came back. 

I couldn’t just say no to a free trip. Why would anyone reject a free trip? With just one email, Emerson was back in the running for my college decision.

And so, I flew to Boston. And I fell in love. When you’re researching a school, you’re never really sure if you’ll have the same connection with it person. But everything I imagined myself feeling became real. It just felt right. I was walking through the city, through the campus, and it felt like it could be my future home. The feeling I was yearning for in Gainesville became materialized … only, in Boston.

I loved the facilities, the programs, the people. I made so many friends in the trip, and I loved being around so many creatives. The connections the school had made me want to drool and the dining hall was actually divine. I got more free merchandise from Emerson (that are now all locked away in a drawer back home) than I will probably ever have for UF.

However, there was still the matter of the hefty check. While tuition was mostly covered, being that the college was right in the center of one of the nicest areas in Boston, you can guess how expensive the room and board is. And while I met with some financial advisors while there, there was no way I could ever graduate from Emerson with an enormous amount of student debt.

But I still couldn’t get the school out of my head.

And so, for a hot minute there, I was going to college in Boston. I told myself that the student-loans would be fine. I rationalized with the mindset that it’s pretty much normal for students to drown in debt today, so I’d just be one of the thousands struggling with debt. No big deal.

A couple weeks later, I broke.

Consumed with the looming threat of student debt, familial issues, and just end of senior year, almost graduating with some major life changes coming may way stress, I literally broke down in tears. It was when my dad told me “You have such an incredible opportunity to go to such an amazing school, why’re you trying to get into student debt and stress yourself out.”

And I knew then, I had to go to UF. I’m not even going to lie. I cried. I sobbed. For literally hours. But at the end of the day, I wouldn’t trade my decision for the world.

Right now, I’m sitting outside in the middle of the Plaza of Americas, one of my favorite places on UF’s campus. There’re students scattered across the green plain, studying, eating, chilling in hammocks, playing music, even some doing cool tricks on bicycles. I’m sitting with some of the new friends I’ve made that hype me up and make me laugh obnoxiously loud. The sun has come out after months of 40-degree weather, and it feels great to be wearing shorts again. Nearby, there’s a group of middle schoolers taking a tour. And it makes me wish I could tell my younger self how amazing this school is, and how I should’ve never taken it for granted.

I’ve fallen in love with the campus, illuminated in light, its brick buildings glowing. After months of walking by them every day, I’m still fascinated by the willow trees reminiscent of the trees you’d imagine seeing at Hogwarts. I love having my choice of libraries with endless study spots and cozy nooks to hang out in during all of those busy late study nights.

I love that campus is walking distance to three amazing pizza places (Leonardo’s By the Slice, Piesanos and MOD Pizza). I love the abundance of local, independent cafes that’re great for studying with friends or just taking aesthetically pleasing pictures. I love all the nature trails where you can see live horses and butterflies and can just wander through the literal wilderness.

Don’t get me wrong, while I was frustrated at first by the overwhelming amount of STEM majors on campus, joining some of the hundreds of organizations helped me find people that are passionate about the same things as me.  

Each day, I love the Journalism and Communications a little more. I’m constantly reminded of all the resources and connections I have right at my fingertips — and don’t get me started on how beautiful the actual building is.

As more time goes by, I learn more and more things that I wish I would’ve known when making my college decision. Like how it does actually get really cold for about three months (and not just every couple of days. I mean like consistently super cold every single day).

For a lot of in-state students, I know it can sometimes be easy to forget about UF. It can be easy to dismiss the school only a driving-distance away in favor of one in another state. It can be easy to forget about the plethora of alumni strewn across the globe. It can be easy to forget it’s amazing resources. It can be easy to forget that it’s a nationally recognized top ten public school.

Coming from a school with little-to-none school spirit, going to a college with so much pride was strange at first. Screaming “Go Gators!” was almost uncomfortable. Now, it feels so good to shout, “It’s great to be a Florida Gator!” Now, I’m beaming with pride when I tell people that I go to the University of Florida. I can honestly say, I wear my gator colors with pride.

Sure, living in the city is still the dream. But I have so much time for that. And who says I still can’t visit? This is the only time I’m going to be living in a town filled with people my age, trying to get their life together. And, I’m loving it.

The University of Florida wasn’t always my dream school, but it is now. And I have to say, it really is great to be a Florida Gator.


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 ufl@hercampus.com, and follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook for even more incoming student advice!

Lauren Rousseau is a senior editor for Her Campus UFL. She's also a junior journalism major at the University of Florida, and her writing has appeared in Rowdy Magazine, WUFT News and the Independent Florida Alligator. When Lauren's not starring at a phone or laptop screen, she enjoys starring at her screen even more by watching ridiculous reality television. When all else prevails, catch her baking and listening to music.
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