Friday, August 26, 2011

New York State of Mind

On March 31, 2005, I was accepted to New York University.

Not only that, but I was awarded scholarships that covered more than half of the $40,000+ yearly tab.

It was the last notification from the six schools I applied to, only one of which rejected me. (It's OK, Columbia, I forgive you.)

I wrote in my journal that day, "UW is my last last last last choice. That is if I absolutely cannot afford to go anywhere else, and that might very well be the case. I will be so sad if that happens. I mean, effing NYU!!! I want it, I need it."

Aren't 18-year-olds cute?

Of course, six years later, I'm a proud Class of 2009 graduate of the University of Washington — my last-choice school. UW, of course, is a fantastic school, and I now realize how incredibly lucky I was to not only gain admittance, but to be able to attend with the help of a very generous four-year endowed scholarship.

But in 2005, I had big dreams and an even bigger poster of New York City plastered on my bedroom wall. I had a severe case of anywhere-but-here-itis, and what could be more different from my small, West Coast hometown than the Big Apple?

I had never even been to New York, let alone visited NYU, but I just knew I wanted to go there. Maybe it was the hours I spent watching Sex and the City or the fact that my childhood idols, the Olsen twins, went to school there (for a hot minute). Maybe it was because I lived in a wealthy suburb, where the mentality was, "Why wouldn't you go to the best school possible?" Maybe it was my idea that, despite my family's financial hardship, anything was possible if I worked hard enough.

UW, on the other hand, was my last choice because it was the safe option. It was close to home, and I knew it'd be crawling with people I knew from high school. Also, I was automatically accepted, since I was an in-state applicant and my GPA and SAT scores exceeded certain requirements. There was no challenge, no danger and no excitement in choosing to attend UW.

Thank goodness my very smart mom swooped in and gave me the facts: Even with the scholarships I'd earned, NYU would still cost more than $80,000 over four years. That doesn't even include cross-country flights or anything more than basic tuition, housing and books.

My dream, unfortunately, was not worth it.

I delayed sending my rejection notice to NYU for as long as possible. I may or may not have listened to Billy Joel's "New York State of Mind" on repeat while sobbing. It was extremely tough to give up on something I'd worked very hard for in favor of something else that lacked all the sparkle I'd sought.

But it was probably the best decision I've ever made in my life. (Not that it was entirely my decision to make — my parents would've cosigned those fat student loans on a cold day in hell.)

Now, I have a journalism degree from a top-notch school and a great job to boot. What I don't have is student-loan debt. I'm really glad I didn't pay that extra $80,000+ for a slightly more attractive piece of paper.

After all this time, I still haven't been to New York City. That's about to change. One of my goals for this year was to visit, and I'll fulfill that goal over a four-day weekend in late September.

I plan to run in Central Park, indulge in some carb-tastic NYC foods (pizza, bagels) and wander around like a goofy tourist with my big camera. Perhaps, around one corner or another, I'll catch a glimpse of the life I would have had if I'd gone to NYU in 2005 and lived my dream.

Part of me thinks about the fact that I packed away this sparkly dream and forgot about it for six years. Maybe, once I retrieve it, I'll find that it's not the same as it was before — that most of the glitter has fallen off.

On the other hand, instead of chasing what I could have had, maybe I'll find something new. In 2005, I would have gone to New York already a slave to the student loans I would rack up over the next few years. In 2011, I'm going on my terms, paying my way with money I've saved for this exact purpose — to explore, to wander, to wonder. Unworried and unhurried.

I'd never go back in time and choose NYU over UW if I could. I'm too content with the experiences I had, the people I met and where I landed after college to hope for anything different. But it's important for me to look back at my 18-year-old thought process and realize that I learned so many things by having to "settle" for my last-choice school:

  • It doesn't matter where you go. What matters is the opportunities you seize — or, better yet, create for yourself — wherever you are.
  • There's nothing wrong with having an independent streak, but when you wind up in the hospital with pneumonia and dehydration during the first quarter of freshman year, you realize just how nice it is to have your family nearby.
  • No piece of paper is worth $80,000, except for an $80,000 bill.
  • Some things are worth waiting for.


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  1. I really enjoyed this post Devon. The fact that you are completely content with your decision to give up the dream of a younger you shows emotional and mental strength that a lot of people don't have.

    I went through very similar situation when I was choosing schools too. I wanted to go to Pepperdine ($40k/year) or Digipen (?/year) and I had talks with my mother about costs which led me to stay in state. I certainly don't regret this decision and even though I still had debt, it could have been a lot worse.

    I have people that email me wondering how to pay off close to six figures in student loans and that kind of debt would definitely be a life changer.

    As always, thank you for sharing. :)

    P.S. I was wondering, do you have an $80,000 dollar bill I could borrow?

  2. Great post. I talk to a class at a local private college and they're facing the same future you fortunately avoided. It's so difficult to realize that undergrad is just a piece of paper. It's what you learn, and the connections you make that matter.

    Glad you can look back at the 18 year old you as well as you have.

  3. @Caleb: No kidding, I can't imagine dealing with that kind of debt! I will split the $80,000 bill with you when I find it. : )

    @Russell: Exactly. I had several incredible professors and mentors at UW that shaped my education and my ideas about what I want to do in life. I feel like those key people can be anywhere if you just seek them out!

  4. Girl!! Let me know when you head out to NYC -- I'll be there and would love to meet for coffee :D


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