Even before I became a high school senior, there was an unspoken expectation that I should be good enough to go to college without accumulating debt (excepting possible dire circumstances). But for every other college student, this appears to be an impossible feat, even when we're both in similar circumstances surviving on the same level of financial aid.
I think what most kids don't realize is that you don't have to shell out the big bucks to book yourself off to a "dream college" or Ivy League university to be happy and successful.
Almost any college can be just as liberating and educational, even if it's a cheap community college that's a hopscotch away from where you already live. It doesn't actually have to put you in debt, if you work with what money you already have.
No, this doesn't mean give up your big dreams of medical school or chuck your Ivy League brochures in the trash. This doesn't mean you have to compromise your life goals just because your budget is tight. But it also doesn't mean you have to spend a whole lot on your education to succeed.
When I was in high school, I remember kids discussing going abroad, taking a gap year or how much to take out in loans just to afford one semester at their "dream college." While students around me chatted at great lengths about dorm life and university names that guaranteed a real job post-graduation, I cut my list of in-state schools down based on transportation and living costs.
While classmates sifted through majors like party favors and ooh-ed and ahh-ed over campus facilities, I mapped out routes for my top three majors at every college on my list, so regardless of which school I attended, I would never lose track of time or financial aid if I ever did choose to switch majors. And I did switch, five times. Didn't lose a semester or a penny over it either.
College was never an option for me. It's a privilege.
I had to earn that privilege the second I entered high school. I earned my magna cum laude. I earned the honors list and AP classes. I earned the privilege, because financially speaking, college would never be feasible for me otherwise. If I couldn't even do well in something as basic as high school, then how could I ever think of sacrificing money (worse, my parents' paychecks) to give higher education a go? Demanding to go to college without a scholarship seal of approval would be selfish of me.
That's not to say there is anything wrong with attending college using others' money. If you're genuinely doing your best to succeed, then you value your education. Even if you didn't do well in high school, that doesn't mean you don't deserve to attend college. On the contrary, college may be the perfect place for you to grow in ways you couldn't before!
But there are people who couldn't care less.
Adults with 2.0 GPAs who laugh off missed classes while smoking joints in the parking lots. Adults who park papa's Ferrari to spend yet another day holed up in the cafeteria, munching on "free" meal plans while surfing Netflix. Grown men and women who trade embarrassing dorm life stories as coming-of-age tales, as though spending their semester smashed and hiding alcohol from RAs by using a friend's homegrown chickens will be their ticket to success in the working world.
For those "kids," I don't have any empathy to offer when their financial aid is revoked, when their parents cut them off or when they're kicked out of school. If you get in on easy money with no sense of value for it, then you will earn what you deserve down the line.
Honestly, it doesn't take a summer abroad or one semester at a fancy, overpriced college to understand that. If anyone tries to hook you up to a drip of insecurities about becoming a "dependent" stay-at-home college student, then they need a reality check about how you don't need to ship yourself off to Cambridge to learn how to get over yourself, pick up a job and be a grown adult.
It just takes a new perspective — the perspective that your opportunity to gain higher education is a privilege.
College isn't some fantastical coming-of-adult-age getaway. It's just school with a bigger price tag than before.
Becoming educated and skilled doesn't have to come with a debilitating financial price tag. Your price tag can be time, patience, endurance. Being a mature adult is about compromising while still making the most of your experience.
So, it's okay to have a dream school, and it's equally okay to not have one.
Either way, try stepping back from your current mindset and ask yourself: is your dream school work breaking the bank for? Is it worth the debt now? Not four years down the line; I mean now. Are you doing your best to succeed now, with all the options and privileges you have?
If not, then maybe your dream school isn't worth the cost. Maybe it's not what you really need. And maybe going to college is more so about making the best out of what you can afford rather than brandishing school pride like it's a brand name ticket entry to a real job.
Just some food for thought.