All of my life, I grew up with up with the college I attend now literally right in my back yard. During football games on Saturday's, I could hear every word the announcer said from my bedroom and hear every bit of the halftime show in all of its glory.
Jacksonville State University is a medium sized school, but my dad is a fan of JSU like most people would be a fan on the Lakers or the Patriots. I never once considered any other school because not only is the school a big deal in my family, but it was the cheapest option for someone like me whose family did not have much if any disposable income.
I didn't think much about shaping my college experience, I just thought about doing what was expected of me. The first couple of years in, it seemed that everyone else had thought about having an actual college experience, which meant dropping me as a friend and pretty much leaving me without any sort of social life, which I didn't realize until I was basically all alone aside from my family.
Most people would tell you to just join a sorority, says the girl whose parents (probably) pay their dues. Nonetheless, the sad part about going to college in a small town is that if you don't join a sorority or frat, your chances of making new friends and having a social life are very slim, and that was something I just accepted early on.
So, for the most part, I went to my classes, went to work, and I might study and work out some nights, and if not I would go home and not do too much; I didn't think about the precious time that I was wasting when I should've been creating memories that a typical college experience should entail. For the most part, I blamed it on the absolutely terrible friends who had abandoned me, but part of it was my fault.
The biggest mistake I made was going to college at home in the first place and not forcing myself to reach out. I was too comfortable because nothing in my life had actually changed except I was taking classes on the other side of town and my sudden lack of social life.
Even after a while when I did create a new friend group, it still didn't feel like the type of college experience I was supposed to have. Again, I was in the same boring small town, living in the same house, and not doing that much besides the normal things one does during the week.
Although I did fail to create this ideal college experience, I certainly can't complain about the money I've saved in the long run. I also can't help but wonder if the money I saved will create a better life for myself after college, especially from a family who has no ability to support me during and after college; the debt is all on me.
Tuition and books at JSU just in itself, which is all I have to pay for since I live at home, costs about $10,000-$15,000 a year. So, one who is going to school strictly on loans could expect to get into around $40,000 or more worth of debt, which is average for any medium-sized public college.
For me, FAFSA pays for around half of my education with grants and I have to pay for the rest in loans. So far, I'm looking at graduating with about $27,000 worth of debt.
Although still a substantial amount of money, I can confidently say that I'm not mad at that number, especially when there are people claiming to get in over $100,000 worth of debt after college. If I did go to a school away from home, I probably would have gone into about $50,000 worth of debt.
One thing I can say is that had been in such a dark place eventually shaped me into who I am now. I have learned I don't have to put up with people who treat me like I'm a joke and to never let them into my life again. I've also learned how to be happy on my own, but happier in the presence of those who make life better.
So maybe not having an ideal college experience isn't the absolute end of the world. And although entering into the world post-high school can be hard for anyone, you don't have to stay in that dark place forever as long as you are proactively trying to make yourself and your situation better.