The college process is a time of stress, pressure and maturing. It’s the beginning of adult life, and money is something that becomes all too real as students apply to and decide on colleges. A recent report published by the Princeton Review where 14,000 college applicants were surveyed showed that 98% of applicants were worried or stressed about affording college. This included going into debt and financial aid. For some, money isn’t a factor, but others have to constantly consider cost and make decisions based on it.
My college application process began, along with other seniors across the country, by studying for the ACT and compiling a list of colleges. I was also lucky enough to visit schools in California right as the state began shutting down. In this part of the college process, I was not thinking too much about price and instead focusing on what I liked about different colleges. However, I knew that price would be an important factor in my decision from the beginning of the college process, and I’m thankful that my parents were open with me about it.
The fall and winter terms of my senior year were not as bad as I was expecting. Online school with few other commitments meant I had plenty of time to work on college applications. While the writing and application work was relatively manageable, the most difficult part of the process was deciding whether or not to apply Early Action or Early Decision to any schools. At this point, I did not have a first choice and I did not want to commit to a school without knowing the financial aid offered to me. I knew that the price of going to a UC would almost definitely be lower than any other school, and I didn’t want to take that option away from myself. Struggling to afford college is a reality for millions of students, and I wanted to make sure my parents were able to afford mine and my brother’s education at Urban and in college. In hindsight, I am very happy that I did not apply Early Decision, and I think that anyone at this point in the process should make sure they are completely set on a school if they want to apply Early Decision. I know that I felt a lot of pressure because of other students applying Early Decision, and almost did so because of that influence.. Where I applied to college, I learned at this moment, shouldn’t be shaped by my desire for an acceptance to the shiniest, most prestigious college, but instead by which schools best fit my financial, social and academic goals.
Many months later, after being accepted off of several waitlists and through the regular decision round, I found myself deciding between UC Riverside and Pitzer. Though I was still accepted into Pitzer despite not applying to the second round of Early Decision, my hesitations surrounding the school’s size and diversity earlier in the process remained. These feelings were further exacerbated by it’s significantly higher cost of attendance (COA) when compared to Riverside. Every private institution I was accepted into offered a similar amount of aid, with each costing from $50,000 – $55,000 annually. This differs immensely from the $32,000 annually for a UC, and Pitzer lacks the diversity of people and experiences available at the UCs, a factor that was incredibly important to me.
Ultimately, I choose UC Riverside because of the diversity, size, freedom and tuition, all things that matter a lot to me. The price was an important factor, but it would not have been an easy decision to make even if both schools cost exactly the same amount.
One thing I noticed as I came closer to deciding on a college was that I began to more deeply consider what living in each campus and being a part of each student body would be like. The second time I visited schools and during the conversations about deciding, I was much more real with myself about what I wanted my living situation to be in college. Being open and real when talking or thinking about college will make the process easier and feel more gratifying at the end. I am grateful that my parents were so transparent with me about money and expectations from day one – their feedback played a significant role in helping me find a school that was the best fit for me. As college continues to get more and more expensive, finances will continue to play a greater role in more families’ decisions, as they were in mine.