As a high school student, I was advised to apply to several colleges, to ensure that I would get into at least one school of my liking. My grades were good, and my SAT score was decent — but not great, though. I have never been good at standardized tests and my brain is much more creative, than analytical.
I applied to three schools, and one of them was my dream school. Growing up in Southern California, I had my pick of nice schools, but my dream school was UC San Diego. It had a beautiful campus, offered a great education, and was in San Diego — a dream of a city by the beach!
I had put all my hopes and dreams into this school and I was confident I would get in. My GPA was 3.8, but as I mentioned my SAT scores weren’t as strong. I remember when the letters started trickling in. I got into UC Riverside, and Cal State Long Beach. I was waiting, impatiently, for the news about UCSD. Then the letter came.
We regret to inform you…
I was heartbroken. I felt like my hard work led to nothing and I wasn't sure about my collegiate future. I sure didn’t want to move to Riverside, so I stayed close to home and went to California State University Long Beach. In the end, I got a great education and had a wonderful undergraduate experience. But I will never forget the pang of rejection I felt, from being told “no” by my dream school.
Years later, I had written something in my journal about how “I hope one day I can get my M.A. at a good school like NYU.” At that moment, it was a fleeting thought — a dream for my future as I was learning to become an adult after graduating college.
Flash forward three years and I was working as a manager in the nonprofit arts sector, I had an opportunity to visit NYU — this time for work. While I was there, I thought I would stop by and learn more about their graduate programs. Shortly after the trip, filled with awe and inspiration, I applied to go to NYU. I thought I would never get in. It’s a prestigious university, with a great history of research and focus on the arts. I thought, what do I have to lose?
I forgot about my application and continued working. Months later, the letter arrived at my apartment and I was scared to open it. I was prepared for the worst. I was about to get rejected. I was sure of it. As I started to tear the corner, unveiling the letter, making each letter visible one by one, I saw the exclamation: Congratulations!
I started screaming and crying, jumping up and down. I got into my dream school! NYU didn’t require any SAT scores as they were an arts based school and focused on creative production, and skills. After writing about my dream to go to NYU several years earlier, the opportunity was now staring me in the face.
After the adrenaline wore off, I started to fill with panic. How was I going to pay for this? The price tag for my one year accelerated master’s degree: $52,000.
For months, I was sick with indecision wondering if I should stick to my career and pay off my undergrad loan, or triple my debt and move across the country. Well, if you know about my journey out of debt, you know that I chose to go to NYU and pursue my “dream.”
On one hand, going to graduate school enhanced my skills and gave me a life-changing opportunity. On the other hand, the debt I acquired has been difficult to pay off — something I take full responsibility for taking on.
What I learned about my dream school experience — getting rejected by my dream school for undergrad, then being welcomed with open arms by my dream school for my master’s — is that dreams are great to have, but can blur your vision.
I was so heartbroken that I didn’t get into my first dream school, that I hardly appreciated the great and affordable education I got. The second time around, I was so obsessed with making my dream come true, regardless of the cost. I knew what I was getting into, but you can’t really project what your life will look like post-school.
I am not saying that high school students, or those looking to return to higher education should forego the idea of a “dream school”. But you should think about your dreams carefully, and why you want those things. To be honest, I wanted to go to grad school to legitimize my talent and attend a prestigious university. I liked the way it sounded. I could have taken a different route to achieve these things and in some ways, my desire to go to grad school was in vain.
My advice: Keep your dreams close to your heart, but always look a step further. What is on the other side? How much do your dreams cost and what do you need to do to get there? Is there a better way? Don’t take for granted the good things that are right in front of you.
Did you get into your dream school?