College Applications: Financial Realities

College Applications: Financial Realities

This article is part of a series in which a rising high school senior chronicles her admissions process. You can read Gabby’s previous post here.

Lately, I’ve been listening to the Florence and the Machine song “Dog Days are Over” with wistful sadness. Indeed, the haze of summer has officially ended and the tumultuous reality of school has finally set in. After two days of waking up at 6 AM and learning about the joys of Calculus, I think I may already be experiencing the first symptoms of Senioritis. Granted, I love being a member of the oldest grade at school. As I look at the confused Freshmen swarming the halls, it’s hard to believe that that used to be me. Although each individual day of high school seemed to stretch on forever, the past three years have passed in a blur.

In preparation for my exciting senior year, I was definitely hit with “organization fever”. Not only did I try to map out all my free time in elaborate schedules, but I also re-organized my entire desk, closet, and dresser. I’m trying to de-clutter and create a good studying space, since my Senior year courses are difficult to say the least. On my annual trek to Staples this August, I definitely went a little supply-happy. I’m on the quest to create an ideal studying environment so that I don’t revert back to my writing-essays-in-bed ways of the past. It’s okay though, because I’ve enjoyed this spurt of organization and order. I even finished my summer work before September, which is an admirable first.

As school starts, I’ve also become more zeroed in on the college application process. After fourteen campus visits, I’ve finally compiled my “definitely applying” list (and vowed to never go to another information session ever again). I’ll be applying to 16 schools, which is a large amount of applications to say the least. However, I think I’ll feel a bit more secure if I give myself lots of options. Looking at my list today, I feel both an enormous amount of satisfaction and an enormous amount of fear. In order to maximize my chances for acceptance, I’ve decided to apply Early Action to every school on my list that offers the option. This means that my deadline for 9 schools has been pushed forward to the lingering date of November 1st. I’ve managed to fill out most of Common App, but it seems that there’s still so much to do. Within the next two months, I have to think about supplements, letters of recommendation, and transcript requests. For some reason, I have a feeling that my Halloween this year will be full of frantic submissions and crossed fingers.

With the start of the application process, my parents and I have finally talked about the touchiest part of college- money. As I’ve come to realize, my family falls into the classic “too much for financial aid, yet not enough to actually pay” dilemma. While the cost of college will be a huge financial burden on my parents, we don’t qualify for any financial aid. Originally, I felt discouraged, since a $60,000/year price tag is absolutely unrealistic. After some thought, however, I’ve realized that my best bet in terms of money will come through merit scholarships. Typically, merit scholarships are awarded to over-qualified students in order to attract them to attend a “less-prestigious” school. In hopes of getting a financial boost, I’ve revamped my final college list to include more Safeties and Matches than Reaches. At this point, I’m beginning to see the admissions process as a two-fold obstacle. Not only do I have to be accepted, but I also have to be granted enough money in order to make my attendance a reality. While this monetary deterrent is definitely frustrating, I’m glad I’ve realized it so early on in the process. I think it would be much more painful in the long run if I remained ignorant about cost, and was then disappointed once acceptances came out. Knowing what I know now, I’m going to search everywhere for additional scholarship opportunities.

All in all, I’m beginning to see my position in a more realistic light. When the Common App first opened, I had to actually restrain myself from filling the Dashboard with every college for which I had the mildest interest. Now, understanding the actuality of impending deadlines and immense price tags has definitely forced me to see the real situation at hand. I have lots and lots of work to do.