As a 19-year-old applying to colleges, I wanted nothing more than to branch out and try something completely new, something far away from my hometown in upstate New York.
On my first visit to Villanova University, outside of Philadelphia, I knew I had found my dream school.
It was late summer, and the spacious green lawns were spotted with college students having picnics, studying, playing music and tossing Frisbees—they seemed so happy and friendly!
Nestled in the suburbs, the school was a short commute away from the bustling city of Philadelphia, and I loved the idea of being so close to a major city after growing up in a relatively quiet town. As a bonus, there was a minimum three-hour buffer between said quiet hometown and the school of my dreams.
I wanted to become a nurse, and Villanova had a great nursing program. I also loved the social life. There was just something about it that made me feel like I belonged. After visiting Villanova, I didn’t visit any other schools—I had found my dream college.
So I submitted my application to Villanova, along with two in-state schools, at my parents’ insistence. (After all, they were going to foot the bill.) Any schools not within half-a-day’s driving distance were off the list. “Who is going to pay for your plane ticket to come home?” my dad asked. “Can you afford that on top of your education costs?” There he was again with that word: cost.
Months later I was elated to see the big envelope in the mailbox from my dream university and read the acceptance letter, but noticed that, for some reason, my parents weren’t as happy as I was. While I was imagining lying on the beautiful green lawns at Villanova studying with new college friends, they were thinking of their wallets.
So Long, Dream School: Why My Parents Said No
I was extremely fortunate in that my parents had planned for my college education from the day I was born. My father, an engineer, and my mother, a social worker, worked hard to save a little money every month after I was born, and they also socked away any birthday or holiday money from relatives. Today, the internet makes it a lot easier for parents to look up resources like index funds or 529s, but my parents met with a financial adviser early on for guidance and set up mutual funds as well as CDs for me and my younger sister.
“A few years later, my mom disclosed that telling me no to my undergrad dream was one of the hardest things she had done as a mother.”
At the same time, they pushed me to visit the guidance counselors’ office on a daily basis during my senior year to find every scholarship they had on file. I didn’t qualify for financial aid, but after winning a few merit scholarships, I left for college with an extra couple thousand dollars to help pay for books and other school supplies.
My parents, it turned out, were set on my attending a state university for the four years of my undergrad education, and they were happy when I was accepted to the two universities in my home state. Both were good colleges with excellent nursing programs—at about half the price of Villanova. In their ideal world, I would go to school only a couple miles from our house so I could live at home and not pay for living expenses or a food plan on campus. I was strongly against this plan. I wanted to get away from my hometown and couldn’t imagine spending another four years living with my parents in the same town, surrounded by the same people.
I begged my parents to let me go to the private school; I had worked so hard to get in and felt like it was the perfect fit. I could see myself living, studying and making new friends at my dream school but couldn’t picture myself at either of the in-state schools. When I pictured college, I pictured something different—and a school close to home was not different.
What did cost really matter? I thought. Taking out a student loan didn’t seem like a big issue to me … a lot of my friends were doing it for much more expensive schools than mine. What was the big deal?