College Decision Envy
My heart was broken 13 times during my senior year of high school. The first time was when my boyfriend of a year and a half cheated on me with my best friend. The next 12 times occurred within the space of two weeks as I received my college decision letters.
Some of them began with, “Congratulations,” and others began with, “We regret to inform you,” but none of them came with the financial aid packages my parents and I had been expecting. My Ivy League dreams were suddenly and abruptly dashed; I could go to one of my East Coast dream schools, but only if I wanted to graduate $200,000 in debt.
Instead I enrolled at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, which my parents said they’d pay for. (They did for the first year; now I’m the one paying all of my bills.) Cal Poly has a great reputation—mostly for its engineering and architecture programs. I’m an English major.
It was definitely hard the first couple months as my friends posted pictures of Williams’s beautiful campus, or the Columbia library, or the Stanford football games. My biggest concerns were that A) everyone was pitying me, B) I’d have a way harder time getting a job, and C) my education would suffer.
Wrong, wrong, wrong. Maybe some people did feel bad for me, but if so, that was their problem, not mine. Every class I’ve taken has been challenging, thought-provoking, and interesting. Every person I’ve met has had an awesome and unexpected background. I’ve had no problem getting internships and writing jobs, so I’m not worried about my career prospects.
I thought I was over all of my resentment and feelings of inferiority, but then my brother and sister, who are both seniors in high school, started applying to colleges. All of the petty emotions came rushing back, but worse. Because apparently, there’s a part of me that’s awful and small enough that wants their dreams to suffer too.
I keep imagining that all of the schools they apply to are going to woo them with lots and lots of money, all the money that I needed, but didn’t get. Then they’re going to waltz off to the kind of college I’ve always drooled over, never understanding what I had to give up.
My family is super close and loving. We’re all also ambitious, smart, hard-working, and competitive people. How could I not compare my siblings’ college decision letters with my own?
Twenty-four percent of me—it’s much less than half, as if that will save my soul—is hoping that they don’t receive enough financial aid and will have to settle just like I did. I know, it’s terrible, and I can’t actually believe I’m admitting this on the internet. But that 24 percent is asking why I should be the only one forced to face the facts, hear the music, and get real. I had to learn it doesn’t matter how hard you work, you won’t always get what you want. Shouldn’t they have to learn that too?
And then the other 76 percent of me, the part that loves my brother and sister desperately and sees how their faces light up when they talk about Tuft’s experimental college or MIT’s hack tradition or Wesleyan’s student clubs, is ready to storm any campus that doesn’t accept them and/or give them enough money so they can attend.
I tried to talk about my complicated emotions with my mom, but was pretty unsuccessful.
“It’s not that I don’t want them to be able to go to their dream schools…” I began cautiously (and somewhat falsely).
“Well, good, because this isn’t about you,” she said kindly but firmly.
She’s right. I’m being doubly selfish: First, by inserting myself into a situation that’s totally unrelated to me, and second, by being petty enough to want my brother and sister to share my pain. A better person than me would be crossing her fingers for that financial aid so her siblings didn’t have to go through the same painful process she did.
Writing this out, I feel better. I’m giving myself a mental shake and vowing to never let my family know I entertained these kinds of thoughts. (Unless, of course, they Google me—as they are wont to do—and find this column.) In March, when my brother and sister start opening their letters, I’m going to be on the phone with them, and I’ll be rooting for them. When my sister says, “I got into Barnard! And my aid package is $40,000 a year!” I’ll respond, “HECK YEAH! New York City, here you come!” When my brother says, “CalTech wants me!” I’ll say, “You better share the profits from your tech start-up with me!”
Afterwards, 24% of me might have to cry a little bit. But that will be my secret. And I guess, yours. And I guess, my moms. Mom? I hope you’re not reading this.
This is the fifth column in a multi-part series.
Aja Frost is a student at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo who loves writing… and dessert. Follow her on Twitter @ajavuu.