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High school grad in cap and gown.When I was growing up, going to college felt inevitable. I had support and encouragement from my family (my parents met when they attended UNL, and my older sister went to college before me), I enjoyed school for the most part and got good grades, and college seemed like the easiest way to have new experiences beyond my hometown. Although I loved growing up in Burwell, Nebraska, I wanted to move beyond the small town bubble and see who I could be on my own.

What’s the plan?

The trouble came when I actually had to make decisions about what I wanted to do after high school. I am pretty indecisive by nature and I am not naturally a risk taker, so as high school was coming to an end, here was my thought process:

  • I have to go to college…somewhere (out of state, maybe?).
  • I need some scholarship money to get there (no idea how much).
  • I want to be a writer someday.

By the time my senior year came around, it was time to start putting my plans for the future into action. The problem was, I still didn’t really have any concrete plans for my future, and time was running out.

Where should I go?

Choosing a major was easy—I had wanted to be a writer since I was 14 years old, so it felt like a no brainer to select an English major. Finding out where I would go to college and how I would get there was a different matter.

In the end, I decided to go to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL). I played with the idea of attending a Christian college and/or going out of state, but in-state tuition was cheaper. And (slightly embarrassing confession time), I also chose UNL because that’s where my high school boyfriend was attending. Although I had big plans to start all over, I was actually pretty scared of going somewhere all by myself. For the record, I do NOT recommend following a significant other to their college. When we broke up shortly after winter break my senior year (oops!), my decision to attend UNL was already pretty well set.

I’m sure I could have pivoted at that point to a different school if I had really wanted to, but I decided to stick with my original choice. Going to college with a smaller support network than I’d planned was not ideal for me at the time, but it wasn’t as if I had to be stuck at UNL forever if I ended up not liking it. So my decision was made: I’d see how UNL went my freshman year, and if I absolutely hated it, I’d look into transferring.

Find some cash!

Now that I knew where I was going, the next step was finding a way to get there. I knew that my parents would pay for some of it, and I expected to take out some student loans. The last step was to apply for scholarships. This proved to be difficult, not because I wasn’t qualified to receive scholarships, but because I didn’t like filling out scholarship applications. I disliked it so much, in fact, that I applied for way fewer scholarships than I should have (oops #2!).

I ended up with a handful of scholarships, but I could have made my life a lot easier by applying for more. I’m fortunate enough to have been able to pay off my student loans a couple years early, but it was not easy. I could have paid them off even earlier if I had applied for more scholarships.

In the end…

My freshman year of college was challenging, but it also turned out great. I didn’t have much luck making friends in my dorm, but I found great groups of friends through extracurricular activities and my work study job. After four years (and one summer), I graduated with my bachelor of arts in English and creative writing. Looking back at my college journey, here are some lessons that I learned:

  • It’s ok to not have a concrete plan—whether it’s a dream school or a dream job.
  • Listen to other people’s advice, but make the best choice for you.
  • The more you learn about yourself, the more you find out what you want out of life.
  • Mistakes can turn into opportunities!

Good luck!