Melissa Holzberg: Admitted students should consider more than just a brochure

Media Credit: Cartoon by Lauren Roll

High school seniors have some big decisions to make – and hopefully, they’ll think through things a bit more than I did.

Sometime this month, the University will release its regular admissions decisions. That means in the next few weeks, high school seniors will flood campus to see if GW is the right fit for them.

Finding out you’re accepted to college is thrilling. But I have some advice for high school seniors who are considering GW: Please look past the congratulatory banners and the cherry blossoms on our sidewalks.

Deciding which college to go to can be a difficult decision because there are many variables to consider. Families weigh the cost of tuition against financial aid offerings, available programs and campus life. But if we’re being honest, I didn’t think about any of this after I got my acceptance letter to GW.

Sure, before I was accepted, I knew about different student organizations here. I knew I wanted to join the newspaper and I knew the School of Media and Public Affairs seemed interesting. I was lucky enough to be in a situation where my parents told me I could go to any school I got into, regardless of the cost. But that shouldn’t have been an excuse for me to avoid doing my due diligence.

Before committing to a university, I think there are two key areas a student should consider: Return on investment, or what they’ll get out of how much they pay, and the reality of a school versus its brochure version.

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo
Melissa Holzberg

The day I got into GW didn’t start off well. It was four days after I got rejected from my dream school and there had been rumors swirling that GW would soon inform applicants of their decisions. My grandparents were in town, and my whole family was planning to go out for dinner and spend a nice weekend together. I convinced myself that I was going to receive another rejection letter, and readied myself for the blow.

But then, I got the email. I screamed and jumped into my dad’s arms. I declared to the room that I was going to GW before I even read the sentence that told me I received a scholarship.

Getting into a school, whether it’s your original dream school or your eventual dream school, can remove you from reality. What I failed to consider when I made such a quick decision was how it would affect my family. Other universities had offered me substantially more money, admission into their honors programs and priority housing. Going to a different school would have been the more fiscally responsible decision – even though my parents could pay for GW.

“Deciding where to attend college is all about finding the best fit, and students should really take the time to consider which community feels right to them and will offer the best environment to support their growth, interests and aspirations,” Karen Stroud Felton, dean of admissions, said in an email.

When you commit to a school, remember that your decision is an investment. That investment should be based on the quality of the education, the odds of finding a solid-paying job and your overall experience.

I’m not graduating for another two years, so I can’t yet say what the return on my investment will be. So far, I think my decision has been worth it. I’ve been exposed to opportunities and incredible people, and I’ve enjoyed my college experience. It doesn’t hurt that I fell in love with D.C. and hope to live here after I graduate.

But admittedly, those are things I should have thought about before I committed. I never took time during admitted students day to go over the pros and cons of my decision. I never even attended another school’s events for accepted students to compare my other choices.

Rather, I fell in love with the idea of going to a school a few blocks away from the White House and the Lincoln Memorial. I wanted to “Raise High” even though I was pretty sure that sounded grammatically incorrect – I still think it is, by the way.

I fell in love with an idealized version of college. And that’s normal. When you decide on a dream, you’ll do almost anything to make that dream feel real. GW became my dream very quickly toward the end of my senior year of high school. But I didn’t do anything to make sure that how I envisioned GW matched reality. I didn’t reach out to admissions and try to do an overnight stay. I didn’t talk to any current students besides my tour guide to ask what life would actually be like.

It would have been easy to get a better feel for GW but instead, I got swept away. I ended up being lucky that I still think I made the right decision. My major became interesting even though I barely knew what political communication meant. And thankfully, interning in D.C. makes me feel like I’m already starting to see some returns on the money that my family is spending.

I may complain sometimes, but GW is the perfect school for me. And I think that the soon-to-be Class of 2020 will feel the same way. But before you get swept off your feet, take a moment to think after you finish your happy dance. My story worked out, but that doesn’t mean everyone will be so lucky.

Melissa Holzberg, a sophomore majoring in political communication, is The Hatchet’s contributing opinions editor. Want to respond to this piece? Submit a letter to the editor.

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