Salman - Florida Gulf Coast University - Class of 2019

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Even though I met my dream school's admission requirements, I knew that didn't guarantee admission. So I needed more options.

I wanted to experience college like in the movies—going to frat parties, having fun with friends, and becoming an educated person. I also wanted to get away from Miami and maybe even experience four seasons. But since my main concern was cost of attendance, I thought I should look at only in-state public schools with lower tuition.

Hometown: Miami, FL

High School: Public

GPA: 2.6/3.9 (weighted)

SAT: 1350

Major: Civil engineering

Goal: Stay focused on my major and enjoy college

College

Status

Florida Gulf Coast UniversityAttending
Northern Michigan UniversityAccepted
South Dakota State Accepted
University of West FloridaAccepted
University of WisconsinDeferred
University of WyomingDeferred
Utah State Waitlisted
Youngstown State Accepted

Looking for an affordable college

Because my grades and test scores were just average, many of the popular in-state universities, like University of Florida and Florida State, were reaches. My chances of admission were best at Florida Gulf Coast University. I had toured the school with one of my friends and really liked it. It offered my major (civil engineering), was known as "Dunk City" for its championship basketball team, and even had its own beach! Plus, three of my best friends were planning to go there. But even though I met FGCU's admission requirements, I knew that didn't guarantee admission. So I needed more options.

On COLLEGEdata, I was able to find universities with cost of attendance similar to an in-state school where I had a good chance of being admitted. After researching these schools further, I ended up with eight colleges on my list—six of them out-of-state.

Financial aid from afar

My first acceptance came from Northern Michigan University—with a sizeable scholarship for four years! The thought of attending NMU was exciting. It would be a big change for me—of people, of weather, of everyday life. But NMU didn't offer civil engineering. (I would have to major in construction management). Since I couldn't visit, I talked to an NMU student (also from Miami) in the construction management program, and he had only good things to say about it. After talking to a professor and looking at videos online, I decided to go to NMU. It had everything a student could want.

A few weeks later, while I was in the car with my mom, I got the acceptance email from FGCU. I was so excited, I couldn't stay in my seat! I shouted the good news to my mom. She congratulated me and told me to calm down since I was almost standing in the car! Now that I knew it was possible, I wanted to go to FGCU. But NMU had offered me a larger financial aid package.

So I looked at both aid offers side by side. When I factored in the additional costs of living so far from home (including the cost to fly from Michigan to Miami a few times a year), FGCU wasn't really that much more expensive. And when I considered that FGCU had my major, that my friends were going there, and that I loved the school, it was easy to forgo the additional aid. I was going to attend my dream school!

My ups and downs

For a while, I had second thoughts about my decision. Going to college out of state would have been an amazing experience. I felt better after I learned more about FGCU and its various activities and programs, and remembered the things I liked about it when I toured—like the friendly people and the interactive math classes, where students stood at white boards solving problems in groups. Plus, being the first child in my family to go to college, I felt better being closer to my mom and my four younger siblings. I didn't want them to worry about me.

What I learned

I had to figure out college admissions on my own. My mom came to the U.S. from Pakistan and didn't attend college, so I couldn't ask her anything college-related. As a result, I became more mature and better at communicating and following through with tasks. Now I feel ready to attend college.

The money factor

Financial aid and scholarships will cover the majority of my costs. A work-study job will pay for my other expenses. I might need to take out a loan to cover my housing costs, depending on the scholarships I receive.

My advice

I had an amazing advisor at my school. But the Internet, college websites, my teachers, and my friends also helped me during the process. Don't be afraid to use all the resources you have.