When I faced the decision about which college to attend, it was the fall semester of the 12th grade – I was only sixteen years old. I dreamed of becoming a stage and film actress, so I looked at universities with theater programs. I loved to draw and was fascinated by house designs, so I researched architecture programs.


I was also talented at writing, and my teachers would constantly tell me I should study English, but I was even more talented at being stubborn, so I didn’t take their advice.

Because my parents felt that acting was too risky as a career, they steered me towards architecture.


My parents suggested one of the UC’s or Cal State Universities, so I could stay close to home and take advantage of the college grants for California residents. They probably also suggested staying close to home because they wanted to protect me from some of trials and errors of adult life. But I was also fiercely independent, with a wild streak for romantic adventure, so I set my eyes on brick-building campuses on the East Coast.


One day, I received a pamphlet in the mail to Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It was internationally known for its School of Architecture, and I fell in love with the pictures of autumn trees and their burgundy and golden leaves, rolling hills covered in white snow, and crooked streets winding through neighborhoods with crooked old buildings.


I convinced my parents to let me attend a six-week pre-college architecture program at Carnegie Mellon. I failed miserably at paying attention to my studies, received a D only because I actually did attend all my classes, and fell in love with my first boyfriend, a freckled violinist and art genius from Vermont.


Sure enough, the spring semester of the 12th grade, I fell in love with another boy closer to home in Los Angeles. He was into politics and Model United Nations, and I promptly decided that my new calling in life was international law. Although I had already been admitted to Carnegie Mellon’s architecture program, despite my bad grades in pre-college (I made up for it by taking advanced courses at East Los Angeles Community College), I switched my major to undecided and transferred to the school of Humanities and Social Sciences.


I broke up with the freckled violinist, who was now stuck with going to Carnegie Mellon because of me, even though it didn’t offer the best scholarship or art program for what he wanted to do. And I took out a Sallie Mae loan of $22,681.09 along with 7.25% in interest fees, for a grand total of $32,428.43. I had no real reason to attend Carnegie Mellon anymore – there were better schools for my new career interest, and I also ran the risk of having to run into a very angry ex-boyfriend.


But instead of basing my decision on logic or reason, I based it on my obsession with a school. Perhaps I was bewitched by Pittsburgh’s gritty charm. Or perhaps I had associated Carnegie Mellon with a certain level of freedom and adventure I’d never had in life before. I was also only seventeen years old with very little perspective on the world, and a lot of certainty about the way things were supposed to be.


If I had to do it all over again, or if I had a teenager wanting to attend university, I would have listened to my parents and stayed closer to home and gone to a community college, until I figured out what I really wanted to study. I would have avoided taking out a big loan from the bank, although I may not have avoided the many heartbreaks or the deep depression I fell into the spring of my junior year.


I am sure that the difficult experiences of growing up into a young adult would have happened whether I’d have stayed in California or gone halfway across the world. But at least, staying closer to home, a short car ride away in case of emergency is a lot cheaper than a plane flight across the United States.


And looking at my younger brother and sister, who stayed close to home throughout their college studies, I see now that frequent visits home can prevent a major emotional breakdown. Sometimes, all you need is a little home made chicken soup to quickly nip a blue mood in the bud.


Even if I could now argue that going far away from home to a private university was truly worth it, if I had to do it over again, I’d at least do the research and find scholarships available to women and Hispanic college students. I never once had taken the time to research scholarships.


I should also have listened to my teachers who urged me to pursue my talent with words. The second time around, in pursuing my master’s degree, I attended a public school – Texas State University – and paid my way through entirely with assistantships and scholarships, completely debt-free. I earned an M.F.A. in Creative Writing and ended up becoming a writer after all. And although I still love to travel and have a good adventure, I now prefer staying close to home.