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Navigating the College Selection Process

At the beginning of my high school career, the plan for post-graduation was for my parents to renovate the unfinished basement into an accessible “apartment” for me to live in while attending the local college. And this was a fine plan, a plan that would’ve given me a sense of independence while being close to my supportive parents.

But, mid-junior year, I decided that’s not what I wanted. I was laboriously managing a class schedule filled with AP and Honors classes, engaging in clubs and theatre, and maintaining a 4.0 GPA… why would I settle for my parents’ basement? Now, I’m not saying there is anything wrong with that plan. But, I knew I needed to be challenged at a university with classes that would excite me.

Zoe (19)

I started researching colleges around the country that had English and Creative Writing programs I could envision myself at. I cast my net wide; that spring break and summer vacation we went on road trips to Arizona and California to visit the schools I was interested in (mostly because of their warm weather and slim chances of snow) – Arizona State, Berkeley, Stanford, UCLA, USC, Whittier College.

Zoe College

And while most 16-year-olds would be stressing about the course work, the commute, or what the party scene is like at each school, I had some additional complications to consider. After going on the scheduled tours, I always made a stop at each university’s disability service office to gauge what their accommodations would be like. Since I was on an IEP in high school, it wouldn’t transfer to college and I would have to start advocating for myself by scratch.

When we got back to Colorado and my senior year of high school began, I knew it would be a hectic year. If I wasn’t stressing over classes or the yearbook, I was applying to schools. The process was very collaborative; I worked with my English teacher to edit and revise my essays, my mom helped me organize the essays so I could reuse them as needed, and I ended up applying to 10 schools.

Zoe (20)

I was accepted into 8 schools across the country, and by April of my senior year I had a life-changing decision to make. My parents were as encouraging as they could be, promising they would move with me to continue to be my support system. But that didn’t make it an easier decision. If I chose a school outside of Colorado, I would be giving up Colorado Medicaid, the funding source for my medical bills and caregivers. But I also wanted to go to somewhere where I thought my career was as a writer, I was convinced that was somewhere in California.

It wasn’t until I received notice that I was one of four granted a significant scholarship at the University of Denver when my path changed. The scholarship was included with a four-year program that focused on community organizing and would give me a tight-knit group of fellow peers looking to make a difference in the world. This scholarship made the private school attainable and would connect me with meaningful relationships. Suddenly, staying in Colorado for a little longer didn’t seem so bad.