When I was a senior in high school I knew two things to be true.
First, no matter what, I was going to go to college. This may seem ridiculous, but as a first-generation college student, this was my pathway to success: an education that, regardless of my future, could never be taken away from me.
The second truth was that I needed a job. I was always categorized as a low-income, high-achieving student who beat the odds. But at the end of the day that "high-achieving" part was never going to change (due to truth #1) and the "low-income" part was completely in my hands to remold.
I also had very poor guidance counselors who advised me to "go ahead and fill out the CollegeBoard application," but they did not tell me about the extensive resources that were available to me through application waivers and scholar programs. I walked myself through the college application process with extensive support from my mother.
Now, given that I had to go to college (not in a forced way, but rather, a determined one), I stacked the odds in my favor. I applied to several state schools and smaller private schools, as well as those colleges that mail pamphlets that bombard you with flashy ads and programs. Yes, I applied to them!
Sure, I narrowed my scope by considering how far the schools were from home, the percentage of students receiving financial aid, their breadth of academic programs, and, of course, school colors.
My mom recognized this as an attempt to play it safe, and she challenged me to reach beyond my wildest dreams.
That dream was attending a top-20 school.
So, I spent the next few weeks crafting perfect essays, personal statements, etc. for my nearby Ivy school. I stressed for hours a day working on these written pieces and prayed to God that He would just show me what He wants for me, so I could leave this worry and anticipation behind.
That night, a day before regular decision applications were due, my mom asked me if I had ever considered the University of Notre Dame.
I, which I am admitting to you all today, told her that I had never heard of this school.
She replied saying that it was a great school in Indiana.
I told her "No." She would never find me, a Jersey girl, in the Midwest. I was not about to live my life on the frontier, and Lord knew I would never survive in such harsh conditions.
She practically forced me to spend the next day writing my essays for this "no-name Catholic frontier" university.
I remember spending New Year's Day of 2017 completely miserable (#FirstWorldProblems), writing essay after essay. I distinctly remember wailing about how I could just go to any of the other less selective schools if I didn't get into the Ivy, rather than spend all this time during Christmas break writing essays for some school, somewhere.
I filled out the application, wrote those essays without proofreading them, and answered every question being completely myself. I mean, there was no way this prestigious University would let in a student who they would have to assist financially (dramatically!), who didn't even take the time to refine her words.
I was wrong.
I was admitted to the University of Notre Dame toward the end of March, and I was astounded that my patchwork essay, as I thought of it, received a full admission. This admission proved two things to me. First, I was going to college. Second, momma's always right.
I was then invited to Notre Dame's Spring Visit Program, where I stepped on campus, saw the Golden Dome, and met some great people. After receiving my financial aid package, I realized other schools I was admitted to couldn't compete with Notre Dame, including Mr. Ivy.
I chose Notre Dame not because it was the best school that admitted me, but because it was the best school for me.
It was the best for my academics, for my personal growth, for my future network, for my faith, and for my goals in life.
When it came to academics, I have been able to pursue both a major and a minor while exploring every corner of a full, rich, and diverse Notre Dame curriculum.
When it came to my personal growth, a closed campus, single-sex dorms, with incredible trust in their student body were things that many universities offered, like Notre Dame, but somehow not in the same way.
When it comes to my network, is there much to be said?
Notre Dame has continuously proved itself to be a family. Even last week, with all that is currently going on in the world, I had the opportunity to speak (via personal phone call) with an incredible alumna who has quickly become an inspiration to me.
When it comes to faith, I have developed my religious adherence and belief tenfold, and while I have a long road ahead in spirituality and Catholicism, I could not have done any of that to such a high degree anywhere else.
When it comes to my goals in life, I still hold those same two truths. I have been able to go to college, and without a shred of doubt in my mind, I will have a job after graduation.
The only difference between a high school senior Sarah and me today is that I now have the courage to reach beyond my wildest dreams.
I did it once, and I truly believe that it was God's plan for me to achieve it. What else does He have in store for me that I have yet to reach for?
What does He have in store for you?