With the college application process ahead of me, I braced myself. Storm clouds were in sight. Whether I was a wrestling recruit or not, this was going to be a war.
My college application process wasn’t a typical story. As an international student, I would have issues with financial aid as some colleges and universities don’t give financial aid to international students. I also would not be eligible for government grants such as the Pell grant. Student loans were also an issue since all of these loans needed a cosigner that was a United States citizen. This was problematic because nobody in my family was a United States citizen. How was I supposed to pay for college when my single mother of two barely made over five figures per year? Most people would say that we were in trouble. Some thought that this was the end of my education.
Not so fast. My mom was not willing to give up on my United States education just yet. As a wrestler, I was ready to scrap. It didn’t matter how much the odds were stacked against me. This was the college application equivalent of giving up two takedowns and back points in the first period, but I was ready to keep wrestling until my opponents broke. I had watched a lot of Brent Metcalf over the years and was a big fan of the relentless offense, and I would realize later that this attacking philosophy subconsciously spilled over into other facets of my life.
I talked to my guidance counselor and expressed the fact that I needed to apply to schools that had wrestling programs and would grant financial aid for international students, which narrowed my list down to less than fifteen schools. My mentor and wrestling coach sat me down and let me know realistically what I could expect from the college application process. With my grades and my financial needs as an international student, Ivy league schools were out of the question. With my wrestling ability, division 1 schools and the scholarships that came with them were also out of the question. This meant that I would need to apply to a division 3 school where I could potentially be granted financial aid as an international student. Merit scholarships were also on the table.
My list of thirteen schools were pretty solid and included a lot of liberal arts colleges throughout New England, New York, Pennsylvania, and the Midwest. However, I had no idea as to how to approach the college process. I had an older brother with very different interests compared to me, so his experiences were not as helpful in making my decisions. For one, he had zero history as an athlete. To add insult to injury, his grades and academic merits were enough to get him into an Ivy league school (the only reason he didn’t get in was because of financial aid. I was not in the same boat and could not relate. Basically, I had to approach this process as if I were a first-generation student. My mother found the school rankings and ordered my list by rankings based on the Princeton review. Past that, I was on my own.
I didn’t even know what I wanted to major in. How many 18-year old people are actually set on their career path? I personally had no idea. I kept on clawing my way through the darkness. My parents were in Thailand and I didn’t have a driver’s license so I didn’t have the opportunity to visit many colleges. In fact, I only visited one college and that was because the wrestling coach had contacted me during the recruiting process and told me that I should seriously consider going to visit. Even with all my classmates going through the same experience, I felt so lost. It felt as if I were swimming in quicksand.
I was finally able to go on a college visit a few days before Christmas, which was mostly because of the fact that one of my close friends also happened to be applying to the same school. All in all, my application process was not the best. I felt lost the whole time. However, I knew that I was very interested in Muhlenberg College, the one college where I was actually getting recruited for wrestling. I did everything I could to stay in communication with this wrestling coach.
I tried to finish as much of my application process as possible during Christmas break which was about two and a half weeks long. My essays felt weak even after talking to my guidance counselor about it. What were colleges looking for? What should I write about? This confusion definitely showed during the application process. The schools couldn’t possibly see me for who I really was.
My lowest point happened after the wrestling season when people were getting their acceptance letters through the mail. My girlfriend at the time ran up to me in excitement and told me she got accepted into her first choice school. Awesome! I was very happy for her. Then, I asked her, “Can I take a look at your acceptance letter? I just wanna see what an acceptance letter looks like.” That moment was excruciating. I thought of all my hard work that I had done in the classroom and on the wrestling mat. Still, I felt so far behind my classmates.
Miraculously, I was accepted. However, I was heartbroken to see that they wouldn’t give me enough financial aid. I ended up making some very difficult phone calls to the coach and the admissions office in order to beg for more financial aid. Despite this, we were still just over my mom’s annual salary of around $10,000. Through some stroke of luck, I received one unexpected merit scholarship from Muhlenberg college that put me just over the mark where we could afford my college experience. I finally was going to enroll at Muhlenberg College. Talk about a close call. I felt as if I had just scored the winning takedown in the closing seconds of the match.
Looking back, were there certain things I wish I knew about or did differently? Absolutely. If I could go back with the knowledge that I have now, even with the same academic standing and the same athletic achievements, I probably would have gotten into a lot more schools and received more financial aid. That said, I know now that I made the right choice with Muhlenberg College.
I would have certainly paid a decent amount of money for help in this area because I could potentially have gotten more options and financial aid from the whole process. Thinking back to all the time I spent feeling lost and confused, I probably would have saved a lot more time with some more guidance throughout the process. There would have been at least some reassurance that I was doing some of the right things. Fortunately, as a scrapper with unrelenting offense, I made it work anyway. One way or another, relentlessness got the job done.