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New Gloucester ME

How I Earned My Stripes

(November 30 2012) Written by: Josh Vickerson

About two years ago I had just finished sending in college applications. After finally completing them, the relief of not having to worry over them was astounding. I was free from all the stress of not only meeting the deadlines, but perfecting the applications. And then it was time to wait.

And wait...

And wait...

The waiting was the worst. When my first letter came from the University of Southern Maine (a local school that would've cost very little to attend), notifying me of my acceptance, I was ecstatic. I hadn't expected any less, it was my safety school after all, but the confirmation was nice.

And so began the acceptance letters. I applied to six different schools: University of Texas ArlingtonWentworth Institute of TechnologyWorcester Polytech (WPI), Rensselaer Polytech (RPI), University of Southern Maine (USM) and, of course, Rochester Institute of Technology. I was accepted at all six; a good problem to have, I suppose.

The lack of financial aid at WPI and RPI really made me ignore them. Their acceptance letters were also rather dull, which I feared indicated too much about them. I scheduled visits for the remaining schools, aside from USM.

I visited RIT first. Their two accepted student open houses were back-to-back with Wentworth's. On April 1st, 2011, I visited RIT. And I was astounded by their organization, the program (Computer Science, at the time), and the students I saw around campus - including the students working for the open house. By the end of the day, I had fallen hopelessly in love with RIT. I also faced the sobering fact that I likely couldn't afford it despite the very generous financial aid package; something my mom didn't quite know how to handle, there was nothing she could do about it.

On April 8th, 2011, I visited Wentworth's accepted student open house. Being in downtown Boston, it seemed like a very interesting place. The program presentation was good, but having been to RIT already, I was comparing the two. In some ways Wentworth offered a great program but it fell short in others. Most unsettling to me: they had our breakfast and lunch catered. Something told me they were hiding how bad their food was.

Not too long later, on my spring vacation, I flew out to Texas to visit my dad and get a tour of University of Texas at Arlington. Campus was beautiful. It resides on both sides of a main street and features walkways that pass above the road. The buildings were nice and the weather was right up my alley (I strongly dislike cold). Their Computer Science program was also nice and ended with a Senior capstone project, something nice to bolster my résumé.

In the end, I chose RIT for a few reasons. First and foremost, it was the only place that really felt right to me. Their program was still the most impressive, the staff was the most welcoming, they offered more on campus than any of the others, the food was pretty good (considering it is college food) and the requirement of co-op. Graduating with the equivalent of 1 year's work experience is absolutely priceless and is an extremely valuable learning experience. RIT is also in New York, far enough away from both of my parents to be at peace.

That didn't solve the expense problem, but during my visit I met with one of RIT's financial aid advisors. His advice: write a letter of appeal. "A letter of appeal," you ask? It's essentially nothing more than a letter explaining your situation more personally than your application and FAFSA can. In it I expressed that, upon visiting, I didn't want to be anywhere else but my family situation put earning my stripes a bit out of reach. 

Fortunately, I think someone at RIT really wanted me to be here too. My letter earned me an extra $4,000 in grant money from the school. That's still the most money I've ever earned in 3 hours (yes, I spent 3 hours writing my letter and making it perfect). After that clear display of trust that I do indeed belong at RIT, I couldn't say no.

Since paying my tuition deposit, I haven't regretted the decision to come here in the slightest. I've met some of the most incredible people and been given opportunities I don't think I would have gotten elsewhere.

I've worked as a student ambassador for the Computer Science department and as an Orientation Assistant. In other words, I've both tried to convince students to attend RIT and I've welcomed those who chose to be here. I work for RIT's IT services and help students solve problems with their computers. I write this blog and also serve as a peer mentor voluntarily.

My coursework has forced me to step up my game and challenge myself to be better. To do better. RIT is far from an easy place to study, but it's the most worthwhile in my mind. Academic support is everywhere to ensure student success.

Campus life is far from dull. RIT has over 240 clubs, sports and organizations on campus. If there isn't a club for what you like, starting one is relatively easy because RIT works to ensure this is a great place to be. Though Erin claimed writing about the new coffee shop on campus, that didn't stop me from being happy enough to write about it myself.

When I'm away from RIT, I'm not at home. Campus is so welcoming and comfortable that this has become my home. I enjoy my time here, regardless of stress caused by my classes, because I know it's worth it. I don't think I would have had the same opportunities to grow and learn anywhere else. Since that fateful day I sent the very first check, I've been exceptionally proud to call myself a Tiger.

For those of you still undecided, I encourage you to find a way to visit. Bend over backwards to step foot on these bricks. Brick City is calling and you've got to see it for yourself.

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