How Did We End Up Here?- My SMU Story

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Hope. Heartbreak. Drama. Plot twists. Australia. You can find it all below, in the story of how I came to attend Southern Methodist University.

Today was the first day of school for the semester.

I am attending Southern Methodist University.

If you knew my story, you’d chuckle. When life gets ironic or takes unexpected turns, especially for the good, we tend to chuckle. I am chuckling.

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Halloween. October 31, 2014 was the first time I set foot on the SMU campus. Anyone who visits can tell that it is easily one of the most beautiful college campuses in the US. But I also fell in love with the Arts school. Long story short, after my very first college tour, I was hooked on SMU. As a high school sophomore.

When it came time to enroll, I got in. The acceptance rate is 49%, so I pretty much had a half and half chance.

The problem?

The price.

That’s fine, right? I can just get a scholarship!

Totally! I received a scholarship of $30,000!!! Super exciting, right? The problem:

SMU’s undergrad tuition fees are around $50,000 a year. Plus, they require students under 20 to live on-campus, so add another solid $14,000.

I did not have that money. My parents did not have that money. So off to community college I went, kicking and screaming.

The thing is, Collin County Community College actually turned out to be an amazing experience. I had a bunch of friends by my side in the same boat, and made some new friends along the way. I got to help start a Bible study group on campus and soon became its President. Attending community college was one of the smartest decisions I ever made because of how much money it saved me, and it was a crucial stepping stone into adulthood. I was also so grateful for that extra year I lived at home. It really prepared me for moving out.

But what now? What’s the plan? What happens after Collin?

That’s the question, isn’t it. That’s the thing with community college. You feel like you have multiple senior years because in the end, you still have to figure out where to go to school.

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With some dual credit courses under my belt, I could transfer from Collin after a year. So I had one year to decide where to go. Sounds like enough time, right? It should be, but not for me! No sir, it was approaching the summer and I still had no idea where I was going. I applied to 7 schools- UTD (University of Texas at Dallas), UNT (University of North Texas), TCU (Texas Christian University), Rice University, UT (University of Texas), Tufts University (a school in Boston), and SMU. I was basically waiting to see what the cheapest option would be, because money.

Slowly, financially things got narrowed down. But they got narrowed down too much. Everything was too expensive. Pretty much every school gave me a decent amount of money, but not enough for me to afford going for three years. Even UTD, the cheapest school I applied for, barely gave me money so it was still pricey.

And then I got the call.

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I was in Austin for a Leadership Training week, having a deep convo with one of my girls, when the phone rang. Out of the 100+ students that applied for a transfer scholarship, 25 were being chosen to come in for an interview. One of them, being lil’ ol’ me.

I got pretty much everyone I knew to pray. I had elders in the church on their hands and knees praying for this interview. So you can imagine the stress, huh?

No sleep for Isabel.

Only 10 would be chosen to receive a full-tuition scholarship to SMU for 5 semesters. That’s basically like winning $150,000.

My sister had her driver’s test that morning (talk about STRESSSSSS in the Arcellana family household), so my friend Lacy drove me up for my interview.

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(Photo taken right after the interview, when I was feeling pretty good about myself.)

I got the email soon after.

I didn’t get the scholarship.

I read it over and over and over until my tears blurred my sight. “We regret to inform you…”

Why was I crying? I’m not a very emotional person. But I am a very driven person with very high expectations of myself. I’m also a dreamer. SMU was my dream school. I had worked my butt off at Collin so I could just have a shot at this exact scholarship. I workedΒ so hard. And what was it about my interview? Am I just not likable? What did I do wrong, what did they want?

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I also didn’t know where else to go. It was June by this time, and I had no idea where I was going to live in 2 months. My mom and I crunched numbers over and over. I would have to go into a lot of debt (which we were trying to avoid like the plague) to even go to UTD, which was not even a school I really wanted to go to.

At one point, I started planning on moving to Australia. People thought I wasn’t serious.

I was serious.

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I was already emailing friends out there and figuring out where I’d live. But my mom wanted to try for SMU again. She said we might be able to afford it if I commute the 45 minute drive, since I have some scholarships. So we started negotiating for me to live at home. And that’s when my SMU advisor asked me to come in.

Two weeks after I had received that heartbreaking email and the day before my birthday, I was back at SMU. At the same intimidation building that was fancier than the White House.

I was led into the office of Jennifer Lasagna, and when I sat down she put a letter in front of me.

“I’ll let you read that.” She said.

I did read it. Again. And again. And again. (Actual footage of me that day)>>>

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I finally decided that I probably forgot how to read and did not understand the letter. “Wait, what?”

She laughed. “You got the scholarship!”

What a turn of events, am I right? I’ll take that as a birthday present.

As it turns out, I was chosen as one of the 10 all along. This whole time, there were 4 or 5 SMU staff members emailing back and forth because some of my credits weren’t transferring and they weren’t sure if they could accept them yet. (Because of me, SMU is having to change some of their policies on AP transferring credits.) They had to tell me no just in case things couldn’t be worked out.

So there you have it! I was absolutely blessed with one of the 10 North Texas Community College Full Tuition scholarships!

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The way I see it, God was like “I’m going to humble you first and make you rethink your whole life andΒ really depend on me.Β Then I’ll show you my plan. It’s great, I promise. We’ll all laugh at this someday.”

Here’s to hard work paying off, God waiting until the last minute to reveal his plans because it helps my heart, and random life plot twists. Here’s to doors opening and closing right when they need to.

Pony up! I’m a Mustang!

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