In-state vs. out-of-state.

An anonymous reader e-mails: “I was accepted into an out of state university and decided to go there this fall. But now I’m having second thoughts. Should I stay in Florida instead? Why did you decide to pick Clemson instead of staying in state?”

This question is eerily similar to one posed by a former student five or six years ago. Out of sheer laziness, I went through my old e-mails, found my response to the eerily similar question, and made some minor changes. Here’s my warmed-over response:

The short answer is that I always knew I wanted to leave Florida, partly because I wasn’t really happy about moving here in the first place (when I was 8). I think it was a bit of leftover Yankee snobbery– which was ironic since I would end up bunking just a few hundred feet from the home of John C. Calhoun.

The longer answer: when I was a freshman in high school, a lot of my classmates already knew where they wanted to go to college and what they wanted to do. I knew that most of them would change their minds, but at least they had plans. And I figured it was better to have a plan that might change than to have no plan at all. So I picked a career and a school and go with them, unless and until a better idea occurred to me.

I’d heard of Clemson because they had a good soccer program, even though I knew I wasn’t going to play soccer in college. I also knew they had a good engineering program (at the time, the plan was to be an engineer), and I had a couple of friends from Virginia who would probably attend. Then my cousin’s best friends got accepted there, and one of my 11th grade teachers said she was an alumna, and so on. It became my default college.

While I did apply to several other schools (none in Florida), I never really considered going anywhere else. The clincher was that Clemson offered me a full scholarship before any other school had even sent an acceptance letter.

In retrospect, not applying to Florida schools was very risky: what if I simply couldn’t afford to go out-of-state? Never mind, I wanted to leave, and that was that. But if I were in high school today, I’d definitely apply in-state because there are two incentives to stay in Florida that are stronger now than they were back then:

1. Florida’s universities are increasingly reputable. Bigger applicant pools have allowed them to select better students and attract better professors. To be frank, this is partly a byproduct of the strong athletic programs.

2. The Bright Futures program makes it more likely that successful Florida students will attend Florida schools.

If you stick to your decision to leave Florida, I can almost guarantee that come October, you’ll feel homesick and think about going back (I did; midway through my freshman year I applied to UF and FSU). When you feel those pangs, ignore them. It’s not that Florida is a bad place; it certainly isn’t. But it is important to live away from home for a few years, partly to challenge yourself, partly to cultivate your independence, and partly to build an appreciation for the home you left behind. You can always return later.

Whatever college you choose, once you’ve made your decision, don’t waste a second worrying about the other colleges you could have attended. If you work hard and keep the grades up, those other colleges will still be there for grad school or your doctorate.

I hope it helped the first time around, I hope it helps this time around.