I’ve been granted the true misfortune of being what they call too big for my britches — biting off more than I can even fit into my mouth, let alone chew. And, for the sake of furthering this old Western metaphor, when it comes to decision-making, I am also cursed with the propensity to ride like a lone cowboy. Rarely, when presented with a difficult choice, do I look outward to devise a solution to my problems. Worst of all, I have gotten by trying to do things entirely on my own — with my lofty ambitions as my steed and my fatalistic need to succeed as my spurs, I’ve traveled pretty far. And in practicing this attitude of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” on my merry way I went to plan my first summer at Berkeley, or, in other words, this summer.
I devised what I believed to be a brilliant plan: I intended to take two classes in summer session A and study abroad. I was signing up for a whopping 14 units with a clear disregard for what a remotely realistic summer schedule was. The way I saw it: I could just “mind over matter” any feeling of being overwhelmed and keep on keeping on. And after an incredibly difficult spring semester, one inundated with setbacks, I felt no hesitation when I pulled the trigger on those 14 units.
But there was a pretty glaring problem with my ideology — a shoot-first, ask-questions-later kind of approach. Any endeavor that could very well be the difference between graduating on time and becoming a super senior after four years in community college should probably begin with asking a whole slew of questions. I was trigger-happy, and it cost me a lot of confidence and a lot of money.
As such, please accept my entry into cautionary tales. Because frankly, the resulting turmoil was incredibly easy to avoid.
My first mistake — a surprise to no one, I’m sure — was my attempted number of units. UC Berkeley has a reputation for academic rigor and excellence; it was this reputation that informed my belief that taking an absurd number of units in the summer was commonplace. So that “six units in summer something or other” I read online must have been a minimum.
No, my friends! This was a trick question I created for myself by not asking any questions at all. That six-unit something or other was actually the six-unit maximum I would be able take and receive financial aid for based on my expected family contribution.
(Unfortunate that I got into UC Berkeley without bothering to learn how to read.)
This meant I was in danger of being on the hook for the cost of the eight units over the max I was intending to take. When I finally read into this more, which you can do here, I realized that with summer in-state tuition at $419 per unit, I was looking at more than $3,300 that I’d be responsible for. And my only options were Parent PLUS loans or paying straight out of pocket, neither of which were viable.
All in all, I was faced with what I believed were two options: Drop the six units I’d be taking by studying abroad and take the two classes I needed — that would still be over my unit max — or drop the classes, go abroad, and hope and pray I’d be granted an extra semester to make up lost time. I was going to have to tie my grand ideas up to a train track and drive the train over them. I thought, “This is the most difficult instance of killing my darlings I’ve ever had,” and as someone who has a lot of bad ideas, I can assure you that’s significant.
I decided I’d have to bite the bullet and withdraw from my abroad program. And I was fully prepared to do so — had I not missed the window to drop out without being responsible for the program fee by about two months. If I dropped out of the program after that deadline, I’d potentially be responsible for whatever financial aid didn’t cover for summer session A and roughly $3,000 for a program I wouldn’t be participating in.
It turned out that Berkeley Summer Abroad was giving me enough money to cover a significant portion of the program, and with the program being only six units, I’d receive the needed financial aid to cover that cost. Evidently, it was the cheaper of my options. It wasn’t as hard as I think it should have been to make the decision to do that.
I acknowledge that I am incredibly fortunate to be allowed the opportunity to study at UC Berkeley at all, let alone to get to spend my summer abroad. But it must be said that it is not possible for me to go to school here successfully if I keep pretending this is the wild, Wild West. There are a multitude of resources you can consult before pulling the trigger on any big decisions.