Diploma Diaries: Picking Out the Right City For You

This post is a part of our Diploma Diaries series — our look at post-college life. Interested in submitting your own story? Click here to get the details.

By Anna Kiefer, Alumna of New York University

I first visited New York City when I was 10 years old. Clutching my father’s hand as we maneuvered the boroughs’ busy streets, I eagerly took in the sounds, sights and smells of what is so distinctly New York.

Like a naive suitor swept off his feet, I was enamored by the culture and commotion of the city. The vendors with their sweet, candied almonds; the suited investment bankers mingling with pushy Chinese salesmen; disgruntled cab drivers totting Versace-wearing yuppies; and the loud, hot, overcrowded trains, like fire-breathing dragons pummeling through the ground … I loved it all!

Unbeknownst to both my father and me, this brief family trip one winter planted a seed in my brain as a young child — a seed that quietly took root and influenced my decisions later in life.

At 17, faced with the daunting task of applying to schools and choosing the perfect city to live, I often thought fondly of my time visiting the city, but living in New York seemed unlikely and impractical. It was New York City — too crowded, too expensive and too distracting for a young college student to live. New York became an unrealistic ideal for me, one I dared not even mention to my parents for fear of protest and disapproval. As a result, I openly applied to a range of schools all over the East Coast, both safeties and reaches, in the hopes that I would find one I liked — Miami, Delaware, Northwestern, Cornell, William and Mary and Pittsburgh. I visited them and tried to fall in love with the school and its accompanying city the same way I fell in love with New York. Sadly, I didn’t. New York still remained in the back of my mind.

Without informing my parents, I decided to apply to New York University. At the time, not wanting to face my parents’ protests and concerns, I thought this move was best. I didn’t want to get them worked up to an idea that may never be realized. So, covertly, I filled out the required forms, printed the materials and sent in my application.

The letter from NYU came during the day. My mother, unaware of what it was, left it unopened and waiting for me. I took it, snuck upstairs to my room and eagerly opened it. To my delight, it read "accepted." My dream of studying and living in New York City suddenly seemed like more of a possibility.

After the news of my acceptance, I realized I had to tell my parents. After all, they were funding my education. And, sure enough, now came the time for protests and disapproval.

“Anna, it's way too expensive,” my dad told me resolutely. “Both the school and the city.”

My brother was transferring to a more expensive school at the time, and they had him to consider.

“Plus, you got such great scholarships from some of the other schools you applied to,” my mother said.

We fought. I cried. They didn’t budge. The answer was no.

I wasn’t going to give up that easily. So, since the issue was money, I was determined to find a way to get more of it. I combed the NYU site looking for additional grants or funding. I discovered that I could resubmit my application to petition for more funding. The catch being, the school would only accept applications that were submitted by hand to the NYU financial aid office in New York. No mail-ins, no online form — only by hand.

So, one day in the winter of my junior year, I got up and pretended to go to school just as I had every other day. I had breakfast, drank my OJ and said goodbye to my father. But, instead of driving to school, I drove into downtown Bethesda, where I parked the car in an all-day garage, fed the meter $15 worth of quarters (the amount required for all-day parking) and hopped on a bus to New York City. I was determined to get more financial aid.

I arrived in New York four and a half hours later. I made my way in the rain and smog downtown to NYU’s campus, stood outside the line at the Bursar’s Office and delivered my form to the adviser behind the glass booth. After turning in my form, I made my way back uptown, onto the bus D.C.-bound, all in time to sit down to 7 o’clock dinner with my parents.

As luck would have it, when my financial aid package arrived, I was given a reasonable scholarship, various loans and grants, work-study and an additional amount of aid due to my appeal. My parents, all of a sudden, were reconsidering NYU and New York.

I have since graduated from New York University and am still living and working in New York. After four years in this city, I can honestly say my love for it remains just as strong.

The only advice I can give to someone else embarking on the quest to find her perfect city is to be open to new experiences. Travel to cities that intrigue you and take them in. Be honest if you don’t like the atmosphere, the people, the cuisine or the mentality. And be forgiving. Every city that is not home will seem foreign, scary and unfamiliar (even small towns in rural settings). But that doesn’t mean you should give up. And, by all means, once you discover your "perfect city," do whatever it takes to live there!

Head on over to 1,000 Dreams Fund to learn how to get funding for your dreams!