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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

For many American colleges, today is the deadline for applications. Some schools are already sending out early decision notices. The senior year whirlwind of writing essays, begging for good recommendations and digging up financial data is not a fond memory for commentator Sayre Quevedo of Youth Radio.

SAYRE QUEVEDO, BYLINE: One day last year I skipped school to wait for acceptances from colleges. It was the final day that letters or emails were supposed to be sent out.

I sat in front of my laptop by the front door for at least three hours, listening for the mailman while eagerly pressing the refresh button on my inbox. I admit, at one point I checked my neighbor's mail. Getting my house skipped on the mail route was one of the less crazy hypotheticals I imagined while waiting.

The college responses I had already received were pinned up on a corkboard in the hallway so everyone in my family would pass by them on the way to the bathroom. After my 300th click I finally got it: my rejection email. It was just two paragraphs: We're very sorry, such-and-such many applicants, etcetera, etcetera. Sure, I was upset. But, I thought, at least I still have the other schools on that corkboard.

A few weeks later, I got my federal financial aid notice, or FAFSA. It estimates what your family can pay for college, and how much federal aid you can get. I knew the minute that I saw those little black numbers it wouldn't be enough. My mom was still paying off her college loans and I had already spent more than I could afford on high school transcripts, applications, and the ACT test. Tuition at my top school was $30,000 a year and I was going to be on the hook for two-thirds of it.

For the first time, I was seeing the price tag of my dream and realizing it was way out of my budget.

I had spent months telling my friends about my plans for the next school year - journalism and anthropology classes on the East Coast, taking the subway, and going to poetry readings.

That all changed after the financial aid letters. Now I'm attending community college, working two jobs and I'm still trying to figure out next year, and how much debt my college dreams are worth.

MONTAGNE: Commentator Sayre Quevedo attends community college in Oakland, California. His essay comes to us from Youth Radio. You'll find it on the Opinion page at npr.org.

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