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The One Life of 'College Girl'

College Girl and her mother live together in a small apartment in North Boston, and are best friends. As our story opens, College Girl finds herself in her senior year of high school. It's the beginning of October already, and running outside to the mailbox, she notices the trees are changing color a little earlier this year. Inside today's mail, she finds the long-awaited letter from the Educational Testing Service, with her SAT scores. Not daring to open the letter, she races back inside, screaming to her mother, "Hey, I got my SAT scores, Mom." Sitting down together, they look briefly into each other's eyes. The scores inside this envelope will have a huge impact on College Girl's chances of admission.

Open it already, her mom commanded, "I know you got a great score." College Girl carefully sliced open one edge of the envelope, and slid the result into her shaking hand. "I can't read it. You read it to me, Mom." As her mother scanned the page, College Girl could tell immediately from her face that the scores weren't as high as they were hoping for. "You scored better than 85% of the college-bound seniors in English, which is good." Her mother stopped, and took a breath, "... and the math score is a little lower," her mom hedged. Taking the paper back, College Girl read the bad news, "Math - 60%." Moaning, she said out loud what both of them were thinking, "Well, there it is, English 85%, Math 60%. Farewell to Harvard, never mind an academic scholarship." Acting brave, she gave her mom a hug, and then retreated into her bedroom to sulk.

Later that week, looking through her college options online for the hundredth time, College Girl narrowed down her choices to about 10 schools, with 2 back-up colleges, in case she was denied admission at all of her top choices. She really wanted to go to UC Berkeley, in California, but it was so darn far from her home, and she worried about her mom living alone in Boston. When she found out that she was accepted to Berkeley, it was a hard choice to leave, but her mother encouraged College Girl to go to the best school that they could afford. So, with tears in her eyes, College Girl said good-bye to her mom, and bravely clutching her small backpack, boarded the plane to California.

Even before her flight landed in San Francisco, College Girl had become excited. Glued to the little window, she pressed her face to the plastic, watching the waters of the San Francisco Bay. It was nothing to her to be travelling across the USA alone, as she was caught up in the dream of being a real college student, on her own for the first time in her life. The BART train arrived on time, just like in her guide book, and took her safely from the San Francisco airport all the way to the East Bay, stopping right in downtown Berkeley. It was just a short walk to the University of California campus, but by the time she made it to UC Berkeley, it was past noon. She looked up a Google map of the area on her iPad Mini, showing her exactly where she needed to walk.

She reached the on-campus housing office, and showed her out-of-state ID. "Didn't you get your student ID yet?," a woman behind the counter asked. "You'll need a student ID to get into your dorm." College Girl was polite in her reply, and not the least disturbed. "I've just arrived in Berkeley this afternoon, and came right to the housing office, as I have nowhere to stay. I'll get my student ID after I check in here." She waited expectantly, but noticed a look of annoyance spreading across the woman's face. "I mean, I can go run and get it now, if I must," she quickly added. The woman looked up again, "No, that's not the problem. I'm sorry, but it looks like your dorm application has been wait-listed. Didn't you get the letter?" The words were spoken, but they had no meaning to College Girl, who stood there as if frozen on the spot. The woman tried again, more gently, "You see, there are many more applicants for dorm rooms than we have space for, so we have a lottery system in place." College Girl was nodding that she understood her new situation very well, thanks, but the woman continued on, "The lucky lottery winners are assigned dorm rooms first, and then we fill as many other places as we can. The unmet demand means that some students like yourself will be placed on a waiting list. A letter was sent to you several weeks ago, informing you of all this. I wish I could do something to help, but you'll need to find temporary housing off-campus in the meanwhile, so you can begin classes." The words kept ringing in her ears, 'temporary housing, begin classes.'

How in the world was she supposed to 'begin classes' in 'temporary housing' if there was no place to sleep? Wobbling a little, she walked out into the street from the housing office, not sure whether to get her student ID, or go take a look at apartment listings immediately. Luckily, she had packed just a light backpack, which she wore over one shoulder. She did her rounds, carrying the bag everywhere, and it seemed to get heavier by degrees as the hours passed. Armed with her new UC Berkeley student ID, she copied apartment rental listings from the housing office, and purchased a local calling plan for her cell phone, so she wouldn't get hit with roaming charges on her monthly bill. A lot of the apartments that she had listed were out of her budget, but she called anyway, thinking she could get a roommate to split the rent after she found a place to live. The apartment managers had a system in place, where they held an open-house to the public at a certain time of day for each apartment. There were so many applicants for each place that her chances were slim to none of actually being selected to rent an apartment. She went to three of four open houses, and grabbed a slice of pizza on Telegraph Avenue. Dinner. Sitting alone, in the midst of so many people.

As she walked in uncertain circles around the same few blocks near campus, College Girl began to think more seriously about what to do. She wouldn't call her mother, that was the first thing that flashed into her mind. No matter what, she must not give in to the urge to call. Nothing would get accomplished in the way of finding housing for the night, that's for sure, and she'd likely break down and start crying. She still had the money she came with, her ATM card was working and there was money in the bank, but options were getting thin, as the afternoon lengthened into early evening. The local hotels were fully booked, and everywhere she looked, it seemed like students were saying good-bye to their parents, and going out to eat at nice restaurants to celebrate a new year of school. Getting tired of walking, she sat down on some stone steps off the sidewalk, leading up to a huge apartment building, itself made of stone. From her step, she watched the passing faces of fellow students. Some of them were friendly, some not, but all had the same focus of good planning, which she herself seemed to lack. When her dorm application was wait-listed, she was shocked into inaction, as she'd had no 'plan B' of any sort. Wasn't a place in the dorms saved for every incoming freshman? Guess not. "What should I do now," she wondered, "better not just sit here." Awkwardly, she got back to her feet, and hefted her small backpack onto her shoulder. She trudged up the hill on Bancroft Avenue, thinking to get out of the crowded campus area. Finally, she noticed a run-down rooming house, with a partially-lit sign that advertised a vacancy. She checked in, and paid the deposit in cash, timidly following the clerk to her room upstairs. The bed didn't look so clean, so she slept in her clothes, just to be safe. It was hard falling asleep, but she managed to cover her head with the pillow, half-blocking the sound of a TV blaring in the adjoining room.

When she woke up, she showered and got out of that dirty, little room as fast as she could. As she walked back down the hill next to the university, looking at the large buildings that housed her own classrooms, she realized things weren't as bad as they had seemed the night before. She had enough money to cover renting a temporary place until her student aid check came in, so she found a Starbucks, and sat down, savoring a piping-hot coffee and an oversized whole grain muffin until the housing office opened again.


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