Katie Vahey Gaebler
Plan B: It can be the option meant to happen- Moon's route to college
Updated: Feb 25
As I start my second semester senior year of college, I am reflecting on how I got here and where I am going. My college process was unusual to say the least. It started off pretty similarly to my peers, I met with my college counselor at my high school, I received a list of schools that she thought would be compatible for me, I took the ACT and SAT with accommodations, and I applied early decision to a school that I thought was perfect for me. Nevertheless, life has a funny way of working out but I'll get to that part later.
I went to private school and my school had college counselors that spent one-on-one time with each student working to create a college plan. I was incredibly fortunate to have this resource and I recognize that in non-private education spaces these resources can be harder to find. That's why what Dr. Katie, with AutismNERD, is doing is so incredible! Katie works to connect right-fit resources for families approaching the college planning process. When I met with my college counselor, they asked me- and my peers- what I was looking for in an educational environment, as well as whether students wanted their schools to accept test scores, what majors they were interested in, and what types of classroom settings they felt they fit best into. I was a non-traditional student in high school; I struggled with mental health issues as well as learning disabilities, and I wanted a college that was going to be able to provide for me and educate me although I might learn differently than other seemingly traditional students.
With this in mind, my college counselor provided me with various unique small liberal arts schools. There's a lot of wonderful things about these small liberal arts schools, but unfortunately in the current economic climate many colleges struggle with funding. I had received acceptance into a small school in Massachusetts that was my dream school. Unexpectedly, this plan had to change. On January 15th (the deadline for most regular decision applications), I received an email from that school outlining how it was uncertain at that time whether they could accept a freshman class due to financial constraints. I was devastated. I ran to my college counselor's office in tears expressing that I never knew anything like this could happen, and she expressed a similar sentiment. Right then and there we sat down and made a plan. I was distressed, so my focus waned, but I knew that I had to work through this in order to go to college in the fall semester. I called my parents and they were equally heartbroken. I ended up going home for the rest of the school day to focus on this issue. I contacted other schools that were on my list and explained my situation to them. That's when I found Beloit College. I had initially discounted Beloit as there was a football team and frats and sororities, and that was not particularly what I wanted out of college. After viewing their website and reading some of the stories they had published, I thought that maybe I could see myself here and decided to submit an application.
A few weeks later, I heard back from Beloit and was accepted with a scholarship. I was added to a new student Facebook group and got to see who my potential classmates might be. I thought that I could really see myself with some of them. I went to an admitted students day and really fell in love with the campus and the community there. I met with faculty members and the director of accommodation services on campus and believed that I could be well taken care of as a student.
I would not be the person I am today if I would have gone to the school that I initially thought was my dream school. Through Beloit and the uncertainty of life I have learned resilience and how to grow in various environments and make a home for myself wherever I am. These are skills that far transcend the classroom. Here I learned how to advocate for myself, access student resource services, discuss my accommodations with professors, publish research, and find friendships. I am grateful for my time at this institution although it is not the one that I anticipated I would find myself in. All this is to say, wherever you find yourself at the college process and whatever level of uncertainty you feel, with the right support and community, I truly believe that a student will be able to make it through whatever challenges with which they’re faced.
College is meant to challenge you; not only academically, but socially, emotionally, and as a test of oneself. It likely will not always be easy and there will be times where you might wonder why you are doing this. I hope in these moments you can think of students like me. students that barely graduated high school, who are now published researchers applying for PhD programs, and recognize that oftentimes all students need is the correct environment to grow in. I am incredibly fortunate that I found that at Beloit.