I am someone who always knew I wanted to go away to college, even from a young age. I liked the idea of leaving home, living in a dorm and even eating in the cafeteria. With three older siblings who went to college before me, I saw firsthand the independence they had when they left home, and how happy they seemed on campus. Even when they came home to visit, they were different in a good way. I liked everything about their new outlook after they headed to college, and I definitely expected I would follow in their footsteps.
So I was really excited when I got accepted to my dream school in Chicago, far from my home in North Carolina, but one that was my first choice for a lot of reasons. It had my major, the classes were the right size, I liked that they had a great basketball following and I felt really at home when I visited the campus. I also got some merit scholarships there because I had always been a straight A student and I had a 33 ACT score.
I headed to Chicago in the fall of 2016 and moved into the dorm with a roommate who I'd met on the online admitted students group. He and I got along really well right from the beginning, and our schedules were similar as well (important!) so we got up and went to bed around the same time every day. I liked my classes and my grades were good. Basically, everything was going really well.
When I got back to campus after winter break my freshman year, I went to a small party in someone's dorm room on campus. There were some kids drinking beer there and some other people smoking pot. I was one of the kids smoking weed near the window of the room. About an hour after the party started, the RA knocked on the door, and we were all busted. Long story short, I had a first infraction on my record, and the school was taking it pretty seriously. I didn't get kicked out, but I knew I'd have to stay in line with all of the school's policies if I wanted to stay there (and I did want to stay!)
Fast forward to a few months later, when I was headed to an off-campus party with some friends at the end of the spring semester. It was a BYOB party and since it was off campus, we didn't think much of the fact that we picked up some beer and pot on the way there, which we shared with people at the off-campus party. The problem was that when we returned to campus a few hours later, my friend was still holding a cooler that had some beer in it and I still had some weed in my pocket. Just before we walked into my dorm, a security guard came over and asked my friend what was in the cooler. I was asked if I had anything on me and just came clean with the bag of pot in my pocket. I didn't want to say "nothing" and then get caught during a search.
The amount of pot I was caught with this second time was such that the school thought police should be involved, and at that point, the court became involved as well. Since I was pretty much done with freshman year at that point, I didn't lose any credits, but I was asked not to return to the university at that point. In other words, I was kicked out. Considering that I had gotten straight A grades while I was there, it was incredibly stupid that I had to leave due to something that was completely in my control, and obviously I have a ton of regrets.
I went back to North Carolina incredibly embarrassed about what happened. My parents weren't happy and neither was I. I had no one to blame but myself for these stupid issues but I was mad at the world in some ways. My parents reminded me that sending me to my dream school created sacrifices for the whole family, and that I blew it. For the first month or so, I dealt with the legal aspects of my court case back in Illinois (which was much more involved than you'd expect). Without getting into too much detail, I had to spend the next year doing a series of things on a list to get the charges off my record, while also working full time at a local oil change place. I paid many big fines and fees (in the thousands) which essentially wiped out the amount of money I made working during my year at home. Eventually my record was clean and I could go back to college, but this time there were conditions.
My parents wanted me to stay in state, which I understood. Not only would it save them money, but they didn't want me too far away for other reasons also. However, just because my record was clean didn't mean I could keep the charges a secret when I applied to college the second time around. My previous college record said why I had to leave the school, and some of the colleges where I was applying to transfer asked if I'd ever been "arrested" -- not if I had a record. So with the help of a local college admissions counselor, I wrote a letter explaining what happened, what I learned from it and how I spent my year away from college. I was sincere when I said I did a lot of stupid things during my first stint at college and I don't want to repeat them (because it's true).
I was accepted at four of the seven schools where I applied, but I have decided to go to UNC Greensboro as a transfer student because I liked the size and feel of the campus, as well as the opportunities in my major. I am very grateful that this school put the trust in me and believes that I can do better this time around, and I firmly believe I will.
If I have any advice for upcoming college students, it would be to take college more seriously than I did. I'm someone who worked incredibly hard on my grades and then messed up with something so stupid that I still can't believe it happened. If you think something like this can't happen to you, maybe you're right. But if you're not, it's a really big price to pay.
About the writer: Alex Taylor is not the writer's real name, but is a pseudonym he chose to protect his identity. He plans to attend the University of North Carolina at Greensboro this fall as a transfer student.
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