The Cost of Changing My Mind

I was ready to move. Then I had a reason to stay.

Photo credit: Beeki, CC0 Public Domain.

When I got the phone call informing me that I had been moved off the waitlist for my first-choice graduate school, my first reaction wasn’t elation. Instead, I felt some combination of wistfulness and dread. I’m not going to be able to afford this, I thought.

See, I had already been accepted into a different grad school, months before. That school had a program that I was sure would contribute to my professional growth, and a strong community that I was excited to join. Most importantly, they had given me a generous scholarship.

I didn’t want to move across the country (again!) or leave my beloved California, but the choice was good enough and the price was right. So I put down a $2,000 tuition deposit in early February and began to steel myself for the move. I even wrote a Billfold post explaining how sad I was to leave my current life behind.

Moving Pains

Do I really care that much about my furniture? In some cases, yes. I do love my scrap-wood table, and feel proud of having built it. For the majority of my stuff, though, wanting to hang on has more to do with my fear of the uncertain future than any concrete attachment to the items themselves. What if I get rid of this bed and AM NEVER HAPPY AGAIN? I wonder while lying awake at night.

So I was ready to move, to say goodbye to my couch and my scrap-wood table, and to face the uncertain future.

Then, in May, the phone call.

I knew that without financial aid, going to my dream school would double my expected loan debt — and that’s before taking into consideration the cost of living in the Bay Area. My waitlist call came pretty late in the application cycle, so I worried that all the scholarship money had already been assigned to other students.

This fear made me bold. I told the admissions committee the truth: The only thing that would keep me away from their school was the money. I told them how much the other school was giving me. I expected to be low-balled.

Instead, they matched it. After a tortuous ten-day wait, they offered me exactly as much in scholarships as the other school had, plus the exact cost of the tuition deposit I’d already sunk. We could stay!

The next day my partner got a raise, contingent on staying in the area, that would roughly cover the cost-of-living difference. This stroke of fortune made the decision even easier. We would stay!

We are, in fact, staying. I’m not very good with change, so this sudden reversal has taken my brain some getting used to. But the process of “undoing” the previous decision to go was not just a mental one. In the month since receiving my admissions decision, my bank account has taken quite the hit.

Breaking my commitment to school #1 was as simple as sending an email. I don’t feel guilty about it, because schools expect a certain amount of movement on their rosters. (Plus, someone on their waitlist will now get to take my place.)

I knew from the beginning, however, that my tuition deposit was non-refundable, and that I would also have to put down a tuition deposit on school #2. I’m not really losing money here: The “sunk cost” of school #1’s deposit will be balanced out by the extra aid from school #2, and school #2’s deposit will be deducted from my fall tuition. But this complicated shuffle still feels like an unexpected $2,000 missing from my checking account.

Then I had to break the lease my partner and I had signed for an apartment in what was supposed to be our new home city. It was not clear from either the language of the lease (“We’ll exercise customary diligence to minimize damages.”) or the hive mind of a Google search (“¯_(ツ)_/¯”) how much we actually stood to lose. I still don’t entirely know.

When I called to break our lease, I was informed that the management company would attempt to re-rent the apartment before July 20, the date on which our lease was scheduled to begin. If they are successful, we will only lose the down payment. If they are not able to re-rent the apartment before July 20, we will have to pay a “buyout” fee of two months rent. In total, that means we will lose either $650 or $3,350 on the apartment. I’ll let you guess which one we are hoping for.

I’ve incurred a few other unforeseen expenses: $80 for a second “background verification,” to confirm (again) that my application information was accurate. $375 for “math camp.” $35 for bloodwork to prove to my dream school that I’ve had the chicken pox (or else they’ll infect me during orientation, I guess??).

Because of factors like cost of living, future earning potential, and moving expenses (or lack thereof), it’s impossible to pinpoint exactly how much I stand to gain or lose by choosing one school over the other. But this decision, ultimately, was about much more than the money. I feel so lucky that the cost of changing my mind will more or less come out in the wash. We get to stay!

Sab has accidentally chosen the wandering life. She (still!) lives in San Francisco.

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