Recently I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on why I chose to come to Gannon and why I am still here. After writing these thoughts down I thought that it might be valuable to share with our readers.

After all, applying for college can be really scary process, but I want you to know that you are not alone.

Taking the next step towards anything can be terrifying, but the greater the risk – the greater the reward.

Applying for college was a huge step for me. Although I was growing increasingly restless in my hometown of Mercer, PA, I was hesitant to really make the leap and apply. Over my 18 years in my hometown, I had carved a decent way of life for myself. Working 3 jobs, taking honors classes and being hyper-involved in extra-curricular activities, I had grown up a lot but I knew that I needed to grow further.

Gannon University is the place that took those seeds planted in Mercer and gave them the love that they needed to grow. While high school was a good place for me to take shape within myself, I had lacked the opportunities and encouragement to take myself to the next level. It was this development that I was seeking to find in college – even if I didn’t know it yet.

I chose to visit Gannon to appease my mother. My senior year of high school was overwhelming. Being a leader of four organizations, trying to maintain a steady GPA and working part time, I had plenty of excuses to put off the search for college. However – if I am being honest – the real reason for my hesitation was the fear. My parents hadn’t gone to college and I felt a lot of pressure from my family to succeed.

College was this goal that I had been working towards my entire life, and now that it was here I was terrified. What if I failed? What if no one wanted me? What if I am not good enough? What if I can’t afford it? These were the thoughts that were buzzing through my head subconsciously as I was challenged to make the biggest decision of my life. Not only that, but I hadn’t the slightest clue of what it took to attend college and no one to go to for support.

My mother never knew this though, and as her anxiety reached new heights in the beginning of October, she begged me to choose at least one school to visit. I had been looking at schools pretty seriously since the spring of my junior year but none of them felt right. However, there was one school that I hadn’t given much of a fair shot to… that was Gannon University.

Gannon didn’t make my original list of 15 schools because during my junior year I’d decided that it was too close to home. I had visited the school for a speech competition every year since my freshman year. Honestly, I was never too impressed. The speech that the representatives gave had felt impersonal and I was confused by what the city of Erie had to offer. Despite these preconceived notions, I had accumulated a good sum of scholarship money in my years in speech, so it was the only logical school to have my mother take me to.

Then those thoughts changed completely.

Visiting Gannon was magical to say the least.

Not only was I able to meet the advisers of potential clubs I was interested in, but I also had the opportunity to visit a campus where I had felt like I belonged. Gannon University was the first school I visited where I felt like I could move here in an instant. Even my mother said so. She looked at me as we walked down AJ’s way after visiting the campus on our way to the car and said, “I can just see you here.”

The representative from admissions fully explained the process of settling into college and what someone in my situation should know. She gave me her card and offered to answer any questions that I had. My tour guide was in my major and was very responsive to my questions; she really customized the tour to suit me.

At the end of that day, I just knew. Gannon was the school I’d been waiting for.

All of the sudden the search for schools became so clear. Looking for schools wasn’t a matter of what they had to offer and who they wanted to make me become, but rather finding somewhere that supports who you already are and encourages you to grow. Gannon was that place where I felt supported, truly, for the first time.

That support was evident the summer before my freshman year.

As a first generation college student from a family with limited funds, I was terrified of getting denied for my parent PLUS loan. After teaching myself the FAFSA, I had no idea how I was to understand the next step. I had gotten a handy check list from financial aid but the words really meant nothing to me… so I made an appointment with a lady named Renee. Renee is the reason that I am at Gannon. Renee met with me for over an hour and explained to me the entire financial aid process. She calmly explained to me that I would need to get a parent PLUS loan and why it would be better for me financially in the long run. Afterwards, she explained to me alternatives that I had if my parents were denied. Renee told me that I had options… something that my family never felt like we had in financial situations before.

This commitment and compassion has been a trend across my past two years at GU. From needing extra support from professors to being engaged in the honors program to joining the TRIO program, I finally felt as though my life was my own.

This confidence that developed encouraged me to step even further out of my comfort zone and seize opportunities I never had before. Suddenly, I found myself doing crazy things that I never thought I was capable of.

Within my first month of attending Gannon, I found myself auditioning for shows and running for freshman class representative of the Student Government Association. I was becoming less and less concerned with thinking, “What if I lose?” and more concerned with thinking, “What if I don’t?”

Still, I do not think that my engagement would be the only thing keeping me at Gannon. I actually looked at transferring twice during my freshman year. The first was due to academics. I often didn’t feel very fulfilled by some of my classes. I didn’t feel challenged and had wondered if I was really functioning to my fullest potential. I also was often the only female and was having a hard time connecting to my classmates. Thankfully, just as I was going to move forward with my application, I had a professor offer me the opportunity to complete more project-oriented work and assist him with some research. Not only that, but I found as my classmates and I became more comfortable with each other throughout the year, the social climate changed. Now, I feel as though the students in the CBI are really my friends, not just strangers I sit with a few times a week.

The second reason that I thought about leaving was because I just was not in a healthy place with my anxiety. I’d never attended counseling before, but due to the accessibility of the facility at Gannon, I decided to attend. The counseling that I have been receiving has changed the way that I live my life. For once, I fully feel able to love all aspects of myself even the parts that I didn’t understand.

Over all, Gannon University is the place that I had always dreamed of. They really help you believe and achieve your own possibilities. There are so many other reasons but so little time; I’d love to share with anyone willing to listen. Actually, that desire is why I now write for Edge Magazine: I want to encourage freshman to discover that Gannon really is everything it claims to be.