I never thought I would go to college.

In ninth grade, I was told that Shaler Area High School was no longer requiring students to complete a senior project. For an instant, I was thrilled. Then, I was told that I would have to take a series of tests, shadow someone in the field I wanted to study, write a paper about it, and attend a college fair.

It seemed like more work. Work that I would have been willing to complete, had I known what I wanted to be for the rest of my life at the age of 14… So, my class took a standardized test to develop a list of suggested careers that fit our academic strengths. I was intrigued and excited to see what career this Scantron assessment decided would be the right fit for me!

After a week or so, the results were finally in. I couldn’t wait a second longer.

My name is called… I walk to the front of the room… pick up my test… My eyes meet the box in the bottom corner of the page… This is it… my future career.

Park ranger.

WHAT? I guess that would be a logical profession for me if you look at all of my academic skills, excluding physical education and the fact that I didn’t even know what poison ivy looked like.

Clearly, this test knew just as much as I did about the direction of my future: absolutely nothing. The idea of to going college seemed like a faraway, expensive goal. My parents had never talked about it (because they didn’t go to college – my dad went to a trade school and my mom was a waitress for 25 years before taking online tests and training to become a paraprofessional). Not to mention, the idea of student loans was daunting.

So, I asked my mom to tell me exactly what to do because she’s really good at that. She told me to be an occupational therapist, whatever that was. She didn’t really know either, but she did know an OT worked at her school and the woman LOVED her job. I had trouble justifying claiming a career path I knew nothing about just because I would make a lot of money and have a flexible schedule. Though that did sound nice…

When you’re in high school and choosing a career, people ask you “what do you enjoy doing?” For me, it was: listening to music, obsessing over One Direction, and reading books. None of those interests fit into a practical career path. I wasn’t a talented musician, so I couldn’t possibly make money doing that. One Direction was under intense security, so I couldn’t have gotten close enough to marry one of them. And I was a decent writer and loved to read, but I wasn’t exceptional so that probably wouldn’t make me the big bucks, either.

After weighing these options, high-school-Maria was like: “Occupational therapy, it is!” Then, I shadowed an OT who worked with children in an elementary school. I loved spending the day with her and playing with the students and her love for her profession was contagious, especially since she worked with some of the sweetest kids I’d ever met.

I applied to Duquesne and Gannon. I heard back from Gannon first and I accepted right away. I hadn’t even visited campus before accepting. I think I acted so quickly because I was under the impression that I had to have an incredibly impressive application to get into college. In high school, it feels like being accepted into a college is such a difficult task, when in reality, getting decent grades will do the trick. After all, that’s all it took for me to find Gannon. And maybe a killer essay, who knows?

Fun Fact: Months later, I got a letter from Duquesne stating that, by the time they got to my application, their OT program was full.

And there we have it; destiny brought me to Gannon University before I even truly thought about going to college, let alone how I was going to pay for it.