“The financial-aid letters started coming in after the acceptances, and the amount of money a lot of schools were asking for was a lot of money,” Bertrand said. “My parents told me to choose whichever one I wanted to go to, but I knew they couldn’t afford most of the schools, so I had to make tougher decisions.”
Mendelsohn never relented in his quest to ensure that she understood what the numbers meant, and how much bigger they would get over time. “He just came with the facts,” Bertrand said. “When the award letters came, he told me what it would cost, what I would have to borrow, what I would have to pay back. He never put in his own opinion. He just wanted me to realize on my own what it was going to cost.”
She finally made her decision in April.
“There was no way it was going to work. I could take out that much, but the thing is if I do go to medical school I don’t want to owe that much money,” Bertrand said. “State schools became the thing. Even though staying in Massachusetts was the last thing I wanted to do, it became something I had to do.”
Bertrand settled on the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. “As my sister said, if you are going to go to state school, it might as well be the best,” said Bertrand.
To attend UMass, she will have to take out $6,500 a year in loans—an amount she calls “manageable.” She received a merit-based John & Abigail Adams Scholarship from the state that covers her $1,714 bill for in-state tuition and a $5,245 grant from the school that can cover other fees and costs. Her parents will contribute $12,000, which she will need to cover room, board, books, and other expenses.
Mendelsohn seems proud.
“UMass Amherst is about as good as it gets in terms of being really affordable and a high-quality school. So I was super excited that she had that option, even though it wasn’t her number one choice,” he says.
Bertrand is grateful that she had the frank conversations she had about debt before taking any of it on. But she also says she should have thought about it even earlier. “I wish I would have come up with schools that were more need-based and gave more money because what’s the point of getting accepted to all of these schools and being so excited about it and then getting an award letter that says you have to pay this much, and then you can’t go,” she said.
“Without Dan I probably would have gone to Howard and then realized what I was paying after I had sent in my deposit,” Bertrand said. “That would have been a big mistake. I would have been stuck and in a bunch of trouble because I didn’t understand the financial aid.”
As Bertrand was preparing to start college this fall, disappointment gave way to excitement.
“Can’t wait,” she said in a text the day before she moved into her dorm, anxious to meet her roommate, “Ally from Connecticut.”
She said that her father was getting anxious, watching too many movies set on college campuses, like Revenge of the Nerds, and giving his annual education lecture.
“Have fun,” he told her. “But don’t lose sight of your work ethic or the goals you set for yourself.”
Bertrand’s biggest regret is not applying to Yale; she says she intends to make amends for it.
“I was thinking the best way to get over my regret was to apply to Yale medical school, no matter what,” she says. “And then apply to a bunch of other ones to be safe. But Yale, I’m definitely going to try out.”