Sundiata - Univ. of Mass. Amherst - Class of 2012
Hometown: Trenton NJ
High School: Public
Major: International Relations
Goal: Work for an international organization
Freshman Year Update
I decided to defer starting at UMass and take a year off to do religious service at the Bahai World Centre in Haifa, Israel. I'm part of the Bahai Faith and many of the youth in my religion go on a year of service before they continue their education. Now that I am back in the U.S., I have decided not to attend UMass and to apply to colleges in the Washington D.C. area, where my family recently relocated. My sights are set on attending American University, starting in the spring semester.
Sophomore Year Update
Like many colleges, UMass has been going through a serious budget crisis. As a result, it reduced aid, especially for out-of-state students like me. So while I decided to attend UMass for one semester, I am in the process of establishing residency in Maryland, so I can transfer to a Maryland state college. If I could do it over, I would pick a state school in my state of residence. I would also pick a smaller school with smaller classes where you're able to ask questions, discuss, and argue, and where the teacher knows who you are (which makes a whole world of difference to me.)
My college prep program greatly helped me prepare to apply to colleges. The tutors provided lots of guidance. The program drastically reduced the stress I had about the whole process.
College prep programs make a difference
While in high school, I attended programs that help students prepare themselves for college. They helped me with my essays, applications, test prep, tutoring, and financial concerns. These programs were held on college campuses, particularly Princeton University. I loved staying at that university. I was on my own around people I found inspiring. One of the Princeton student mentors reminded me of myself. I knew I could be like him. This motivated me to pick up my act.
I became a very well-rounded student. I was a lettered varsity player in wrestling and tennis. I was in the top 15 percent of my class. I was involved in many clubs and activities, serving as the vice president of my senior class. I did quite a bit of community service. I grew up in both inner city and rural areas, so I had unique experiences to write about in my essays. My grades were very positive, but a few poor math grades brought my GPA down.
Location is my number one factor
In building my college list, I started with location. I eventually picked the Northeast. I then picked specific locations like Boston and northern New Jersey. Finally I picked colleges based on class size, diverse student population, majors, and student activities.
My top choice college was Boston University. Sadly, I wasn't offered admission. I was hoping that they would see past the low math grades, but ultimately I think those grades led to my rejection. I am not discouraged, however, because I know there are other schools just as good—and I can always transfer.
I eventually decided to attend University of Massachusetts Amherst. It came down to the award letter and whether I could see myself actually living there for four or more years. I love the location, about an hour from Boston and less than an hour from Springfield. The campus is like a city and presents many opportunities for my international studies major.
My ups and downs
I was with the same group of kids throughout most of my high school classes. They were all high achieving and college bound. It was very motivating, and the excitement rubbed off on all of us. Every day we talked about financial aid awards and who's going where.
The Common Application was a very helpful tool. Otherwise, I don't think I would have applied to more than five schools. Schools that required their own application and specialized items like an extra letter of recommendation were more challenging. I also found broad essay questions (such as "Why do you want to go to college?") to be very annoying and difficult to answer.
What I learned
It is best to start applications early, get extra organized, and stay committed for the first few months of applying. College prep programs can help you handle the stress and give you support when it gets tough. If I could do it over, I would apply to more safety schools, such as state schools in New Jersey.
The money factor
It was very naive of me to think money would not be a factor. I am in such a low income bracket, I thought I would get substantial financial aid. I was very wrong. One college offered me $34,000 in loans! So money is definitely a factor now, but it wasn't while I was choosing which schools to apply to.
ROAD TO COLLEGE
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