David - University of Chicago - Class of 2013
Hometown: Richmond VA
High School: Public
GPA: 3.70 / 4.30 (weighted)
Major: Sociology (formerly linguistics and international relations)
Goal: Join the Peace Corps after graduation, then get my graduate degree and work for an NGO
Gap Year Update
I deferred my acceptance at the University of Chicago in order to take advantage of another opportunity. I received a scholarship from the U.S. State Department and I am living in Cologne, Germany, with a host family. I attend a Gymnasium (the upper-level high school). Taking nine classes in German was at first overwhelming. But I listened to those around me and watched Spongebob Squarepants and read Harry Potter in German. After a few months I became conversational and suddenly had plans every weekend!
Unfortunately, my financial aid at University of Chicago has drastically changed. I may still be able to afford Chicago next year, but I will probably transfer the following fall to a state university. After I get back, my family and I will talk over our options.
Freshman Year Update
I'm still in the process of finding my academic niche and am taking classes mostly in the core requirements. I seem to have involved myself a lot in linguistics almost unintentionally—I'll be done with a fourth of the major by the end of my first year!
I'm constantly reminded why I came here. The students, student organizations, and professors are a source of inspiration. I'm never left unimpressed by a peer's background or the ability of a student group to work together.
I'm also amazed by the ease of getting involved. Just showing up to meetings has put me right in the middle of projects. Even my tutoring at the linguistics lab started with an e-mail asking if they needed help. People on campus are glad to have you around and to have another mind off of which to bounce ideas.
Sophomore Year Update
After making many pros and cons lists, I switched from my half-done linguistics major to sociology. I know this sounds crazy, but I found linguistics too tedious and sociology much more intriguing. I'm lucky that U-Chicago has a top-notch sociology program. This summer, I'll be at a language school in Turkey, living with a host family. Getting outside of the university bubble is important and something I've been trying to do all year.
As early as eighth grade, I was lurking around online college admissions forums that stressed prestige over fit. I began to think that a college degree wasn't worth anything if it wasn't from a college with a household name.
Letting my college list get ahead of myself
If I had to change one aspect of my application experience, it would be the colleges I put on my application list. I never understood the concept of "fit" until the beginning of my senior year—too late to visit other schools I had begun to consider.
After my applications were in, I started sleeping on a lot of friends' dorm floors. I realized that there were college qualities that I both loved and hated. At University of Virginia, the academics and the campus were major draws but the students weren't really my type. At William and Mary, it was the opposite. University of Chicago possessed all the positive characteristics of the colleges that I visited but none of the negative.
While my list consisted of excellent schools, it had few true "fits." I wish I had spent some more time looking at liberal arts colleges, such as Claremont McKenna, Middlebury, Oberlin, and Reed.
A happy outcome nonetheless
University of Chicago had been my first choice from the start, not because it is well known, but because of the small undergraduate student body, a location in a city with a rich history and culture, the reputation of its international relations program, the Hogwarts-esque architecture, and opportunities for research (thanks to a high demand for research assistants for graduate students). I also liked its quirky undergrads, whose motto is: "If I had wanted an A, I would have gone to Harvard" and who organize the largest scavenger hunt in the world. I spent a lot of time on Facebook and online discussion boards speaking with current students at University of Chicago. This gave me different perspectives on social and academic life there.
Saying no to Virginia Commonwealth University and University of North Carolina Chapel Hill was extremely difficult. I grew up with these two schools and both acceptances were elating. Since the cost of attendance at the three colleges was nearly identical, I decided not to go with these schools because University of Chicago offered all that I wanted.
My ups and downs
Organization was the most challenging part of preparing 14 applications. The Common Application was a godsend, but the supplements were overwhelming. With ten different essays to write, I made sure to compose my essay for the University of Chicago (the first and most difficult essay I wrote) in such a way that I could use it for nearly all of my essays. A head start on the essays during the summer allowed me to focus more time on my academics and the logistics of the applications.
What I learned
Keep it simple. The college admissions process is very stressful, but it's only as stressful as you allow it to be. You've done all you can do by the end of your junior year (unless you decide to take standardized tests at the beginning of your senior year). After submitting your applications, realize that you have no control over what happens. Just make sure you call your admissions counselor and introduce yourself, even if you're shy. From February to mid-March, forget about applying to college and enjoy your last year in high school.
The money factor
Thankfully, I am getting excellent financial aid from the university. Grants, scholarships, and work-study will cover most of the costs. I will have to work another job, along with my work-study, to help my parents cover their contribution, but working for my education will help me value it more.
ROAD TO COLLEGE
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