Philip - American University - Class of 2014
Hometown: Harrisburg OR
High School: Public
Major: Political Science
Goal: Graduate in four years with two degrees
Freshman Year Update
At American I get to do very interesting things, such as intern with a senator. I also made campaign trips to Virginia, Philadelphia, and Ohio with fellow members of my College Democrats chapter. We worked very hard and lost some very tight races. I thought I might be able to stand out at a small school, but it's much harder to stand out among such a talented pool of students. Fortunately, a rising tide lifts all boats and I'm glad to know such great people. I plan to major in public communications, with a goal of becoming a lobbyist in Washington.
Sophomore Year Update
My major ups this year have revolved around professional development. I interned with a senator and I am looking forward to an internship this summer with a policy think tank. When I graduate, I hope to work in energy or environmental policy for a political think tank or a congressional office. I realize now that I would have been better off if I'd recognized that D.C. is where I wanted to be. It would have been worth putting more eggs in that basket and fewer in the Boston basket.
Junior Year Update
I am now in Beijing, studying China's business climate, political and media reforms, and role in the global economy. I am also learning to speak Chinese. The teaching style here encourages individual thinking to a much lesser degree than schools in the U.S. I've come to appreciate the small class sizes and rigorous discussions in my classes at American. Through my part-time job (making GPS recordings in English) I interact with Chinese people on a professional level and have built up a certain level of Guanxi (personal connection). When I get home, I hope to develop and promote new policy ideas for upcoming elections, and find a candidate to work for after I graduate.
In spite of my long college list, I still wonder if I missed some colleges that would have made good fits for me. I do think everything will work out and I am relieved that the whole process is over. I will never have to worry about it again—until graduate school, that is.
My college research gets creative
I did some unusual research to help pick my colleges. Possibly my strangest research was attending a reception for international studies graduate programs held at a nearby college. My girlfriend, a sophomore at that college, helped me attend posing as a junior. Listening to the way some graduate admissions officers talked about their undergraduates really helped me see how I might be treated at those colleges.
Using CollegeData's Admissions Tracker and College Chances also helped open up some possibilities. Even though only 10 percent of qualified applicants actually get admitted to Harvard, I saw that I was a "maybe." Although it was a long-shot, I had to try. Recommendations from friends and acquaintances helped me narrow down my field of possible colleges. Most often when someone told me, "You would really fit well there," they were right.
There's good news in here somewhere
Unfortunately I was denied by all four Ivies, which were my top picks. But I was accepted to several awesome institutions. I took a very analytical approach to making my choice. I created spreadsheets that calculated the percentage difference between each school's financial aid offer. I asked friends and family what they thought. I finally picked American because it seemed to offer a balance of everything I wanted in a college. It is not in the best location, but it is in a good location. It is not cheap, but it is not too expensive. It is big, but not too big. It is not a household name, but it does have some of the best study-abroad opportunities of any institution in the country.
My ups and downs
An unexpected pleasure was meeting interesting people who were going through the same process. I attended conferences for scholarships, college receptions, and various competitions. At each, I met others with the same concerns, excitements, etc. At the Coke Scholars convention, I met someone who was also accepted to Berkeley and denied at Stanford. Knowing we were in it together made the denial easier and the acceptance all the more thrilling.
Instead of imagining the mistakes I made or opportunities I missed, I told myself that I shouldn't feel any disappointment. I was denied by some elite universities, but I know that it is difficult to predict where you will get in and what aid they will offer. For example, based on statistics I saw, I should have been a more desirable candidate to Boston University than American. However, American offered me a generous merit aid award and Boston offered me nothing. That made no sense to me at all.
What I learned
Though I am pretty sure I made the right choice, I wish I had made it much faster and with much less worry. I certainly would evaluate colleges on a less analytical basis. I wish my financial aid offer and my chance of acceptance could have been handed to me when I walked onto each campus. I could have simply made my decision right then based on whether it was a good fit. Studies show that gut decisions generally make us happier over the long run. I would have picked different schools. (I regret stopping halfway through my Georgetown application.) I probably would have saved money by not applying to a few that I stood little chance of being accepted to.
I knew staying organized was a weakness of mine, so I planned ahead. I set up separate folders on my laptop for each college with information about each, my application essays for each, and potential scholarships available at each. Even with all this categorization, it was still hard to stay on top of it all. The best method I found was to set aside one day a week to go through each folder and check my progress on each part. This helped me hold myself accountable for what I had yet to do.
The money factor
I am going deeply into debt. This is a sad fact for most college students, but I have chosen to embrace it. Suddenly, the $500 I made working for a local farm last summer seems rather insignificant. I am quite thankful to American for making it semi-affordable (they will pay about half, and a few scholarships will help make up the other half), but ultimately I will end up in debt.
ROAD TO COLLEGE
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