Alejandra - Ohio State University - Class of 2016

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I had a terrible time writing admissions essays. I was trying too hard to sound sophisticated when really I just needed to be honest.

My college journey was extremely stressful, yet what I learned from this experience will stick with me forever. I learned a lot about myself. The entire process became a growth experience.

Hometown: Bartlett IL

High School: Public

GPA: 3.91 / 4.26 (weighted)

ACT: 28

Major: Molecular genetics

Goal: Become an ophthalmologist

College

Status

Ohio State UniversityAttending
Michigan State UniversityAccepted
University of Michigan (EA)Deferred/
Accepted
University of Wisconsin - MadisonAccepted
Freshman Year Update

I feel as if my freshman year flew by and that I never want to graduate. So much is available—volunteer opportunities, internships, leadership positions, research. The best part is being surrounded by people who want me to succeed as much as they do. It's a great support system. But, the study habits I used in high school (like studying the night before a test), just don't cut it here. You can study for an entire week before an exam and still not do well.

Living in a dorm is fantastic. Of course, there are roommate issues, but that's just part of the experience. My roommate and I have grown to be great friends. But it helps to remember that you don't have to be best friends with your roommate; you just have to be able to live together and respect each other's space. I'll be living-in again next year with girls I met from my floor. My advice: keep the door to your room open and say hi to everyone that walks by—it works!

Sophomore Year Update

This year, I got involved in breast cancer research, the Latino Student Association, and a free clinic affiliated with the College of Medicine. It was a struggle to balance, but the fact that I love everything I am involved in kept me going. Plus, it forced me outside my comfort zone. I think it's important to conquer all your fears about life after college—interviews, public speaking, managing personal finances—so that after graduation, you're ready to take on the world!

I'm very happy with my college choice, but I should have applied to more universities with top science and research programs. I got lucky in that Ohio State has everything I need to become successful in ophthalmology. In terms of paying for college, my grades and involvement in the university have made me eligible for more scholarships. Most universities will give to the students who give back to them.

One Big Ten college that's not a plane ride away from home, please

I always knew I wanted to attend a big school with lots of school spirit that was close to Chicago, so I could come home without hopping on a plane. Many people say they are intimidated by a big school. Yet, the way I see it, the bigger the school, the bigger the opportunities. So I focused on state colleges within the Big Ten Conference, which is mostly Midwestern schools.

The first college I picked was the University of Michigan. My mom's family is from Michigan, and the hype in Michigan over sports and college is really addictive. The out-of-state tuition was very expensive, however. Since I'm going to go to med school, my total higher education bill was going to cost a quarter of a million unless I got fantastic financial aid. So I kept on researching and visiting campuses.

In the summer, my dad took me to check out Ohio State. When I got to Columbus I fell in love. The campus was beautiful. Everything was amazing, from Mirror Lake to OSU's award-winning sports center to their enormous stadium "The Shoe." Not to mention that the university medical center is right on campus. And OSU has my desired major, molecular genetics. I added two other big state colleges to my list as backups.

The thrill of getting in—and the agony of financial aid packages

I was ecstatic when I was admitted to Ohio State and two other colleges by mid-December. Even U Michigan accepted me after their deferral. Then I opened my financial aid awards. I was shocked. Out-of-state tuition for all the schools had risen at least 10 percent since my parents and I had estimated the cost the previous year. Thankfully, Ohio State was the cheapest and also offered me the best financial aid package. Yet even this offer is not enough for me to graduate without significant debt, especially compared to the lower amount of debt I would have if I had chosen a college in my state.

My ups and downs

I had a terrible time writing admissions essays. I wanted to write the essay that left admission officers dumbfounded, with their mouths wide open. But my dad and teachers kept handing my essays back to me saying they needed work. I was trying too hard to sound sophisticated when really I just needed to be honest. I must have rewritten those essays at least 15 times, but they had to be perfect.

My best moment was being awarded scholarships and merit aid from both Michigan State and Ohio State. I was amazed to see how my hard work throughout high school had helped me get a lot of money taken off of my tuition. This reinforced for me how important it is to do well in school and to try hard on standardized tests.

What I learned

What surprised me most about applying to colleges was how rewarding it is at the end. When I finally sent in my acceptance fee to Ohio State University, I felt the heaviest weight lift off my shoulders. Finding the right college is stressful, but affording the right college is a nightmare. Yet, once everything is squared away, the aftermath is a breeze. As I conclude senior year, I am proud to say I have a home away from home for the next four years in Columbus, and my hard work and dedication led me there.

The money factor

My family's share of the cost for the first year will be covered by loans and savings my father set up for me when I was young. However, our cost for the next three years will be paid for 100 percent with loans. Medical school will be completely covered by loans. Looking at this much debt makes me wish that I had applied to a school in-state. If an in-state college had given me a decent financial aid package, I could have at least brought it to OSU and asked them if they could make my tuition more affordable.

My advice

Do your research, know what you're looking for in a school (big vs. small, public vs. private, close to home vs. far), visit campuses, apply to at least one public school in-state, and go with your gut instinct. In the end, the only way you will ever know if you truly love a school or not, I promise you, is to go visit!

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