Tlalli - Yale University - Class of 2016
Hometown: Piedmont CA
High School: Public
GPA: 4.0 / 4.25 (weighted)
Goal: Discover where my science passion leads me
Freshman Year Update
The beginning of the year is overwhelming—there are so many things to do, people to meet, and work to get done. But that continues throughout your college experience, so the trick is learning to manage your time wisely. Classes here are extremely difficult and I have to study much harder. It's ridiculously easy to fall behind if you don't stay on top of your assignments (making lists helps). But the best thing about college is meeting new people and hearing about lives completely different from my own. Yet, making friends took some time. It's important to give everyone a chance, so I never passed up an invitation for tea or lunch. Now I have a solid group of friends who make me happy. Joining extracurricular activities (like ballroom dancing!) has really helped diversify my friend group. It's hard to balance all the fun with all the homework, and I am working my butt off, but it's totally worth it.
You know that corny expression that you should trust your gut? Do it! After spending a day on the Yale campus, I knew without a doubt that it was the school for me because my heart and my head were telling me so.
Senior year panic attack
I entered my senior year of high school not knowing where to begin. My mother and many of my older friends had tried to talk to me about college during my junior year, but planning for something so far down the line struck me as a bad use of my time. I had a lot on my plate. So come senior year, I was stuck—completely ignorant about which college offered what, or even where colleges were located. I had never even visited a college campus.
A visit to my high school's college guidance center saved the day! The counselor looked at my GPA and asked about my interests. (I'm a bio and astronomy geek.) She picked some schools that she thought would fit me. I didn't end up applying to many of those schools, but talking to a counselor helped shrink my overwhelming anxiety about the application process. I ended up applying to many colleges based mostly on my desperate desire to go east. I was sure that ultimately choosing a college was going to be tough.
Major league intimidation
The moment I walked onto the Yale campus I was completely intimidated. The architecture was absolutely stunning, but that only added to my intense nervousness. Would I be able to match those students in talent, wit, and comprehension? Would a normal kid coming from a not-rich family find a niche in a school that produced some of the most successful people in the country?
Then my mom and I went on a guided campus tour. Our guide was sweet and sincere, and my stress evaporated as he talked about all of the good work, global consciousness, and fun that come with going to Yale. I got a chance to talk to some of the students. Instead of being standoffish, the students were helpful, humorous, and kind. They talked to me about all of the various activities, clubs, and service programs that Yale offered, and showed me empathy that I hadn't yet found at any other college. Plus, every building and statue had a story, and the campus was steeped in tradition. I loved it all. No other school came even close. The Yale community, which I had feared would reject me because of who I was not, completely accepted me for who I was.
My ups and downs
When you think about Ivy League schools, you think about wealth and cost, right? I was extremely worried about how I was going to pay for my education. My family is not wealthy. I have been working part-time since the start of high school to help my family pay for rent, groceries, etc. I knew I was going to have to keep a job throughout college to help pay for my tuition, but obviously that wasn't going to cut it, even if my mom and dad helped. So, I applied for financial aid at all my colleges. Unfortunately, Yale's offer was not as good as the offers from other colleges. But when I showed Yale these offers, they increased my aid package. Yale became affordable!
What I learned
College applications are scary. But I think colleges do their best to look at you as a whole person, not just as a number. And if you can't think of something to write about in your essay, don't worry so much. I don't believe that colleges want to hear what you think they want to hear. They want to learn what makes you unique. So you like fly-fishing? Use it! Make up new recipes on a daily basis? Write about it!
For my Yale essay, I wrote about how my favorite movie, Jurassic Park, inspired a love for genetics when I was a kid. I also shared my thoughts about the bioethics of genetics research. I tried to show myself from social, emotional, and intellectual perspectives. I answered candidly, always staying true to what I believe, and never giving a false image of myself.
The money factor
If your financial aid offer from your favorite school isn't as high as you hoped, show them any better offers you have received. I did that with Yale, and that paid off. Now I can afford to attend thanks to a combination of financial aid, loans, and jobs.
Please, don't wait until Christmas break to write your essays! I was working on "A Streetcar Named Desire" during the months leading up to December, so I had very little time to begin the Common Application. As a consequence, I spent my entire winter break working on college-related things, and let me tell you, I was not a happy camper.
Also, talk to a counselor if there is a college preparatory program at your school. If there isn't, grab a teacher that you feel close to and ask for advice. And don't be afraid to apply to those schools that intimidate you, because sometimes you are just what they are looking for.
ROAD TO COLLEGE
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