Pablo - Amherst College - Class of 2016
Hometown: Plano TX
High School: Public
Goal: To find my passion and take it from there
Freshman Year Update
I went to a large public school, so it took time to adjust to a small community and the repetition of faces, but there is plenty of diversity here. I like that everything is so close. The gym and dining hall are a five-minute walk from my dorm, and it takes no effort to see people. Because I spend less time in class than I did in high school, I have more time for activities (I joined the rowing team and it's a blast) and an on-campus job, which provides more than enough spending money. Classes are harder—you can't leave homework until the last minute—but they aren't an overwhelming leap from high school, as long as I get enough sleep. The best part is the open curriculum, which means I take the classes I choose. So I am not only learning, I'm enjoying it!
How it turned out to be okay in the end, I still don't even know. Looking back at the start of my college application process, the possibilities just seemed endless.
Building and rebuilding my college list
At first, I wondered why people didn't just apply to a lot of schools to increase the odds of getting in somewhere. As time went by, however, I realized that my list of schools didn't reflect the advice I was hearing: "Pick a few schools you are likely to get into, a few dream schools, and two or three you might get into and would like to attend." I compiled another list based on this guideline. This process repeated itself about ten times as I added and eliminated schools.
Another factor affected my college list: I don't know what I want to study, so figuring out my major will be my first priority in college. I wanted to be sure that all the colleges on my list encouraged students to explore many different academic areas during their freshman year. After I was confident that all my colleges did that, I turned to the Internet and books to learn about the traditions, histories, opportunities, and students that gave each school its own personality.
In the end, I had a list of 13 schools I was comfortable with. Amherst was at the top. Its open curriculum was the perfect answer. The school also had a very active student body. As I found out more about colleges, I realized that I wanted a school with a strong sense of community.
Why the end of May was not the end of my story
After I got all my decisions, I was left on three waitlists (one at my dream school, Amherst) and a handful of acceptances. Then came the question of where to attend. For the sake of my parents, cost had to be a factor in this decision. I accepted a place at a school that gave me a scholarship I couldn't pass up. This was bittersweet because it was one of my "safe" schools, and I had not looked into it as much as the others. But the more I found out about it, the more I reassured myself that I would be fine next year. It was now late May and I had finally found peace. I was even getting excited!
Then it happened. The call came during my last class of the day. The number was blocked, so I almost didn't pick up. But my gut told me otherwise! On the other line was an admissions officer from Amherst. I had been accepted off the waitlist! The news got even better when my financial aid offer arrived. It was the best offer I had received! My father assured me that the opportunity was too great to pass up. So, after all those months of worrying and all those college websites visited, I finally made my decision.
My ups and downs
My highest moment during this whole process actually came out of my lowest moment. For the first few months of my senior year, I felt overwhelmed with this feeling of inadequacy and paranoia. I dwelled on the statistics of those who had done better than me at my high school. Coming from a very competitive school district, I was frozen in the mentality that GPA, test scores, and class rank carried the most weight in admissions decisions.
It was as though I had completely forgotten the other aspects of me that made me unique. As I wrote my final college essay, I was determined to give truthful answers to the questions "Who is this student?" and "Why should we want him?" After I finished writing, I felt this wave of comfort wash over me. I had created an essay that offered a clear window into who I was. It was one of the best feelings I had during the whole admission process.
What I learned
It wasn't until September of my senior year that I realized what a Subject Test was. If I had just taken the time during the summer to look up information regarding the testing requirements of the colleges on my list, then I would've had more time to study before I took one. A higher score would've been one less thing to worry about.
I visited a few campuses on my list over the summer. But taking college tours when school was not in session did not help me choose colleges. I learned more from those tours about what made those campuses alike than what made them different.
The money factor
From the beginning, my father told me that the steep prices of some schools shouldn't deter me from getting the education I deserved. So I applied with a blind eye toward cost. Fortunately, my award from Amherst means my education will be affordable for my family. A good portion of the cost is being covered through grants and scholarships. I am covering the rest with my student contribution and parental help, although I am probably going to take out a loan next year.
Think carefully about what sets you apart and write a truthful essay. Of course, even if you feel confident about your writing, have someone who knows you well read your essays for clarity.
ROAD TO COLLEGE
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