Tina - U. of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign - Class of 2017

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I bared my soul in my application, explaining how the lessons I learned showed in my improved transcript.

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign was not even on my college list because I thought it was out of my league. I was so wrong.

Hometown: Chicago IL

High School: Public

GPA: 3.38

ACT: 24

Major: Engineering

Goal: Enroll in the Honors College by my junior year and join the Navy ROTC



University of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignAttending
Northern Illinois UniversityAccepted
Purdue University (EA)Denied
Southern Illinois UniversityAccepted
Freshman Year Update

The hardest adjustment was learning to take responsibility for my choices and make decisions I didn't like. I had to forgo interesting classes when they conflicted with my work schedule, and drop things I loved (like ROTC and my engineering major) when my load got too heavy. Worst of all, due to paperwork confusion, my financial aid package wasn't resolved until my second semester! I called the financial aid office every day, and they ended up covering most of my tuition. I definitely learned the words "persistence" and "accountability"!

But it's hard to stay down with all the positive energy at this school. I have a sort of family here—there are eleven of us—and it makes the day-to-day struggle of college more bearable. And to think none of us have the same majors! I am sad to give up ROTC and engineering (now I'm an English major), but I can still enter the Navy as an officer after graduation if I complete two years of officer school, which I don't mind at all!

Sophomore Year Update

I am at the point where I have to officially declare a major, and I am still undecided. I've been bouncing back and forth between STEM and non-STEM majors. My counselor encouraged me to major in English, but after taking some classes, I dreaded them. My goal has always been to get my degree in something I genuinely want to learn, not something I took to get easy A's. I've decided that chemistry is still in the cards. While it is tough and frustrating, it provides the right amount of challenge and gives me an extreme sense of accomplishment.

Next year, I'd like to get heavier into jujitsu, be more social, and get back into writing—perhaps doing a poetry slam. And, if I can maintain a 3.5 GPA, I hope to reward myself with a trip to Ireland over spring break.

Destined to be a Purdue Boilermaker

I dreamed of attending Purdue University ever since freshman year when a senior on my track team got accepted there. It had a top engineering program, and I loved the school spirit and the rivalry between Purdue and University of Illinois.

My GPA during freshman and sophomore years was horrible. But I thought Purdue was still attainable, and this motivated me to significantly improve my grades. Even with my better GPA, however, my teachers and counselor felt my goals were set too high. They kept referring me to less competitive schools, but I felt I belonged somewhere greater. I felt destined to be a Boilermaker!

So I applied Early Action to Purdue. I really bared my soul in my application, explaining the mistakes I made academically, the lessons I learned, and how those lessons showed in my improved transcript. I knew Purdue was a reach, so I forced myself to be realistic and chose a few backup schools close to home. Then, at the last minute, I applied to University of Illinois. I don't know why exactly. It was sort of like "just go for it, you have nothing to lose." Plus my childhood friend (and now roommate) got accepted.

Dream school revamped

The day after I sent my application to University of Illinois, I got the rejection letter from Purdue. Being the perfectionist that I am, I was an emotional wreck. I was even more disappointed because I had been completely open about my dreams and vulnerabilities in my application. I felt there was no hope of acceptance at University of Illinois. I began to finalize my intent to attend Southern Illinois University.

On the day I was supposed to receive my decision from University of Illinois, I stayed home from school because I was physically sick with worry. I was in the car with my mom when I checked my phone—and got the electronic acceptance! I was going to be a Fighting Illini! I did not do anything but smile like an idiot. And I accepted on the spot!

Sometime in March, I received a call from Purdue asking if I was still interested in attending, but at one of their satellite campuses. Without hesitation I declined. I was already attending my dream school—one that opened its arms and accepted me from the start.

My ups and downs

I attended a public charter high school, and right before my senior year, my entire support team was fired in a management transition. So here I was starting the college application process, and I felt like I had no one to help me. The new counselor at my school was not as encouraging, suggesting that I go to community college and transfer to Purdue. To complicate matters, my school made a mistake and sent transcripts for a much lower GPA to Purdue. They sent my correct GPA with a detailed explanation of the mix-up, but it was very stressful.

The best moment was realizing that God gave me what I wanted in the end. I couldn't have put together a better ending if I wanted to. University of Illinois is a Big Ten school, it has an amazing engineering program, it's close to home, and it's everything I hoped for in a college.

What I learned

I had my sights set on Purdue, which virtually turned me off to other schools. I couldn't visualize myself on any other campus. I was too iron-willed, and should have looked at other options.

Lots of schools might want you to apply, but that doesn't mean you have a sure chance of getting in. Still, you have to believe in yourself, even when no one seems to believe in you.

The money factor

Due to the mix-up sending my GPA, I am still working out my financial aid and am hoping something comes through. Otherwise, my parents and I will be financing my first year of college with loans and savings. I hope to get a Navy ROTC scholarship in my junior year.

My advice

It's important to be truthful in your application and be yourself. In my application, I was funny and witty like I always am. By being myself, I showed the school I was its match—and I found the school that was my match.

Also, go to freshmen orientation. One of my fears was being swallowed up by the masses of college students and "being just a number." But at my orientation, they made it easy for me to get comfortable with other freshmen so I wouldn't feel alone or awkward. I am excited to see what else they have in store for me!