Mark - Union College - Class of 2013
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Even with rejections, applying to schools like Harvard caused me to elevate my goals and think about what I could do in a different way.

Many students do not apply to their local colleges, but my choice of Union College was positively influenced by the fact that I live nearby. Around Schenectady, everyone thinks highly of the school.

Hometown: Schenectady NY

High School: Public

GPA: 3.73 / 3.82 (weighted)

SAT: 1920

ACT: 27

Major: Physics and computer science

Goal: PhD in physics



Union College Attending
Colgate University Denied
Cornell University Denied
Fordham University Accepted
Harvard College Denied
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Waitlisted
Rochester Institute of Technology Accepted
Siena College Accepted
SUNY College at Geneseo Accepted
University of Rochester Accepted
Yale University Denied
Freshman Year Update

My freshman year is going great. The first two trimesters here have been nothing but excitement, inside and outside of the classroom. I'm also very much enjoying campus life here at Union; it's so easy to make friends. Rising to the challenge of balancing my schoolwork with everything else in college has made this year one of my most productive so far. Looking ahead, I just found out that I'm going to be funded by the college to do research here over the summer. I'm doing research in statistical mechanics (a field of physics dealing with the relationship between atoms and macroscopic objects).

Sophomore Year Update

After a few trimesters of college, I have come to grips with the fact that students should never rely only on what they learn in class, even if that got them by in high school. The material is so dense and fast paced that it's essential to study your notes after class, read the textbook, and supplement your learning with as many resources as you can find. The notion that you can learn a whole week of material in a night or finish a whole problem set in a night will bring disaster on a student. Now that I have come to these realizations, college isn't as difficult.

My strength in science helped my applications to liberal arts colleges

I think a few factors made my application stand out to the liberal arts colleges on my list. I am going into physics, a field that has few students at most of the liberal arts schools I applied to. I mentioned in my applications that I was not taking AP classes for most of my AP exams. I studied the material on my own and still did well on the tests. I also scored very highly on the Physics SAT Subject Test and the New York State Regents science exams.

Cost is the deciding factor

After five rejections and a waitlist, I found myself deciding between Siena, Union, and University of Rochester. Every other school that accepted me would have forced me to take out far too much in loans. Because I considered Siena a safety school, I eliminated it and looked next at Union and Rochester. I considered the two schools about equal in reputation and academic opportunity, so financial concerns were most influential. Although Rochester gave me more financial aid than Union, I would have had to live on campus and pay more in loans. Because my parents live about four blocks from Union's campus, I had the option of living at home. So I chose Union. Now I will pay about $2,500 for my first year, as opposed to $6,000 at Rochester.

My ups and downs

Filling out financial aid paperwork was most challenging for me. Since schools gather this information before making their decisions, I had to apply for financial aid at every college I applied to, even those that rejected me. It was hard using the FAFSA with so many schools. In addition, a few schools misplaced or incorrectly documented my financial aid documents, resulting in many calls to their financial aid offices.

The most positive part of the admissions process was finding schools to apply to. Being accepted to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute or University of Rochester was my highest goal when I started out. But as I went on I added more prestigious schools, even Harvard, MIT, and Yale. Even with rejections, applying to schools like Harvard caused me to elevate my goals and think about what I could do in a different way.

What I learned

I learned that a college applicant should apply only to schools that he or she wants to go to. The person should be comfortable with the idea of going to a "safe school" because that's where he or she might well attend. Also, I learned that it's foolish to refrain from applying to a school simply because "it's too good for me." Even if you get rejected, it's still better than not applying. For example, even though I did not get accepted at Harvard, I don't regret my application. The rejection letter allowed me to say to myself, "Okay, now I have something to shoot for when I apply to graduate schools."

The money factor

I acquired a substantial scholarship from Union College, a smaller grant from my state, a Pell Grant, and a Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant. I also qualified for the Federal Work-Study Program. The rest will be paid for with a Federal Subsidized Stafford Loan. I will not be living on campus my first year so I will have no housing costs.