Stephen - University of Pennsylvania - Class of 2015
student photo

I would have been better prepared if I had talked to more people who had been through the process.

I procrastinated starting my college apps until winter break, something that I deeply regret. I was down to the last hour on four of the applications.

Hometown: Missouri City TX

High School: Public

GPA: 3.98 / 4.76 (weighted)

SAT: 2160

Major: Engineering

Goal: A career in life science management



University of PennsylvaniaAttending
Carnegie Mellon University Accepted
Cornell College Accepted
Harvard College Denied
Massachusetts Institute of TechnologyDenied
Northwestern UniversityDenied
Princeton University Denied
Rice University Accepted
Stanford University Denied
University of Texas at AustinAccepted
Washington University in St. LouisDenied
Yale University Denied

A late start means little time to research colleges

When I began looking for colleges in my senior year, I was scared. I knew very little about where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do with my life. However, as part of one of my senior classes, I had to pick a profession in which to intern. I chose biomedical nanotech research and became fascinated with the field.

This career interest instantly cleared the path to my college selection process, but senior year was well underway, and I had little time to look at colleges. Starting with a list of 30 biomed college programs, I narrowed it to 15 schools based on what I considered to be minor factors such as college population, location, and reputation. After quickly visiting a few selective Northeastern schools, I knew that Princeton was my top choice due to the reputation of the program.

However, as senior year progressed, the time I had to look at more colleges shrank to nothing. When it came time to apply, I barely knew anything about the 12 schools I chose to apply to.

An eleventh hour cliff-hanger

A boatload of denials made my job easer. From my five acceptances, I eliminated University of Texas at Austin, Cornell College, and Carnegie Mellon. The biomed programs at Rice and Penn had more of what I wanted. I made my final decision based on where I thought I would gain the most life experience. To me, this meant leaving my home state. I was bound for Pennsylvania!

But a huge problem emerged. Penn's initial financial aid package was abysmal. I raced to renegotiate my financial aid offers with all the colleges that accepted me, hoping this would motivate Penn to improve its offer. I had no idea where I was going to end up!

Three days before the admissions deposit was due, Penn added an amazing grant. However, Rice offered me a merit scholarship that made Rice significantly cheaper. And because it is my dad's alma mater, Rice was my parents' clear favorite. Luckily, they decided to support my choice to attend Penn.

My ups and downs

The four hours leading up to the January 1 deadline for my Common Application schools were torture, since I had to write all my essays in four hours! Not only do I wish I had spent more time on my essays, but I realize now that I should have talked to more people who had been through the process before. I would have been better prepared.

My best moment was receiving an increase in financial aid from the University of Pennsylvania. I had been resigned to staying in Texas, which was the last thing I wanted. Then suddenly, Penn was back in my sights and my life forever changed.

What I learned

If I had budgeted more time for college research and applications, I might have had more college acceptances in the end, and more colleges to choose from. In the time since I applied, I have dropped biomedicine as a major in favor of general engineering. I want to leave every door open. If I had made this decision sooner, I would have applied to some different colleges.

The money factor

After my grant is deducted, my family and grandparents are paying for 75 percent of the cost of attending Penn. I will pay for the remainder through savings, summer internships, work-study, and student loans.