David - Vanderbilt University - Class of 2016
student photo

GPA isn't everything. My grades were below average for many of the schools I was accepted to, but I emphasized my leadership skills and extracurricular involvement.

My college application process was an adventure to say the least. I survived denials, deferrals, and waitlists at my top choices, not to speak of submitting 17 college applications.

Hometown: Darnestown MD

High School: Private

GPA: 3.51 / 3.82 (weighted)

ACT: 33

Major: Psychology

Goal: Become a doctor and serve my community

College

Status

Vanderbilt UniversityWaitlisted/
Attending
Boston College Accepted
Colgate UniversityAccepted
Dartmouth CollegeDenied
Davidson UniversityAccepted
Duke University (ED)Deferred/
Denied
Emory UniversityWaitlisted
Georgetown UniversityDenied
Rice UniversityDenied
Tufts UniversityAccepted
Tulane University (EA)Deferred/
Waitlisted
University of MarylandAccepted
University of Miami (EA)Accepted
University of Michigan (EA)Deferred/
Waitlisted
University of RochesterAccepted
University of Southern CaliforniaAccepted
Washington University in St. LouisWaitlisted
Freshman Year Update

The hardest part of starting college is how overwhelming everything is. I found myself living in a new place, with people I didn't know, and completely on my own. Also, all the free time! Here, many classes give three large exams during a semester and those are your only grades in the class. So, even when you don't feel you need to, you have to study a little every day. Otherwise, it is easy to get behind. Fortunately, I was surprised at the willingness of professors to get to know me, even in classes with 200+ students. Also, making friends can be hard if you don't get involved outside of your classes. I joined the rowing club which gave me an outlet for making some really good friends. My advice is to get outside of your comfort zone and try new things. It can really make a difference!

Grades are important, but they aren't everything

The weakest aspect of my college applications were my grades. In 10th grade I transferred to a private school from a public school. I enrolled in the most challenging courses possible and just didn't perform as well as I could have. On the bright side, I buckled down in my senior year, continued taking the most rigorous curriculum, and got straight A's. And my test scores were within or above the range for the schools I was applying to.

However, there was so much more to my application than my grades. Even though I came to my high school in 10th grade, I immediately got involved. I was student government president, cross-country team captain, and student director of my school's musical show band, among other activities. I wrote a passionate essay about my love of music and how playing piano helped guide me through my transition of schools and in other aspects of my life.

Deferral and waitlist agony!

I wanted a midsized university that had top-notch academics and a vibrant social life. I visited many schools, but ultimately I decided to apply early decision to Duke University. My father attended Duke for both undergraduate and law school, so I knew a lot about the university, and it was a school with a great reputation—both academically and socially. I was deferred, but I did not give up on Duke throughout the entire regular decision process. I sent e-mails and letters, made calls, and sent extra letters of recommendation. I did everything I could.

When the Duke decision arrived, I covered up the computer screen with my fingers, slowly moving them down to reveal each line of text. Rejected. Duke rejected me! The school I had wanted to go to ever since I was a kid, the school I had put so much effort into, rejected me. Then Vanderbilt, my second choice, waitlisted me. I was devastated. I was accepted at my third choice, Tufts, but I just couldn't believe that I wouldn't be able to attend one of my dream schools. So I didn't give up on Vanderbilt. I sent letters to the admissions office. I met with my regional Vanderbilt counselor. I pointed out that my strong senior year academic performance was the best predictor of my success as a college student, not my GPA. Then on May 3, Vanderbilt called and offered me a place off the waitlist. I started hyperventilating, thanking the counselor profusely. I sent in the deposit the next day. I was going to be a Commodore!

My ups and downs

This application process was like a roller coaster ride. I was a procrastinator. I waited until six hours before the deadline to start writing supplemental essays for some schools. I was lucky that many of my schools didn't have these supplemental essays, or had prompts that made it easy to recycle other essays. The low point was definitely my deferral from Duke. The other two Duke early decision applicants from my school were both admitted. To add insult to injury, later that week I was deferred from a match and a safety school. I had lost all hope. The high point was the call from Vanderbilt in early May. It was not only a surprise, but for the first time, I felt truly excited about college, which was a very reassuring feeling.

What I learned

I had this inescapable paranoia that I wasn't going to be accepted anywhere, so I made sure to have plenty of colleges on my list. In retrospect, my time would have been better spent writing stronger supplemental essays for the schools I was really interested in, instead of rushing to finish 17 applications on time.

You might think there is one school that is perfect for you, and no other school can suffice, but you're most likely wrong. There are so many schools out there, and many will offer very similar educations and experiences as that "one perfect school." I regret becoming so attached to Duke. I was a legacy applicant, so I'm sure my father had something to do with my attachment.

The money factor

Luckily for me, my family can afford to cover the cost. This is something I am grateful for.

My advice

Don't forget that this is a once-in-a-lifetime journey, so try to enjoy it, through all its ups and downs. Keep your options open, and believe that no matter where you go to college, you will make the most of the experience. Also, apply only to schools that you could see yourself happily attending. Here's a test: Pretend that a school is the only school you got into, and you had to attend. Would you be happy? If not, you shouldn't apply there.