Hometown: San Francisco, CA
High School: Public
GPA: 3.91 / 4.23 (weighted)
Major: International relations and earth science
Goal: Pursue academic passions, make lasting friendships, and have a fun, memorable experience.
My biggest struggle was understanding how the admissions process works at the prestigious and highly selective schools on my list. I read blogs, watched videos, went to info sessions, and even called some colleges. But all I learned was that the perfect student doesn't cut it anymore. These schools reject people with perfect scores and grades all the time.
My first choice was the University of Pennsylvania because I identified with its practical, flexible education, and its proximity to Washington D.C., as I hoped to work for the State Department one day. I applied to Penn under the Early Decision plan. When I was deferred, I was surprised—not because I thought I'd get in, but because I thought I'd get a clear decision of accept or deny. It was great to not be rejected, but also a little frustrating because now I had to finish all my other applications!
I discovered Kenyon College when its admissions officer spoke at my high school. Kenyon flew me out to audition for a music scholarship (I play French horn). I wasn't taking it very seriously since the school sounded a little too isolated to me. But after spending three days there, I loved it! I wanted to be friends with all the students I met—they were curious, quirky, and hilarious. The faculty was accessible, and there were all kinds of opportunities for research and musical performance. I couldn't understand why Kenyon wasn't one of the most selective colleges in the country.
Fast forward to April, and I was accepted to a lot of great schools. I narrowed my choices down to UC Berkeley (in-state and affordable), Kenyon (offering a substantial scholarship), and Penn (my first choice, but no aid). I heard all kinds of unhelpful comments from people: "How can you turn down Berkeley?" "Kenyon is a swanky place!" "Go to Penn if you want to be rich!" Most people expected me to choose Penn for its Ivy League prestige. But I wanted to pick the school that was best for me.
So, I visited Penn, and it was everything I hoped it would be. The campus was large, urban, exciting, and diverse. The opportunities for students in my major were amazing. The students I met were driven and interesting—and there were so many international students! After thinking about it carefully, I realized that UC Berkeley and Kenyon felt like comfortable places I definitely would enjoy, but Penn felt like a place where I could grow academically, socially, and professionally. After successfully appealing for financial aid, I chose Penn. Later, Kenyon and Berkeley increased my scholarships—which made it even harder to say no. But I know I've made the right choice.
The worst moment was right after my best moment (getting in to Penn). It was when I checked my financial aid awards and saw that Penn offered me nothing. I immediately called the financial aid office, thinking it was a mistake. They told me I could file an appeal—but only if I had new information about my family's finances. So, I thought of things that the FAFSA and CSS PROFILE didn't allow me to explain. One was that my family was in the process of repairing our home's foundation—a huge expense. My parents got our contractor to write a letter documenting how much the project would cost. After numerous appeals and meetings with aid officers, I received enough financial aid to comfortably attend Penn!
After visiting Kenyon and interviewing at Carleton, I learned there are many incredible colleges in this county. It was a relief to know I would be happy at so many of them. However, I wish I would have applied to fewer schools, and that I had better planned my extracurricular activities in high school. The way I randomly participated in things did not look very focused to colleges.
Penn is covering about a third of my total cost of attendance. I will have a work-study job on campus, and my parents will be paying for the rest.
Demonstrated interest matters (even if colleges say it doesn't). So if you go to a college information session, be sure to introduce yourself to the admissions reps. You don't need to say anything special, but you will no longer be a piece of paper, you'll be someone with a personality and you'll have some chance of being remembered.
Also, talk to current students at the universities you are considering. They have no incentive for lying or exaggerating the pros and cons of their school. They will give you information that websites and pamphlets cannot.