James - Villanova University - Class of 2012
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When visiting colleges, I made sure I spoke with the head of the engineering department if possible. Many schools have a separate engineering school acceptance process.

Engineering has been my focus since the beginning of high school. I am particularly interested in developing renewable "green" energy sources. I believe that by the time I retire, this country will be run by at least 50 percent renewable energy.

Hometown: Wyckoff NJ

High School: Public

GPA: 3.4 / 4.5 (weighted)

SAT: 1890

Major: Electrical Engineering

Goal: Career in alternative fuels and renewable energy



Villanova UniversityAttending
Stevens Institute of TechnologyAccepted
University of ConnecticutAccepted
University of MarylandAccepted
University of Pennsylvania (ED)Denied
Freshman Year Update

College is going great. While I am getting an education in engineering, I feel that I am getting an education about life. I am learning how to manage time, relationships, sleep, work, money, and health. I am relating with people from all over the world. My advice to people just starting college is that you must make all of your own decisions and really be able to see that the reason you are at school is to better your knowledge—not only in the classroom but in society.

Senior Year Update

Villanova engineering students have to take all of their core classes prior to senior year, which makes sophomore and junior years tough, but senior year very light and enjoyable. This year I took classes in ethics, philosophy, public speaking, and entrepreneurship.

My tip for new college students is to start with as many AP credits as possible. I made the mistake of not doing this. I felt that I would be setting myself up for failure by placing out of lower-level courses in college. This was far from the truth. If you do well in an AP high school course, you will have no problem with the upper-level college coursework.

An early commitment to engineering pays off

Early in high school, I was accepted to a program called "The University Program for Engineering and Design," in which all of my elective classes were focused toward my chosen career in engineering. I am also interested in leadership and business, so I participated in a "sales club" in which I proposed and "pitched" hypothetical products. I think that these signs of commitment may have helped me stand out among other students applying to engineering programs.

Building a college list systematically

In making my college list, I considered several factors. I knew I wanted to stay on the East Coast to be near family. I looked at GPA and SAT scores of admitted freshman to find colleges where I was a good match. Average financial aid and merit aid awards were important too, as were reputation and career opportunities. A family friend who is an engineer helped me identify colleges targeted by recruiters.

When visiting colleges, I made sure I spoke with admissions and financial aid officers, and the head of the engineering department if possible. Many schools have a separate engineering school acceptance process.

I made my final college choices by creating a prioritized "pros vs. cons" list. I came up with good and bad aspects for every school on my list, and then ordered them by priority according to how well they met my top factors. This helped me make an educated and well-thought-out decision.

My ups and downs

I applied for an early decision from University of Pennsylvania, my first choice. I knew my stats were a little low for Penn, so I was not surprised to be rejected. In fact, hearing early was helpful because I could then focus on my regular applications. My academic profile was also a little low for Villanova, but I think my early focus on engineering helped me get in, as well as my extracurriculars and religious background.

Many extra application forms have to be written, signed, and faxed. These forms were a real headache and almost made me miss a deadline. On the helpful side, the Common Application was awesome. You could put together your best effort and submit it once, eliminating tedious hours of monotonously filling in your personal data for each school.

What I learned

If I had it to do over again, I would apply to more colleges that were a reach for me. Getting into Villanova, which was a reach, left me wondering if I could have been admitted to some of the Ivies.

I was surprised at the difficulty of some college websites. I figured all the information I needed to apply would be in one place, but I often had to search to find it all. And the application process can be confusing. One college had two forms online, another form that had to be faxed, and another that had to be mailed.

The money factor

Money was among the top three factors in my final decision. I needed financial aid and merit aid to cover the majority of my tuition. I found that private colleges often offer a larger aid package than out-of-state public colleges.