Robert - Coe College - Class of 2018
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My "fallback" college ended up giving me the most aid and had the best opportunities for my major. Ultimately, I ended up liking it more than my first-choice school.

I went to a huge public high school and most of my classes were at maximum capacity. I wanted a small, private college with small classes where I could get to know my teachers.

Hometown: Bolingbrook, IL

High School: Public

GPA: 3.7 / 4.0 (weighted)

ACT: 27

Major: Biology

Goal: Prepare for medical school, participate in theater and choir

College

Status

Coe College (EA)Attending
Alma CollegeAccepted
Drake University (EA) Accepted
Illinois Wesleyan (EA) Accepted
Freshman Year Update

The best thing about college is being able to try new things. For example, even though I don't swim well, I joined the swim team! It's been a great way to make friends, and it's an instant family.

Classes in college, especially science labs, move a lot faster than in high school, and professors don't provide as much guidance. I spend between 20-30 hours a week on homework, but spend less time in class, so it balances out. You have to be organized and find a study schedule that works for you. I need to do my homework before 11 p.m. or I get nothing done. Yet some of my floor mates don't even start studying until 11 p.m.

On campus, there isn't always something going on, so you have to be creative with your free time, or be happy with just taking a nap or playing a game on your computer. But there is a huge sense of community here. You can always find friends to hang out with. Now, whenever I leave Coe, I feel like I am leaving home.

Sophomore Year Update

This year I have learned more out of class than in. Things like what my stress limit is, how to plan a formal, how to improve my writing, how to build a computer—and that friends can make terrible roommates.

I joined a fraternity and became an officer, which has been a great experience. I was also an assistant stage manager for Coe's production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream." However, balancing those activities with my intense biology and chemistry classes was tough, and I had to quit the swim team.

Now I am pursuing new career possibilities in microbiology, immunology, vaccinology, parasitology, and virology. This summer, I plan to do research at Coe with one of the professors or work as a logistics coordinator for orientation week.

Junior Year Update

I took my hardest courses yet and got more involved in my fraternity. And, after taking microbiology, I've confirmed what I want to do: develop vaccines! Next year I'll start applying to graduate programs in medical research.

Although Coe isn't a large research university, I think it is preparing me well for graduate school. It offers unique exchange programs with other Midwestern colleges; there are no graduate students here to compete with for research (which means I can work directly with a Primary Investigator before I even get a bachelor's degree); and Coe really focuses on learning outside the classroom, which I love.

Most of all, I think my liberal arts education is a blessing that might have helped me stand out in my applications to research programs this year. This fall, I'll be spending a semester in Tennessee working alongside career scientists at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Four small colleges fit the bill

Illinois Wesleyan was my first choice because a favorite science teacher went there, and I absolutely loved it when I visited. Most of its buildings were newly renovated, and I was especially impressed with its science facilities. I applied to Alma College because it had a great choir, which is one of my passions. Coe and Drake were my fallbacks. They sent me applications so I knew I had a good chance of getting into one of them.

Getting accepted to all of my colleges made me feel wanted—and like the king of the world! While I waited to receive my aid offers, I visited Alma and Coe, my second choices. Alma had everything I wanted: small classes, caring professors, and an amazing choir director! In fact, when I auditioned with the chorus, I already felt like I knew everyone. I could easily see myself going there. When I visited Coe, the air was frigid! But it had a hospital next to the campus where I could shadow medical professionals and possibly work. When I got home, I couldn't stop thinking about it.

Chorus or career?

Illinois Wesleyan's aid offer turned out to be not so good, so it was off the table. I was disappointed, but now I liked Coe and Alma more! Coe's offer was the best—I'd only need to pay about $3,000 out of pocket. Then Alma upped its aid offer with an additional chorus scholarship. Now I had to decide. I made a pros and cons list for each school, and after about two days I made my decision. I loved Alma for its chorus; I liked Coe for its career opportunities. I picked what was best for my major: Coe.

To be sure, I went to Coe's accepted student's weekend. I stayed in a dorm and met cool freshmen and amazing theater people. At one campus event, students poked fun at some of the silly things that happen on campus, in a game similar to Cards Against Humanity, and I loved the sense of community I felt. My decision was confirmed—I am going to be a Kohawk!

My ups and downs

Even though it sounds like a contradiction, one of my worst moments was getting the bump in scholarship money from Alma. It made my decision much harder. The best part was finally picking a school. It seemed like everyone around me had plans for where they were going to college and I didn't. Once I decided, I felt exponentially better. I felt like all the hard work I did in high school was going to lead to awesome things.

What I learned

I thought I'd have to choose a college based on the least expensive route. But when I removed the money factor, I had to decide based on what I really wanted. And it wasn't easy! Not everyone is cut out for making these kinds of decisions! I went with what was best for my major, and I think I made the right choice.

The money factor

I will pay for college mostly with scholarships and grants, but also with some loans and work-study.

My advice

Don't apply to only one school. Some of my friends did that, and they got stuck with insufficient aid, or are going to community college because they didn't get accepted. Have some fallback colleges on your list. Ultimately, I ended up liking my fallback college more than my first-choice school.