Nicolas - Emory University - Class of 2021
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Each college on my list had different positives and negatives. I thought none of them were the perfect match for me.

At first, I had a hard time finding schools I wanted to apply to. It seemed like the more research I did into a school, the less I liked it. I thought no school had all the pieces I was looking for.

Hometown: Portland, OR

High School: Private

GPA: 3.69/3.85 (weighted)

ACT: 30

SAT: 1440

Major: Undeclared

Goal: Make career connections, learn and grow as a person.

College

Status

Emory University (Oxford College)Attending
College of the Holy Cross Accepted
Davidson College Denied
Fordham University (EA) Accepted
George Washington University Accepted
New York UniversityAccepted
Rhodes College (EA) Denied
Santa Clara University (EA) Accepted
University of
Notre Dame (EA)
Denied
Wake Forest University Accepted

My odyssey for the perfect college

As a high school freshman and sophomore, I read about colleges online, made college lists, and even went on college visits. I was looking for three things: academic rigor, a tight-knit community, and a meaningful identity or mission. My Catholic high school had all of these attributes, but they were difficult for me to identify in colleges.

I ended up ruling out a lot of great schools for arbitrary reasons, too; like if I thought the students seemed cutthroat and competitive, or if the school had too much of a party atmosphere (which actually eliminated most colleges—haha), or just because I had a "weird feeling" about it.

There is no perfect school

My final college list had everything from small liberal arts colleges (Rhodes and Emory's Oxford College) to larger universities in big cities (NYU), to academically rigorous Catholic or Jesuit schools (Holy Cross and Notre Dame). I decided against ranking my schools because it would be like comparing apples and oranges. Each college had different positives and negatives, and I thought none of them were the perfect match for me.

I knew I had a lower GPA for most of my schools, but I hoped that my extracurricular background would make me stick out: I ran a non-profit and started a rap club in addition to being in plays and student government. Still, I mentally prepared myself for getting rejected from every university.

Pressure on the road

After I was denied during early action by Notre Dame, my Dad planned a trip for us to visit colleges over spring break—before I had received any of my regular decisions. This put a lot of pressure on me. If I was denied from all the colleges we planned to visit, the trip would be a waste of money. I got my decisions on the airplane, in the car, in the hotel, and in a Chick-fil-A. Fortunately, I was accepted to all the schools we planned to visit except Davidson.

Time to deliberate

My choices came down to Wake Forest, Holy Cross, New York University, and Emory's Oxford College. Even after visiting these campuses, my decision wasn't clear to me because I found these schools so different from one another.

When I got home, I thought about why I liked each school. I liked NYU for its big city location, Holy Cross for its community, Wake Forest for its academic rigor, and then I realized Emory had all of these things. Emory's Oxford College is a small liberal arts college that students attend for two years before moving to the larger Emory campus in Atlanta. Oxford had the small community, the liberal arts experience, and the academic rigor I was looking for, and Emory's main campus had the big city. Emory had all the pieces to the puzzle.

My ups and downs

It was tough getting denied at Notre Dame, in part because my family was so involved with the alumni community and because it was the first college I wanted to apply to. When I received the email, I actually read it in the bathroom (the only privacy I could get from my Dad, the Notre Dame alum.) I wasn't surprised I was rejected, but I thought I was going to at least get deferred first.

However, getting denied at Rhodes College was my lowest point. I had considered it a safety and it made me question everything. How good were my essays? What could I have done better? I began to second guess all my applications for the next four months until regular decisions came out.

My best moments were getting in at some of my reach schools. I also enjoyed talking with my admissions counselors later and having them compliment my essays. At Wake Forest, I showed up for a visit unannounced and the admission dean remembered my name from my essays.

What I learned

I learned something valuable from the book: Where You Go Is Not Who You'll Be by Frank Bruni. It suggests that it's not where you go to college but what you do while you're there that has the impact on your future. This idea made me more comfortable as I awaited my decisions because, although I couldn't control which college admitted me, I was in control of my work ethic.

The money factor

I received a liberal arts scholarship from Emory worth about $10,000 and renewable for all four years. I also received a third-party scholarship through Subaru of America. My parents will be paying the rest through their 529 plan.

My advice

Showing interest to colleges is important. I attended admission events and college fairs, and contacted my representatives monthly to ask questions. I think this helped me get into my reach schools.

Finally, even if you consider yourself an impeccable academic, think of yourself as an underdog and you'll work harder to beat the odds.