Raveena - University of Pennsylvania - Class of 2021
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I was terrified when I was waitlisted at my match schools. It felt like a sign that I had no chance at my reaches.

At first I chose schools based on prestige. But I came very close to attending a safety school that I initially selected at random. I didn't realize my most important college factors until I made my college choice.

Hometown: Sanford, FL

High School: Public

GPA: 4.00/4.85 (weighted)

SAT: 2380

Major: Biochemistry and biophysics

Goal: Pharmaceutical research

College

Status

University of Pennsylvania Attending
Clemson UniversityAccepted
Columbia UniversityWaitlisted
Cornell UniversityAccepted
New York UniversityAccepted
Rice University Waitlisted
Stanford UniversityDenied
University of Central FloridaAccepted
University of FloridaAccepted
University of Miami Accepted
University of Southern CaliforniaAccepted
University of South FloridaAccepted
Washington University in St. LouisWaitlisted
Yale (EA)Denied

Small school, big city

Having visited my sister at the University of Florida, I knew I didn't feel at home at a large university. I also knew I didn't want to live in a college town; I loved the idea of being near a large, major city with lots to explore and do.

After binge-watching Gilmore Girls, I fell in love with Yale. I pictured myself stomping through the snow, living in a college house, and eating in the beautiful dining halls. I applied Early Action, but I was deferred.

Finding academic fit at Penn

The deferral terrified me, and I doubled my college list. I added more reach schools based mostly on rankings. I wanted another safety school, so I looked up states with the best weather (I settled on South Carolina), and chose the prettiest school in that state (Clemson).

As I researched these colleges, the University of Pennsylvania felt like the best academic fit. Through its Vagelos Scholars Program in the Molecular Life Sciences I could pursue my multiple interests in chemistry, mathematics, and physics, as well as a master's degree. It felt like the perfect foundation for my career in pharmaceutical research. Penn also had my ideal campus size and setting: it was a smaller campus in exciting Philadelphia.

Seriously sidetracked by Clemson

The next few months slowly wore away at my confidence. Rice: waitlisted. WashU: waitlisted. University of Florida: no merit scholarship. Then Clemson invited me to interview for its National Scholars Program. I spent a weekend there touring the campus and meeting with faculty and current scholars. The program had wonderful opportunities for research and study abroad, and it included a full-ride scholarship. While Clemson did not have the urban environment I wanted, the campus was beautiful, and I was certain I could learn to call it home. When I was officially accepted as a National Scholar, I knew I'd be part of an incredible community of supportive peers and mentors. I was set on attending Clemson.

Then came Ivy Day. At 5 p.m., I nervously sat on my sofa and started checking. Cornell: Accepted! Columbia: Waitlisted. Penn. Hand trembling, I took a shaky video as the screen changed from the login page. The music started playing . . . Accepted! (I started screaming!) Yale: Rejected (I was not devastated.)

Which college feels like home?

I was thrilled to be accepted to Penn and Cornell. However, I wanted to make sure that I would feel just as at home at these schools as I had at Clemson. So I visited both. I knew quickly that Cornell was not the right place for me. At Penn, though, everything was exactly as I had pictured for my college career: the urban campus, the diverse community, and the level of academic challenge.

But I was torn. Going to Clemson made a lot of sense financially, yet Penn had also offered me generous aid. I had to consider other important features: the surrounding area and its political atmosphere, and the extent to which I felt I would be academically challenged. I then realized academic challenge was my most important factor. In college, I want to take as many challenging courses as possible and acquire as much knowledge as I can. Keeping that in mind, it took me another two weeks to decide, and I chose Penn.

My ups and downs

I was afraid when I was waitlisted at my match schools. It felt like a sign that I had no chance at my reaches. Being waitlisted at Rice was especially hard because I thought I would be accepted.

My best moments were visiting campuses. Going to Clemson was an incredible experience, and for the first time I got a true sense of what I wanted to feel at my future university in terms of its student community.

What I learned

Your first-choice school might not be the college for you. I romanticized the idea of attending Yale and convinced myself it was perfect for me. But I didn't really know much about it. Ultimately, it didn't have the majors I wanted, nor was it in my ideal location.

There are more things to consider about a college than prestige. Clemson is less prestigious than Penn, but I would have easily chose it over more "highly ranked" Cornell. I knew I would likely emerge from both colleges well prepared and advantaged for my future.

The money factor

Penn is covering about half of my costs with grants and work study. Penn has an all-grant policy, so I do not have any loans. I will pay for the rest with private scholarships and a contribution from my parents.

My advice

In high school, don't try to become what you think colleges are looking for. Pursue activities you truly enjoy and your admissions profile will fall into place.

Getting waitlisted or denied from a college doesn't necessarily mean the college thinks you're not good enough. Every college has a different "ideal" student. They could be looking for a different type of student than you.