Alexis - UC Merced - Class of 2020

Alexis - Class of 2020
After some sleepless nights, numerous arguments, and a few tears, I realized I had to be true to myself and my goals. I was going to attend UC Merced.

Growing up, I got to participate in great science programs that introduced me to STEM careers. I not only wanted a college strong in the sciences, but a place where I'd have the opportunity to help women of color learn about opportunities in STEM.

  • Hometown: Gardena, CA
  • High School: Public
  • GPA: 3.23/3.33 (weighted)
  • ACT: 23
  • Major: Microbiology and immunology
  • Goal: Get a Ph.D. and go into stem cell research

Freshman Year Update

My first semester was a roller coaster. I loved the sense of independence and being known on campus as an individual rather than part of a set of quadruplets. But, I didn't take care of myself. I spent most of my free time in the dorm socializing and staying up too late, and I ended up sick most of the time. Now I go to bed at a reasonable hour and head straight to the library after class.

What I like most about college is that I can decide how I want to learn, and I can talk to my professors about my learning goals. But while I loved biology, I didn't feel challenged. So I changed my major to Applied Math with a concentration in Computational Biology. I'm so glad I did! I feel I'm learning the problem-solving skills I need for my future. I also like the opportunities and support for freshmen to publish research here. I feel like I already have a leg up on my peers when it comes to graduate school.

Anywhere but USC

Even though USC was a reach for my grades and test scores, I had to apply. My mom had worked at USC for 35 years and really wanted me to go there. If I got in, I'd be eligible for a full scholarship as the child of a staff member. But I didn't want to go to USC. I am one in a set of quadruplets (three girls and one boy), and we practically grew up on the USC campus. Because we were quads, everyone knew us, and I had attended many academic and music programs there already. I wanted to go somewhere new.

My first choice was Whittier College, which I discovered when auditioning for a music scholarship (I play classical and jazz trumpet). It was close to home, and I loved the "family" feeling of the community. After Whittier, I liked UC Merced, the newest of the University of California campuses, about seven hours north of home. I had only looked at it online, but I liked its immunology and microbiology programs and its cutting-edge stem cell research facility.

Everyone has an opinion

When I received my decisions, I was overjoyed to be denied (yes denied!) from USC. Now I was torn between UC Merced and Whittier. I did more research into both schools, and the more I learned about UC Merced, the more I felt it had better opportunities for my grad school resume. I watched the virtual tour multiple times and loved the rural campus. I also learned that the university was heavily tied into the surrounding San Joaquin Valley community, and because it was a newer school, there were lots of opportunities to start new clubs and organizations. I felt like I could really contribute to the school and the community, perhaps by starting an organization related to girls and STEM. I was so excited! I had found my college!

When I shared this news with my boyfriend in Texas, however, he wasn't excited. He was planning to move to California to be near me, but he couldn't see himself moving to Merced. He liked Whittier's location in Southern California better. My best friend also thought Whittier was a better choice. But that was only because, at Whittier, I would be going to college closer to her. My mom, having recovered from my USC denial, now felt UC Riverside (where my sister was going) was the best choice. Little did I know she had also written a letter of appeal to USC (without my permission!), but the appeal had failed.

Doing what's best for me

After some sleepless nights, numerous arguments, and a few tears, I realized I had to be true to myself and my goals. I was going to attend UC Merced. I would just have to accept that some people were not as excited about my decision as I was. But I knew that I was doing what was best for me.

It wasn't until my mom and I sat down with my college counselor, and we went over everything UC Merced had to offer, that she began to see the light. When we got home, we continued to argue about it, but finally, my mom agreed to support my decision. I immediately ran to the computer, logged into my UC Merced account, and clicked on the Accept button! I was so happy!

My ups and downs

My worst moment was the time I stayed up all night thinking about my college decision and feeling alone because no one seemed to be supporting me. It was especially hard to realize my boyfriend wasn't happy for me. After this, our relationship went downhill fast and we broke up.

The best part, after committing to UC Merced, was going to orientation. The university was everything I hoped it would be. I made 10-15 friends right away, all in my major. Walking around the campus and along the lake, I knew this was a place where I would continue to find myself, and hopefully, make my dreams a reality.

What I learned

Sometimes your friends don't have your best interests at heart. I realized my boyfriend wasn't concerned about my goals or my future. I wanted him to be happy for me, but he was only thinking of himself. But once I was away from his negativity, I felt completely free to love and accept myself—and to enjoy my college choice.

The money factor

Most of my costs are being paid for with state and federal grants. I also received a private scholarship, a UC Merced grant, and work-study. To cover the balance, I am taking out subsidized and unsubsidized loans, which I will pay back after I graduate.

My advice

Knowing who you are and what you want will not only help you choose a college, it will help you stay true to yourself when faced with other people's opinions. Finally, take some risks and explore colleges out of your comfort zone. You never know what opportunities you'll find.