Rebecca - U. of N. Carolina at Chapel Hill - Class of 2021

Rebecca - Class of 2021
Writing my essay about my suspension from school helped me come to terms with the experience and how it pushed me to excel further.

I had a lot of reasons to feel uncertain and anxious about getting into college, including the fact that I had been suspended. But instead of playing down the experience, I decided to write my essay about it.

  • Hometown: Raleigh, NC
  • High School: Public
  • GPA: 4.75
  • ACT: 22
  • SAT: 1200
  • Major: Biology, Business minor
  • Goal: Medical school, focusing on cancer research and treatment

Looking for a multicultural campus

I lived in Nigeria for 11 years before moving to North Carolina with my family. I wanted to attend a school where I felt comfortable and at home—and for me that meant a school with an ethnically and culturally diverse student body.

I have always loved UNC and its beautiful campus. When I went to a summer program at UNC in high school, I was sold. I felt like I belonged there. My second choice was Columbia University for its academics, diversity, New York City location, and because Obama was an alum!

I was super scared that I wouldn't get into any schools especially my top two. I had good grades, but I knew colleges looked for more than that. Although I was active as a junior and senior—for example, I started a club that educated my community about African and Caribbean cultures—I felt like I hardly did anything as a freshman and sophomore. My test scores were decent, but not great. Worst of all, I was suspended in 10th grade for getting into a physical altercation with another student. I couldn't see how any college would see that as a plus.

Making my essay stand out

I met with admissions officers at UNC, and they advised me to write my essay about something that would make me stand out from other students. That's when I decided to write my essay about my suspension.

I know, nobody in their right mind would want to write about a suspension, about their failure. Even my counselor wasn't sure I should do it. But while it was never my intention to be involved in an altercation with another person, it was a real learning experience. It motivated me to try harder to prove myself as a student and as a person. At graduation, I was ranked #8 out of 423 students in my class. Since I felt my grades and class rank could speak for themselves, I just went for it.

And once I started writing I couldn't stop. I honestly wrote most of my first draft in about an hour. After I finished the essay and sent in my applications, I had no regrets.

The moment of truth

I checked every day for a decision from UNC. Finally, I decided to give myself a break and not check. I was taking a nap after school when my phone blew up. All my friends were asking if I got in—the decisions had been posted! Now I was scared to check UNC's website. I thought about my essay and started to shake. When I found out I was in, I was so happy, I started crying. Later, getting denied from Columbia was a little heartbreaking, but by the time I received Columbia's decision, I had fallen more in love with UNC and knew it was where I really wanted to go.

My ups and downs

Completing my applications was a long and stressful process because I took so many AP classes my senior year. I felt like I barely had time for myself and that I was doing everything at the last minute. One of my school counselors had her daughter, who goes to UNC, talk me through the application process, which was very helpful.

My best moment, other than receiving my admission from UNC, was when I had finally finished all my college applications. It was a relief to not have to worry about them anymore.

What I learned

Campus diversity was very important to me, so I looked at the student data for every school I considered. I found that the data didn't always reflect how diverse the school actually felt to me. I think being able to really spend time at a campus, like I was able to do at UNC for three days, gave me a clearer picture of the student body.

Writing my essay about a significant moment in my life helped me come to terms with the experience and the lessons I learned from it. Although, I wish I had started my essay much earlier and had the time to receive more feedback on it.

The money factor

I will be paying for college with grants and loans. Grants and work-study are covering about 80 percent of my total costs for my first semester, and my parents will cover the rest.

My advice

Don't count yourself short no matter what your situation or history is. At the same time, be humble. If you can, write your essay about something you're passionate about. It will put you in the right "writing zone."