Colin - University of Wisconsin - Class of 2027

"I realized there's more to a school than just job prospects, rankings and publications and that other factors, such as being able to double-major and graduating with low student debt, were also important to me."

  • Hometown: Glen Ellyn, IL
  • High School GPA: 3.9/4.6 (weighted)
  • SAT: 1410
  • Major: Computer Science and Psychology
  • Goal: Grad school
  • Extracurriculars: 

    National Honor Society, Société Honoraire de Français, Drama Honor Society, Theater Tech, chess team, student government, French club, Asian Initiative (Asian students’ organization), congressional campaign internship, geospatial engineering internship, part-time job as café barista



My goal in studying computer science and psychology is to combine my love for emerging technologies and human behavior to create innovations for working families and communities. I wanted to attend a college where I could find other visionaries and innovators to help make my ideas a reality.

A Search Driven by Rankings

At first, I focused on colleges that were highly regarded for their innovations in computing, such as Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Harvard, Carnegie Mellon, and Columbia. I was aware of the high costs of these schools, but I hoped I would qualify for financial aid. If not, I figured I would get loans and work throughout school to stay afloat. 

Carnegie Mellon and MIT Top the List

My top college choices were Carnegie Mellon and MIT. In addition to their prestigious reputations, I thought their academic environments, which seemed to value student collaboration, might be more conducive to my style of learning than the competitive environments I sensed at some of the Ivy League schools.

I was less interested in University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, even though it had one of the top computer science departments in the country, admitting only a couple hundred freshmen a year. I felt it was too close to home. Also, when I spoke with a UIUC admissions rep early in my search, she basically just told me “good luck,” as there are so many qualified people who apply to the CS program, it’s basically a roll of the dice as to who gets in. 

Illinois Says Yes…But There’s More

I was disappointed when I wasn’t admitted to any of my top choices, but I knew my chance of actually getting into these schools was very low, so it didn’t bother me for that long. Fortunately, I also received good news — I got into the computer science program at UIUC! I was thrilled, and I thought for sure it would be my top choice. 

Then, on the next day and my 18th birthday, I received my admission package from the University of Wisconsin — and it included a full tuition scholarship! I couldn't believe that I was offered that opportunity! 

Now I had two choices: UIUC (top-ranked computer science with no financial aid), or UW Madison  (good computer science with a full tuition scholarship). 

Students, Alumni, and Mom Weigh In

To help make my decision, I emailed both programs, and asked to speak with current students and alumni. I had several Zoom calls with different people. Surprisingly, everyone from UIUC told me that although their CS program was selective and prestigious, going to UW-Madison was the right choice. They felt UW-Madison had a good program and I would have a good college experience without the $160,000 of debt.

Next, I attended a CS department meeting at UW and really enjoyed how they showcased some of the companies that hire their CS graduates. I learned about all of the requirements students need to complete just to declare a major in CS. It was obvious to me that it was a very strong program. I also learned that several of my Advanced Placement credits would count towards my major — which would allow me to start college as a sophomore. This would give me the breathing room to pursue a double-major in psychology — an option I doubted I would have time for if I attended the rigorous CS program at UIUC.

As it got closer to May 1, I was feeling very good about accepting UW’s offer. My mom, however, wanted to make sure I was considering all factors. We had a five-hour meeting where she played devil’s advocate and we went over all of the things that were important to me (college life, computer science education, and cost). After that meeting, it was clear to both of us that UW-Madison was the right choice.

What I Learned

  • It’s important to consider a wide range of colleges and what you can afford. At the beginning, I only looked at top schools with top programs, but I don’t think this was the best idea. For one, I didn’t get into a lot of the schools I applied to, and if I had been accepted, the cost of many of them would have been prohibitive. 
  • I realized there's more to a school than just job prospects, rankings, and publications and that other factors, such as being able to double-major and graduating with low student debt, were also important to me.

The Money Factor

I received a full tuition scholarship to UW-Madison. The scholarship is renewable on the condition that I keep my grades up and participate in events with other recipients. It includes an $800 stipend for books. My parents are helping me pay for housing, and I will use my savings to pay for additional expenses. I also plan to work part time during college to add to my financial resource pool.

My Advice

  • Talk to admission officers. I spoke with admissions officers throughout the whole process of my college journey. I asked them how I could make my application stand out. They set the record straight for how competitive certain programs were and when best to apply. These conversations helped me shape my applications and essays and have a better understanding about what each school was looking for. 
  • Don’t just tour colleges, try to immerse yourself in the college culture. By walking around campuses and college towns, talking to current students, visiting popular restaurants around campus, and even attending some sporting events, I realized that there was so much more to college than academics. These visits helped me envision my life at each school and experience what the student culture was like.   
  • Start your essays way earlier than August. Most of the essay prompts are similar year to year, so you can start brainstorming during your junior year. I had the ideas I wanted to write about well before my application deadlines. But I didn’t get around to actually writing the essay until one week before my application deadline, which was super stressful and detrimental to my mental health at the time. Finishing your essay early may also make it possible for you to apply early action or early decision to more schools.

How CollegeData Helped Me on My Road to College

CollegeData's College Search helped me find colleges that I didn’t know were possibilities for me, and that I had never heard of before (Carnegie Mellon was one of those!). Using Scholarship Finder, I was able to easily narrow down and apply to scholarships that I qualified for, and with College Chances, I could see that I had a greater than zero percent chance of getting accepted into certain schools, which made me feel more confident about applying to others.



Read More Student Stories:



Alexander - Northwestern University "Choosing Northwestern was an easy decision for me. But it wasn't easy to convince my parents.”



Allison - Carnegie Mellon "At the schools I was considering, being a recruited athlete doesn't improve your admissions chances much. I had to be able to get into the college with my academic qualifications."

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