Julia - SUNY University at Albany - Class of 2025

"I thought a private school would offer me more opportunities along with merit and financial aid – but I was wrong."
  • Hometown: Walworth, NY
  • High School GPA: 94.33/96.57 (weighted)
  • SAT: 1320
  • Extracurriculars: Volunteer at Gigi’s Playhouse, National Honor Society secretary, Assets Club (community service club) treasurer, Girl Scout, member of school band and jazz band, Champlain College Young Writers Conference, library internship, ski club, trivia team, held jobs as a library page and babysitter.

  • Major: Political Science

I am interested in world affairs and human rights, and I want to study international politics. I completed the International Baccalaureate program at my high school and I was looking for a well-rounded, academically challenging school where I would have opportunities to pursue the arts – specifically theater and orchestra – as well as the social sciences.

Focused on the Little Ivies

I felt that I needed to go somewhere relatively well known and prestigious to enter a career in politics, and I became caught up with applying to small private schools and the “Little Ivies because I thought their prestige would lead to better internships in my field. I also came from a small high school and believed it would be easier for me to adjust to a smaller college community. I had the opportunity to tour a few colleges in person before they closed due to COVID-19. I toured Nazareth College, Hamilton College, Skidmore College and Colgate.

Demonstrating Interest in Hamilton

Hamilton became my first choice after my visit to campus. I had a private tour, which was great because I could ask more specific questions. The campus was beautiful, and I really got a sense for the school’s tightly knit community, its interdisciplinary academics, and the political science program. I liked the rigor of the school, along with its focus on writing. I thought Hamilton would be a great place to learn alongside a similarly motivated, supportive group of peers. I also appreciated the school’s history of providing generous financial aid.

To show my interest in Hamilton, I applied early decision, attended a virtual general information session, and participated in a virtual interview. I also completed the supplemental essay in which I expressed why I loved Hamilton College and why I thought it would be a good fit for me.

Since my test scores fell below the lower end of Hamilton’s average score range, I chose not to submit test scores with my application. I was somewhat worried about not submitting scores, but with the odd circumstances surrounding the pandemic, I thought not submitting my test scores wouldn’t be a big deal.

I was devastated when I received my denial from Hamilton. I was aware that Hamilton was a reach, but I thought my efforts to show my interest and applying early decision would help my chances. In the days following the denial, I researched additional schools, fearing that I’d be denied from the other match and reach schools I was going to apply to. This caused me to apply to Allegheny College and Marist College in addition to the other nine schools already on my list.

The Runners Up

Skidmore College was my second choice due to the school’s First-Year Experience in London, which would allow me to study abroad for my first semester. Colgate was my third choice. I thought it was comparable to Hamilton in many ways, but my admissions chances were definitely a reach.

I applied to University at Albany mostly because of its location in the New York State capitol, which I thought would be great for political science internships and other job opportunities. U-Albany is a public college and part of the State Universities of New York (SUNY) system. As a New York resident, the SUNY colleges were the most viable for me financially. But U-Albany is a much larger school than my top choices—with about 15,000 undergrads compared to about 3,000. I felt it may be overwhelming and lead to a less connected community, so it wasn’t among my top choices.

Financial Aid Impacts My Decisions

The rest of my decisions arrived gradually over the next few months. Being waitlisted from Skidmore was bittersweet as I knew I was close to being admitted. Unfortunately, I couldn’t remain on a waitlist due to my financial need. I was accepted at Marist, but I was unable to attend because I didn’t receive enough financial aid. This was especially disappointing because I had been admitted to its Freshman Dublin Experience.

The College of Wooster and Allegheny College both admitted me and offered me scholarships, which was exciting! Next, I received my acceptance from U-Albany — but the scholarship wasn’t as large as the scholarships from Wooster or Allegheny. I still hadn’t heard back from Colgate. Now Wooster was a front-runner.

U-Albany Edges Ahead

In the following weeks I received more news from U-Albany: I was accepted into U-Albany’s honors college and awarded an additional grant. Plus, I was admitted to U-Albany’s Direct Admit Combined Program allowing me to obtain my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in political science in only five years! Now SUNY was a lot more interesting!

A Visit Seals the Deal

By then, COVID restrictions were lifted and I could visit U-Albany in person. I set up a meeting with one of the professors in the Rockefeller College of Public Affairs & Policy, where the political science department is located. He shared all he knew about U-Albany, the honors college, the political science program, and how he felt I could benefit from Rockefeller College. Yet, he also helped me consider my other college options, which I really appreciated.

He also explained some of the classes that he taught and went over some of the exercises he liked to do with his students. His enthusiasm for teaching political science made me feel that I would find other similarly dedicated professors at U-Albany. At this point, I felt U-Albany would give me the best of both worlds: I’d have the opportunity to be part of a small community at the honors college while also attending a large university. Plus, the college offered opportunities to spend a semester in Washington D.C. and intern in the state capitol.

I had initially thought a private school would offer me more opportunities along with merit and financial aid – but I was wrong. U-Albany truly came through on both fronts, and I’m ecstatic to be attending there!

My Ups and Downs

Being denied from Hamilton College was my worst moment because it derailed my plans. I felt as though I wasn’t good enough and that I wouldn't get into any college. I remember my mom helped calm me down but that I had a really terrible evening.

It was also difficult for me to visit schools, as it was for most of my peers. I think because I couldn’t visit colleges, I applied to more schools than necessary. I also had difficulty attending some events at colleges because I had to take care of my siblings during virtual school.

Some of my best moments were the interactions I had with professors and current students at the colleges I was considering. I also felt amazing after a successful college interview at Skidmore College. The interviewer was very kind and was also a political science major. I felt that she had a genuine interest in getting to know me and this led to a productive and engaging conversation.

What I Learned

  • At first, I thought other colleges had offered me better scholarships than SUNY Albany, because the total awards showed larger dollar amounts. However, the tuition at these schools was also more expensive than at U-Albany, so actually U-Albany was a better value.
  • I learned that my self-worth is not based on a test score or a college acceptance and that many factors go into the admissions process that are simply out of my control. 
  • I also learned that lots of schools, not just small private colleges, have great opportunities and offer merit aid.

The Money Factor

The New York State Tuition Assistance Program, a Federal Pell Grant, New York State’s Excelsior Scholarship, and a SUNY Tuition credit will cumulatively cover all of my tuition. I will pay for room and board with scholarships I received from U-Albany and my local community and with subsidized and unsubsidized federal loans.  I plan to finance the remainder of my education through work study, my parents’ college savings account, and with money I earn from working over the summer.

My Advice

  • Attending a top-ranked school is not always the best path nor will it always provide you with the best opportunities. It may take time to find your best fit school, so stay open-minded and receptive to the opportunities each school offers.
  • Apply to scholarships in your community alongside national ones. There are often great organizations around you with scholarships that you qualify for.

How CollegeData Helped Me on My Road to College

CollegeData helped me search for potential schools and find data on them in a simple and accessible way. Having information on a variety of schools and being able to filter through them was extremely helpful. I found the chancing feature to be helpful in assessing the probability of my getting into a given college and the ability to add more than just my GPA and test scores to my profile. I also enjoyed being able to view scholarships in the same location, simplifying the number of websites and profiles I used during the admissions process.



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