Nolan - Colorado State University - Class of 2027

"Success doesn't always come from a single plan or a straight path. My first plan for success didn't pan out, and my path to college was jagged instead of straight."
  • Hometown: Costa Mesa, CA
  • High School: Public
  • GPA: 3.25
  • SAT/ACT: Did not take
  • Major: Computer Engineering
  • Goals: Possibly attend graduate school; start tech-based business
  • Extracurriculars: Baseball team all four years (team won state championships junior year); football and cross-country teams freshman year; college-prep academy; summer sports.


Spread the Knowledge. Share: email logo print

I started high school with a plan for success. I was accepted into my school’s elite college prep academy, I made the football, baseball, and cross-country teams and I had a great group of friends. I was going to go to a university, become an engineer and create a computer product that would change the world. But three years later, things looked a lot different. 

The COVID Pandemic Derails My Plan

In March of my freshman year, I went into quarantine like most students. I was sent home from school and didn’t go back until I was a junior. As an only child of a high-risk parent, I was constantly worried about being the one who would bring home COVID, which could severely affect my mom’s health and possibly even kill her. 

Having no siblings, I was lonely and isolated. I laid in bed, watched TV, ate junk food, and my life plummeted. I talked to no one for days at a time. All sports were canceled, so I had no physical activity or interaction with my teammates. I stopped doing my homework. I stopped seeing my therapist. I started making bad choices. 

By the time I went back to school my junior year, I was severely depressed. I had lost most of my friendships and decided to leave the college prep academy.  I quit all sports except for baseball, and I even stopped working hard at that. My grades were so bad that I wasn’t sure I would even graduate.  

I considered dropping out of school. I considered even darker paths. I definitely no longer cared about my plan for success.

A Pivotal Meeting - And A Spark

The summer before my senior year, I met with my high school guidance counselor. He asked me what I wanted to do after high school. I said that I had destroyed my future and didn’t think I could go to a four-year college now, even if that had been my dream. 

He told me that wasn’t necessarily true and that there was a path. I would have to remediate three classes, retake a year of math, take a full load of classes senior year and get the best grades possible. I wouldn’t be able to take my foot off the gas or take it easy my senior year like my friends were. He warned me that it would be a struggle and even if all the stars aligned, I still may not be accepted into a university.

But I felt a spark in my soul that I hadn’t felt in a long time. I was excited, which was a feeling I barely remembered. That spark reminded me who I was, and who I wanted to be. So, I registered for a full load of classes, and I hired a tutor. I started working hard and got my first A in a remediated class. I made new friends, my baseball game and my grades improved, and I felt happy for the first time in years.

Casting My Net Beyond California

When it was time to apply to college, my counselor told me not to bother applying to schools in California (my home state) because it was “extremely unlikely” that I would be accepted. Most California public colleges are very competitive, even for students with outstanding academic backgrounds.   

Still, I decided to cast a wide net and apply to 13 universities including four in California. I hoped maybe one school would take a chance on a student like me. To make sure colleges heard my story and saw my perseverance and determination, I submitted a college essay to every school explaining what happened with my grades, even if an essay wasn’t required.

A Birthday Surprise

On my 18th birthday, I was accepted to the first university I had applied to — in California — Cal State San Marcos! That is a moment I will never forget. To know that all my hard work to turn my academic life around was worthwhile gave me a feeling of validation. It changed my entire perspective on life and really helped my self-confidence.

Over the next three months, I was accepted to all 13 universities I applied to plus one that I didn't even apply to through a direct admission process!

How I Made My College Choice

To make my decision, I visited nine college campuses and attended several accepted students’ days. After my visits, my finalists were Oregon Tech, Boise State, Northern Arizona University, and Colorado State. They all had everything I was looking for in a school – good computer engineering programs; a non-urban setting close to nature and outdoor activities; an active athletics program; and a good social scene. 

But I didn’t have a clear first choice. My feelings changed almost every day. For weeks I felt overwhelmed and stressed about making my decision. Finally, my family got out a five-foot whiteboard and together we wrote down every pro and con we could think of for each school. 

choosing a college-nolan

A white board was helpful in considering the pros and cons of each college.

I realized then that Colorado State felt the most like home to me. I loved the campus, the extracurricular activities, and the outdoor excursions available. But the biggest factor was that Colorado really felt like a place I could set down roots after college, and I didn’t feel the same way about the other three states.

I felt like I had made my decision, but I wanted to sleep on it. The next day, I told my mom I had made my decision, and I came out of my room wearing a Colorado State University shirt.

What I learned

Success doesn’t always come from a single plan or a straight path. My first plan for success didn’t pan out, and my path to college was jagged instead of straight. Three years ago, my picture of success was being an engineer who graduated from a top-tier university. Today, I know that I’m a success whether that happens or not. 

The Money Factor

I am paying for college with federal student loans. I also received a $2,500 engineering scholarship from the Gene Haas Foundation.

My Advice

  • Don’t believe everything other people tell you! I was told it was unlikely that I would be accepted anywhere and I got into many schools. Choose to believe in yourself.
  • Try to explain your circumstances. Although many of my colleges didn’t officially accept personal essays, I think submitting an essay anyway made a difference. It helped me to tell my story and show colleges who I really am, other than just my grades. 
  • Trust the process. I did research on every school that I was accepted to, and I visited as many schools as I could. It was a lot of work, and it was grueling traveling to colleges every weekend for two months. But because I went through such a process to find the right fit, I am confident that I made the right choice.

How CollegeData Helped Me on My College Journey

I didn’t decide to apply to college until much later than most students, and I didn’t know where to start or where to look for colleges. I used CollegeData's College Search to find colleges that met my criteria, assess my chances of acceptance, and learn more about those schools.  I am so grateful that this information was available to me. I don’t know how I would have finished my college search otherwise.



Read More Student Stories:



Fatoumata - University of Southern California "Applying for admission to two competitive major programs was both exhilarating and daunting — and I was told "maybe" more than once."



Jacob - Princeton University "Do in-depth research about programs, clubs and activities specific to your interests. If you can't find a plethora of enticing opportunities, it may not be worth the time and money to apply."

We try to make content available to you on that you may find helpful. The content may include articles, opinions and other information provided by third parties. If we can reasonably fact check articles provided by third parties and information used in those articles, we will. However, opinions of third parties are their own, and no fact checking is possible. The content on may not apply to you or your situation. We recommend that you refrain from acting or not acting on the basis of any content contained on without consulting with your parents, high school counselors, admissions representatives or other college counseling professionals. We will not be liable for the content on or your actions based on any content on