Olivia - Vanderbilt University - Class of 2026

"If I could repeat the process, I would trust my instincts more and not let external pressures dictate my choices."
  • Hometown: Mamaroneck, NY
  • High School GPA: 4.0 (weighted)
  • ACT: 35
  • Major: Undecided/Economics
  • Goals: Graduate with good grades, learn new things, be involved on campus, and prepare for a postgraduate job. 

  • Extracurriculars: 

    Honor roll, National Honors Society, Athletic Director’s Honor Roll, Spanish Honors Society, George H. Ball Community Achievement Award, AP Scholar, varsity soccer, Key Club, treasurer of student senate, Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD), band (played the flute), volunteer for Polar Plunge and Alzheimer’s Association, intern at Christ Church Nursery School, camp counselor, babysitter and tutor. 

Having a mother who graduated from Northwestern and a sister who was a student there placed a lot of pressure on me during the college application process. I felt immense pressure not only to apply and get admitted to Northwestern, but also to attend. I wanted to fulfill my family’s expectations and attend a school that is considered prestigious.  

My Wildcat Legacy

Northwestern was always on my radar, primarily because of my family’s legacy. Growing up in a Northwestern family revolved around watching Northwestern football games on the weekend, and having Northwestern merch throughout our house. My mom and sister always told stories about the campus and traditions, and painted Northwestern as a magical place. I couldn’t help but feel excited about the idea of someday attending a college that was such a big part of my family.

I was constantly told that as a double-legacy with a strong ACT score and high GPA, I had a good chance of getting in if I applied early decision. I appreciated this advantage; however, I wasn’t passionate about Northwestern in the same way as my mom and sister. Northwestern had some things I already knew I did not want in a school, like the cold weather, less emphasis on Greek life, and the quarter system.  Deep down, I had different preferences for my college experience. I desired a warmer climate, small classes, and a less intense environment. These preferences reflected my different personality compared to my sister and mom, who were always more similar. 

A Buried Love for Nashville

Vanderbilt was the school I had wanted to go ever since I first visited in 8th grade, when my sister was applying for college. On that specific visit we went to the main street in Nashville, Broadway, where there was a free Florida Georgia Lines concert going on. I remember thinking that Nashville was so cool and how I could see myself living there. I was not only drawn to the city, but I also remember being captivated by Vanderbilt's beautiful campus, the welcoming community, and the vibrant atmosphere. However, these feelings were buried under the pressure to pursue Northwestern. 

However, some of my concerns began to surface when I visited Northwestern, which felt surreal. This wasn’t my first time visiting Northwestern, but it was my first visit with the serious intent of evaluating it as my potential college. While Northwestern had an impressive campus, I felt a surprising lack of connection. It felt too big, and the environment seemed too intense for what I wanted. I was hoping to feel a sense of belonging, but instead felt out of place.  We visited a few other schools on this trip, including Duke and University of Virginia, and while they had their own appeal, warm weather and beautiful campuses, for some reason they did not feel like the right fit either.

Taking a Chance with Early Decision

Despite my reservations, I applied to Northwestern early decision, driven by my family's expectations and the belief that it was my best shot at a prestigious school. If I were admitted to Northwestern under early decision, I would have to attend and withdraw my other applications. Although Northwestern was not my number one choice, I knew I would still enjoy attending school there, especially since I would have been able to spend a year at the same school as my sister.  

The day I found out I was deferred from Northwestern was tough, particularly because it was the same day as my birthday party. I had all my friends there, expecting to celebrate my acceptance. Instead, I faced a wave of disappointment and embarrassment. At first, receiving the deferral shook my confidence. However, given my misgivings about Northwestern, I was also a little relieved to be deferred.  

Learning to trust my instincts

After the deferral from Northwestern, I realized I needed to reevaluate my approach. I started looking for colleges that matched my preferences more closely: medium-sized, near a city, warm weather, beautiful campuses, strong academics, vibrant Greek life, and smaller class sizes.

I went back to thinking about Vanderbilt because since I was deferred, I felt I had more freedom to apply to different colleges. Vanderbilt felt like a distant dream due to its competitive admissions but so did several of the schools I applied to at this point. including Duke, Tulane, and Cornell.  I did not like everything about these schools, but I wanted to keep an open mind.  I waited anxiously for the regular decision results and had no idea whether I was even going to get into any of the schools I applied to. Although I was nervous for all the results, I was most nervous to hear back from Vanderbilt because now I knew that it was my favorite school.  

Feeling sure at last

My early action decisions started off strong as I was admitted to Indiana, Miami, Wisconsin, and Michigan. Although some of these schools were very different than Vanderbilt, and didn't check every single one of my boxes for a school, they had strong academic reputations and vibrant campus communities, which appealed to me -- and  was happy that I got accepted. I started to envision myself at these schools and to convince myself that things like weather and the size of the school did not matter as much. 

The wait for regular decisions was long and nerve-wracking. The first decisions that trickled in did not bring good news. I was rejected from Duke, Cornell, Tulane, and Colgate. After a few days, I started to lose hope because I still had not heard from Vanderbilt. It was the last school I needed to hear from.

When I received my waitlist letter, I was upset but I decided to focus on the positives: I was not rejected, and I was accepted into other great schools. I committed to the University of Michigan, feeling it was the best choice among my acceptances. Michigan’s strong academics and vibrant campus life made it an appealing option, but deep down, I was still hoping for a spot at Vanderbilt. 

A few weeks later, I was sitting in my room next to a bed covered with Michigan colored balloons. I was on my phone checking my email when I saw I had received an email from Vanderbilt, and I immediately started yelling for my parents. The joy and relief were overwhelming, and I knew instantly that Vanderbilt was where I belonged. It was the school I had wanted to go to all along!

My Ups and Downs


My college application process was filled with highs and lows. Shifting gears from the idea of attending the University of Michigan to going to Vanderbilt was harder than I expected because I had for weeks pictured myself at Michigan and had let go of Vanderbilt. Once I realized that Vanderbilt has been where I’ve wanted to go since I could remember, it was easier to come to terms with my decision. The lowest point was the deferral from Northwestern, a moment that shook my confidence. However, the acceptance to Vanderbilt was the high point that made all the struggles worthwhile. It reaffirmed my belief in following my instincts and finding a place that truly felt right for me. 


What I learned

If I could repeat the process, I would trust my instincts more and not let external pressures dictate my choices. The journey taught me the importance of resilience and the value of finding a school that aligns with my personal preferences and goals. Future applicants should focus on what feels right for them, not what others expect of them. 

The Money Factor

I am incredibly grateful that my parents have been able to fully support my college education. Their emphasis on the importance of education has allowed me to focus entirely on my studies and extracurricular activities without the stress of financial concerns. 

My Advice


My main advice is to be prepared for setbacks and trust your instincts. Rejections and waitlists are part of the journey and will ultimately guide you toward the right path. Remember, you know yourself better than anyone else, so always prioritize your own preferences and goals over external opinions.  


How CollegeData Can Help on Your College Journey 


Reflecting on my college journey, CollegeData’s features would have made it easier to find schools that had everything I wanted, helped me manage application strategies, and allowed me to be less stressed and anxious because of all the information and step-by-step guides the website provides. 

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