“I was afraid when I was waitlisted at my match schools. It felt like a sign that I had no chance at my reach schools.”
- Hometown: Sanford, FL
- High School: Public
- GPA: 4.00/4.85 (weighted)
- SAT: 1570 (converted from 2380)
- Major: Biochemistry and biophysics
- Goals: Submatriculate for a M.S. in chemistry, participate in Big Brothers/Sisters and mental health advocacy
|University of Pennsylvania
|New York University
|University of Central Florida
|University of Florida
|University of Miami
|University of Southern California
|University of South Florida
|Washington University in St. Louis
|Yale University (EA)
At first I chose schools based on prestige. But I came very close to attending a safety school I selected at random.
Small college, big city
In college, I want to take as many challenging courses as possible and acquire as much knowledge as I can. Having visited my sister at the University of Florida, I knew I didn’t feel at home at a large university and I didn’t want to live in a college town. I wanted a smaller school and I loved the idea of being near a large, major city with lots to explore and do.
Then after binge-watching Gilmore Girls, I fell in love with Yale. I pictured myself stomping through the snow, living in a college house, and eating in the beautiful dining halls. I decided to apply under Yale’s restrictive Early Action program. However, my nerves got the best of me, and I ended up over-editing my essays. Unsurprisingly, I was deferred.
Finding academic fit at Penn
The deferral terrified me, and I ended up doubling my college list. I added more reach schools based mostly on rankings. I wanted another safety school, so I looked up states with the best weather (I settled on South Carolina), and chose the prettiest school in that state (Clemson).
As I researched these colleges, the University of Pennsylvania felt like the best academic fit. Through its Vagelos Scholars Program in the Molecular Life Sciences I could pursue my multiple interests in chemistry, mathematics, and physics, and a master’s degree. It felt like the perfect foundation for my career in pharmaceutical research. Penn also had my ideal campus size and setting: it was a smaller campus in exciting Philadelphia (and also close to New York).
Seriously sidetracked by Clemson
The next few months slowly wore away at my confidence. Rice - waitlisted. WashU -- waitlisted. University of Florida -- no merit scholarship. Then Clemson invited me to interview for its National Scholars Program. I spent a weekend there touring the campus and meeting with faculty and current scholars. The program had wonderful opportunities for research and study abroad -- and it included a full-ride scholarship. While Clemson did not have the urban environment I wanted, the campus was beautiful, and I was certain I could learn to call it home. When I was officially accepted as a National Scholar, I knew I’d be part of an incredible community of peers and mentors.
Then came Ivy Day. At 5 p.m., I nervously sat on my sofa and started checking. Cornell – accepted! Columbia - waitlisted. Penn. Hand trembling, I took a shaky video as the screen changed from the login page. The music started playing … accepted! (I started screaming!) Yale – rejected (I was not devastated.)
Which college feels like home?
I was thrilled to be accepted to Penn and Cornell. However, I wanted to make sure that I would feel just as at home at these schools as I had at Clemson. So I visited both. I knew quickly that Cornell was not the right place for me. At Penn, though, everything was exactly as I had pictured for my college career: the urban campus, the diverse community, and the level of academic challenge. Penn was my dream college with my dream academic program.
But I was torn. Going to Clemson made a lot of sense financially, yet cost wasn’t my top factor given Penn’s generous aid. I had to consider other important features: the surrounding area and its political atmosphere, and the extent to which I felt I would be challenged -- which I then realized was actually my most important factor. It took me about two weeks to decide --and I chose Penn.
My ups and downs
I was afraid when I was waitlisted at my match schools. It felt like a sign that I had no chance at my reach schools. Being waitlisted at Rice was especially hard because they had sent me a free application, and I thought I would be accepted.
My best moments were visiting campuses. Going to Clemson was an incredible experience, and for the first time I got a true sense of what I wanted to feel at my future university. I finally knew what colleges meant when they talked about “fit.”
What I learned
- Your first-choice school might not be the college for you. I romanticized the idea of attending Yale and convinced myself it was perfect for me. But I didn’t really know much about it. Ultimately, it didn’t have the majors I wanted, nor was it in my ideal location.
- Getting waitlisted or denied from a college doesn’t necessarily mean the college thinks you’re not good enough. Every college has a different “ideal” student. They could be looking for a different type of student than you.
The money factor
Penn is covering about half of my cost of attendance with grant aid and work study. Penn has an all-grant policy, so I do not have any loans. I will pay for the rest with private scholarships and a contribution from my parents.
- Research a lot of different schools and attempt to consider things other than prestige. Clemson is less prestigious than Penn, but I would have easily chose it over more “highly ranked” Cornell because of all it had to offer. I knew I would likely emerge from both colleges equally prepared and advantaged for my future.
- In high school, don’t try to become what you think colleges are looking for. Pursue activities you truly enjoy and your admissions profile will fall into place.
Read More Student Stories:
Ella - Occidental College "I worried that my peers would find my schools 'unimpressive'— and that I was cheating myself by not applying to the Ivy League schools I had once dreamt of."
Nicolas - Emory University "Each college had different positives and negatives and none of them were the perfect match for me."