Raveena - University of Pennsylvania - Class of 2021

“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


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.

My advice

  • 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."



We try to make content available to you on CollegeData.com 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 CollegeData.com 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 CollegeData.com without consulting with your parents, high school counselors, admissions representatives or other college counseling professionals. We will not be liable for the content on CollegeData.com or your actions based on any content on CollegeData.com.