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.

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