"Diversity numbers were important to me, but I found that the data didn't always reflect how diverse the school felt."
- Hometown: Raleigh, NC
- High School: Public
- GPA: 4.75 (weighted)
- SAT: 1200
- ACT: 22
- Major: Biology
- Goals: Medical school with focus on oncology and cancer research
I had a lot of reasons to feel uncertain and anxious about getting into college--including the fact that I had been suspended. But instead of playing down the experience, I decided to write my essay about it.
Looking for a multicultural campus
I lived in Nigeria for 11 years before moving to North Carolina with my family. I wanted to attend a school where I felt comfortable and at home. For me, that meant a school with an ethnically and culturally diverse student body.
I have always loved UNC and its beautiful campus. When I went to a summer program at UNC in high school, I was sold. I felt like I belonged there. My second choice was Columbia University for its academics, diversity, and because I would love to live in New York (and Obama was an alum!)
I was super scared that I wouldn't get into any schools especially my top two. I had good grades, but I knew colleges looked for more than that. Although I was active as a junior and senior -- for example, I started a club that educated my community about African and Caribbean cultures -- I hardly did anything as a freshman and sophomore. My test scores were decent, but not great. And, I was suspended in 10th grade for getting into a physical altercation with another student.
Making my essay stand out
I met with admissions officers at UNC, and they advised me to write my essay about something that would make me stand out from other students. That’s when I decided to write my essay about my suspension.
I know, nobody in their right mind would want to write about a suspension, about their failure. Even my counselor wasn’t sure I should do it. But while it was never my intention to be involved in an altercation with another person, it was a real learning experience. It motivated me to try harder to prove myself as a student and as a person. At graduation, I was ranked #8 out of 423 students in my class. Since I felt my grades and class rank could speak for themselves, I just went for it.
And once I started writing I couldn’t stop. I honestly wrote most of my essay in about an hour. After I turned it in, I had no regrets.
The moment of truth
I checked every day for a decision from UNC. Finally, I decided to give myself a break and not check. I was taking a nap after school when my phone blew up. All my friends were asking if I got in -- the decisions had been posted! Now I was scared to check UNC’s website. I thought about my essay and started to shake. When I found out I was in, I was so happy, I started crying. Later, getting denied from Columbia was a little heartbreaking, but by the time I received Columbia’s decision, I had fallen more in love with UNC and knew it was where I really wanted to go.
My ups and downs
- I had to provide my suspension record with my application, and during the process I discovered the suspension wasn’t on my record (my high school had lost it). For a minute, I thought about pretending the suspension never happened. But I felt the need to share the truth. And I really liked my essay and didn’t want to rewrite it. Since the record was lost, I had to get proof of my suspension from my county public school office. It was frustrating to have to do that, but I’m glad I did.
- Getting accepted at UNC was a relief but it was also a bittersweet victory. Many of my friends, even some with better grades than mine, were denied.
What I learned
- Campus diversity was very important to me, so I looked at the student data for every school I considered. I found that the data didn’t always reflect how diverse the school felt to me. Some campuses with higher diversity numbers didn’t feel as diverse as some schools with lower numbers. I think being able to really spend time at a campus, like I was able to do at UNC for three days, gave me a clearer picture of the student body.
- Writing my essay about a significant moment in my life helped me come to terms with the experience and the lessons I learned from it. Although, I wish I had started my essay much earlier and had the time to receive more feedback on it.
The Money Factor
Grants and work-study are covering about 80 percent of my total costs and my parents will cover the rest. I don’t think I will need to take out any loans, perhaps only a small one.
- Be careful about overloading your schedule senior year. Preparing my applications was hard because I took so many AP classes. I felt like I barely had time for myself and that I was doing everything at the last minute.
- Don’t count yourself short no matter what your situation or history is, but at the same time, be humble. If you can, write your essay about something you’re passionate about. It will put you in the right “writing zone.”