Perfect on Paper (?)
Three thoughts come to mind regarding the college application process: draining, unpredictable, and out of your control. How do I know? Because I am a recent survivor who put in the front-end hard work but was nevertheless left shell-shocked (initially) and wiser (in the end).
Here is a snapshot of my college profile:
I attended Canyon Crest Academy (CCA), took 11 AP classes, several Honors classes, and graduated with straight A’s (9-12).
I was a club president, captain of my competitive gymnastics team, worked (including in a lab and with children), volunteered, conducted research with the executive director of a Princeton-based mental health non-profit, and did freelance photography for commercial clients.
My raw ACT score was 32 (33 super score), and I am a National AP Scholar and AP Scholar with Distinction.
The Future I Wanted
My dream school was Georgetown. My application was free of grammar errors, my interview went well, and I had stellar recommendations (from my research supervisor and a notable alumnus). I applied early and was deferred. I wrote a follow-up letter confirming Georgetown was my first choice. I was waitlisted. Finally, I was rejected. I was devastated.
I had done everything – and more – that could have been requested of an applicant, and it was not enough. The school that I wanted more than anything – and was qualified for – did not want me. On paper, I should have gotten into a number of schools that rejected me, including University of Virginia, Tufts (I was a double legacy), Notre Dame, and UC Irvine. I provide this background not to scare you or garner sympathy, but just so you know where I’m coming from – and that I “get it.”
In the end, I was left deciding between two schools that I’d never really planned on attending when I first applied. And although there’s a lot of specific advice out there about the college application process, when it comes to accepting an offer, the advice suddenly becomes vague.
People told me to choose the “best fit” for me, which I found wholly unhelpful given that my “best fits” were the schools that rejected me (including the so-called “safety schools”), the ones my friends got into, and even colleges that I had never considered before. I knew I should be at an East Coast school; the thought of staying in California or living in the freezing Midwest never crossed my mind. In the end, my choices came down to UCLA and the University of Michigan, and I was undecided up until May 1st – the very last day to decide.
I visited both schools multiple times, researched academics and internship opportunities, talked with current students and alumni, and asked many more questions that may hold the key. Other than location, these schools were incredibly similar. “You can’t go wrong!” my parents assured me, but neither seemed right.
My “Best Fit”
At the time, I wished someone had told me that the “best fit” doesn’t always mean the college setting you envisioned (of course, in some cases, it does), or the school that perfectly fit into what you thought you wanted. Ultimately, I chose the University of Michigan and was accepted into its honors program.
For me, my “best fit” is a university that shapes my future by pushing me out of my comfort zone and creating a platform on which to develop my views and ideas, ultimately morphing my perspective of the world into a more educated one that I can share. I knew I wanted a school with a community that would drive me beyond what I learned in high school and give me options to better myself and those around me. Looking at my choices this way clarified that the University of Michigan was my school, and after successfully completing my first year, I can confirm this simple truth: the “best fit” school is the one you choose to engage in.
Shaping My Experience
For me, engaging with my school meant an honors seminar that explored cancer from biological, historical, and sociological perspectives; forming friendships with people from Chicago; walking to class in the snow; congregating in Ann Arbor coffee shops; and joining a sorority alongside women who supported one another during quarantine and online classes. Had I gone to Georgetown, I would not be in a sorority (they don’t have Greek life), nor would I appreciate the significance of a sound victory over Notre Dame in the Big House. At the same time, the sorority gives me a sense of family. I never would have pegged myself as a sorority girl, but that’s kind of my point – I put myself out there in an unexpected way and found something that I now can’t imagine being without.
Making YOUR Decision
I attribute much of my growth to the Michigan community. Attending school out of state exposed me to an entirely new dynamic of people and way of living, and I am so grateful to experience life in the Midwest, even though the adjustment to winter was a bit tough. I am proud to attend UMich for many reasons, including the passion and dedication among my peers to improve the future and create a sense of belonging to something bigger. And although I thought my heart belonged to Jack, the Georgetown bulldog, it turns out I really love Reggie, Michigan’s campus corgi who is larger than life, notwithstanding his short stature.
I encourage any student thinking of, or currently applying to, college to consider schools you would be proud to engage in (in a myriad of ways).
Questions to ask yourself:
“Will this school support me personally and academically?
“What does this school possess (academics and beyond) that my other options may not?”
“In what ways would I grow at this school?”
“Is this a community I want to become a part of?”
Even if your “dream school” isn’t what you initially envisioned, find a college where you can walk through a crowded room wearing your college name in block letters on a sweatshirt and feel a sense of pride because that is your school.
Although unfair, the college admissions process may not always reflect your hard work and dedication to academics and extracurriculars in high school. The good news is that you are ultimately in control, not the college admissions boards. So, decide what is important to you; that’s where the “best fit” will be.