The moral of my college application story: Visiting the school is infinitely important! I can guarantee that I would not be going to Penn if I hadn’t visited.
During freshman and sophomore year, Columbia was my dream school. I loved New York City! I totally romanticized the idea of going to school there. I thought it was the absolute best place in the world. Of course, my Gossip Girl obsession only reinforced this notion.
I go to a very competitive, private high school. When junior year began, so did all the talk of the SAT and college applications. All of my classmates seemed to be experts. But I didn’t know very much about any of it.
Luckily, we have an extensive college counseling program. I believe it’s one of the best parts of our school. My college counselor had me research tons of different schools all over the country. Slowly, we narrowed down a list together.
I went on A LOT of college visits. More than anyone I know. I’m not really sure how it turned out that way. I just sort of ended up seeing every school on my list. We went everywhere, from southern California to the south to the Midwest.
How I made my choice
The main choice I had to make was where I was going to apply early. I wanted to apply early so that I could increase my chances of getting into my top choice.
My top choices, Penn, Northwestern, and Columbia, were my reach schools.
As I explained above, I had always been obsessed with Columbia. Northwestern had an amazing journalism program. But I didn’t know much about Penn. When I researched it, I liked it, but it was more that there was nothing wrong with it, so I just kept it on my list. My college counselor told me that it was “urban, diverse, and fun,” all qualities that I was looking for.
But I always thought that the choice would be between Northwestern and Columbia.
In June, my parents, my best friend, and I went on an east coast college tour. On the day that we toured Penn, I fell in love with the school and the city of Philadelphia.
The campus was beautiful but the people were even more amazing. Everyone I met was so kind, fun, and relaxed. As I was talking to the tour guide, I found out that she actually went to Berkeley High School, right in my hometown! She told me that part of the reason why Penn attracted her was because it’s known as the “social ivy.” She felt that the people at Penn were less academically pretentious than the people at many of the other schools she had looked at when applying. Although students there definitely put in their hours at the library, they know how to live a balanced life. They have a “work hard/play hard” mentality.
I was pretty convinced that Penn was the school for me. But I was supposed to visit Columbia the next day, so I was interested to see how the two would compare.
Of course, I had high expectations for Columbia. The campus was beautiful, but what I learned at the information session turned me off of the school. The Common Core, a set of classes that all Columbia students must take, just wasn’t for me. A lot of students really love to Common Core and that’s actually a big part of why they apply to Columbia. I think it’s a very “love it or hate it” kind of thing.
I personally didn’t want to have to take a lot of classes that didn’t apply to my major. So I liked Penn because it’s very pre-professional and doesn’t have as many requirements to fulfill, unlike Columbia.
My final list
- UC Davis, Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara, San Diego
- Scripps College
- George Washington University
- UCLA, Berkeley
On December 15th, I didn’t have high expectations. After all, Penn was a reach. I never thought I would actually get into an Ivy League school.
But surprisingly, I got in!
It was great, because I was done early. Right now, a lot of my friends are still making decisions about where they want to go to school. I’m grateful that I don’t have to deal with that extra stress.
What I’ve learned from the whole experience
Don’t be afraid to apply to that reach school! Believe in yourself.