Join Date: Apr 2009
Lessons Learned During This Admissions Cycle
(Long time lurker, first time poster)
Now that the main admission cycle has finished (for me and many others at least!), I would like to reflect on my experiences. A little background information on me: My family is lower-middle class; my parents both attended community colleges. I have two siblings, both older, one of them went to a community college, and the other didn’t pursue further education. The school I attend, only approximately 35% continue their education; the average SAT scores are in the upper 800’s, low 900’s. The vast majority of students have never heard of the ACTs or SAT IIs. Of the fraction of students who attend a post-secondary school, probably 45% go to a community college, 25% go to a tier 4 college, 25% go to the state school, and 5% go to private schools. The average income of my hometown is approximately $30,000. I picked up a job at McDonalds’ my 9th grade year, I worked 40 hour weeks every week until the summer of my junior year.
During my 9th and 10th grade years I maintained a 4.0 (UW) GPA, the teachers at my school really didn’t challenge the students, and the majority of classes were merely “crowd control” (Yes, this was the advanced track). My 10th grade history class was the first AP class offered at my school, the average score of the students the prior year was a 1.4, so no one had any real expectations for anyone to pass. The week before I bought a book for AP European History and began reading through it; I read through this book 3 times before the AP test. I scored a 4 on the exam, which was the highest grade anyone in my school had ever received; there were two 3’s on the exam, eleven 2’s, and sixteen 1’s. The school principle called me down to his office and thoroughly congratulated me, there was an announcement over the intercom, and my AP European history teacher basically said I was the best student he has ever had at this school. My fellow classmates think I am a genius. I find collegeconfidential at shortly after this, my high spirits are crushed because of my unintentional self-deception, and my 4 was nothing special. For many schools, that was only an average score. During this summer I started working at Walmart, for the entire summer I worked two jobs, around 70 hours a week, all of this money went to the bank. I quit at McDonalds’ and worked 40 hours a week at Walmart during the school year.
Junior year, the only teacher that truly influenced students took a liking to me. She was the chemistry teacher and had a PhD; no one else in the school had one. For months I talked with her, planned my future, and began researching colleges. I set my sights on MIT, if I got into that school, then I would be exceptional, I would no longer have to worry about money. Science fair was optional at my school; I was one of 4 students who participated. The funding for science fair was exactly 0$, we had to make do with what chemicals my chemistry teacher could get from the nearby universities. We participated in two regional fairs; in the first I received a 3rd place, in the other I got nothing. My first chance at the ACTs were coming close, yet I couldn’t spare the money for a test-prep book, I would have to manage with my English and Mathematics textbook. I was not able to afford a test-prep book because all of the money I was earning from my job was going to the bank, for college. I did not get a fee waiver because I never learned about them; I paid for the test out of my own pocket. I scored a 27, which was extremely good for my school, but not good enough. I was upset that I didn’t do well enough; I would have to try again in a few months. At the end of my junior year I had to take AP tests again, I had three of them this year. During my AP US History test, most people gave up and went to sleep; I again scored a 4 on this exam. My AP English exam was rather uneventful; I scored a 3 on it. This was the first year my school offered AP Art History, I took it and scored a 2, I was rather upset, but looking back on it, people were playing cards during the test and doing the wave. I really don’t know why I expected to do well on that test. ACTs and SATs came up; I scored a 31 on my ACTs, which I couldn’t take them again because I didn’t have enough money. On my SATs I scored a 710 M, 650 R, 590 W. I knew that my ACT scores would be used for the test. The final test in June came and I took the SAT IIs, I scored a 760 in Chemistry, 690 in Math II, and a 670 in Math I.
During this summer I took classes at the Community College, they were incredibly easy; they were a waste of my money. During my senior year I filled out my applications for EA at MIT and Caltech. Come December I was rejected at Caltech, deferred at MIT. With that result I was pretty disheartened, I had hoped to get into one of those two so I would avoid the college application costs of the other applications. I applied to a number of schools, PennState (honors college), Lehigh, CMU, Cornell, Columbia, Stanford, University of Pennsylvania, Princeton. I was still not aware of the fee waivers; I paid almost a thousand dollars on my college applications. The months in between December and March were horrible, the waiting killed me. Come March I was accepted into both PennState and the honors college, my parents didn’t care. Come March 14, I eagerly opened my MIT decision…rejected. I read it again, still rejected. I honestly couldn’t draw any emotions out at this time, the only thing I could think was, “This isn’t right, I tried so hard…” It wasn’t that I didn’t get accepted, but not even waitlisted. At this time I basically accepted that I would be attending PennState, I was upset that I didn’t make it farther than anyone else at my school.
A few days later I received a letter from Columbia University, I was clueless as to what they could be sending me. I opened the letter and read it…it was a likely letter. I read it again, same thing. I double-checked the name, it was mine. “Why did I get this? My scores aren’t great; I’m not in a sport…why?” I sat there, couldn’t draw out any emotions though, I was extremely happy though. I showed my parents, they didn’t care, showed my siblings, didn’t care, my chemistry teacher had retired last year. I made plans to attend Columbia University. “Surely the likely letter was some mishap on their part, I must’ve been extremely lucky to have been in favor of their mistake!” About a week went by, another letter, but this time from Cornell. Another likely letter! At this point I was lost, nothing I did was special, I got average (for people applying to this schools) test scored, no major accomplishments, why was I getting these? Two schools couldn’t have made mistakes like this, it was impossible.
Lehigh’s decision date came around, I had forgotten to make my portal account, but a few days later their acceptance package arrived. I was extremely happy…but would I be able to afford it? Financial Aid awarded…$43,000! I could attend Lehigh! March 31st came. I decided to check Princeton first, because if MIT rejected me, surely Princeton would too. I logged in…CONGRATULATIONS! “What? Wait, What? Princeton accepted me? Well, I won’t be able to attend, it costs too much.” $46,000 in aid, no loans; I would only have to pay $3,000 (after my campus job). I sat in disbelief. “Princeton…Princeton…why?” I logged into University of Pennsylvania...accepted. Cornell…accepted. Columbia…accepted. I called my parents in, showed them where I got accepted to, their response “So, you’re a snob now.” This statement literally crushed me, I had got accepted into four of the best schools in the nation, yet they treated me like trash? A little while later my Stanford email came, I got rejected, yet, at this point it didn’t matter. I would be attending Princeton for college, nothing could make me happier.
So, the lesson of this story, don’t hold back on applying to anywhere because it is too much of a reach, you just may have something they’re looking for an not even know it! Don’t let others drag you down, no one else may understand why you are working so hard, but in the end it will pay off.