College Applications. The source of nearly every high schooler’s stress and sleeplessness… until you’re a spring semester senior! which is the perspective I’m currently writing this from. I’ll be sharing my personal college application journey in hopes of providing some insight into the process or at least about the reality of rejections and the rollercoaster of emotions I experienced. This is not particularly intended to be any form of substantial advice towards approaching the college application process.
First things first, I planned my college applications around the fact that I wanted to be a Computer Science major. This helped narrow my selection of schools as I aimed to apply to primarily top ranking Computer Science programs along with a mix of higher acceptance rate public schools that also had good CS programs and that I would be happy at in the event that none of my reach schools options came to fruition.
My personal assessment of my application was that I had average/slightly below average test scores for reach schools, a rigorous curriculum with many APs, university classes, and good grades, ok/passable essays, and fairly strong extracurricular activities spanning leadership, activism, community service, and academics.
The best decision I made was applying to as many schools Early Action as possible. Me, being the very non committal person that I am, never considered doing Early Decision to any school. Instead, I applied to six public schools Early Action per my school counselor’s recommendation. Not only did this force me to stop procrastinating and get started on writing essays and filling out my application early, but it also made me eligible for merit scholarship opportunities otherwise unavailable during Regular Decision applications and provided me so much comfort from December to March when I had already gotten into at least a single college.
I ended up getting into five of my Early Action schools including Georgia Tech, ranked #8 in CS at the time. Having that initial acceptance in my back pocket so to say as the rejections started to roll was an incredible stress-reliever. I also applied to Princeton Restrictive EA. Still to this day I have no idea what possessed me to do this seeing as how I didn’t like the school and was adamantly against the idea of remaining in New Jersey for another four years. Nevertheless, that happened and I regret it, but it is what it is.
Around this time my schedule was also packed with college interviews. I had six of them: Princeton, MIT, Cornell, University of Pennsylvania, Carnegie Mellon University, and Duke. My first interview was with Princeton and it was absolutely disastrous. It was extremely short, boring, and unengaging. Carnegie Mellon and UPenn interviews went ok. MIT and Cornell interviews I thought went well. Duke was my last interview and I thought it went amazingly. I loved my interviewer, she was so kind, helpful, and curious to learn more about me. We even derailed from typical interview questions for a bit to discuss trying to resolve instances of compromising morality in friendships and it was really great conversation that didn’t feel like an interview.
My top choices going into the application process were Tier 1: MIT, Stanford and Tier 2: Carnegie Mellon, Cornell, UPenn. Realistically, I would have been extremely fortunate to get into any one of these schools, but naturally, that didn’t stop me from hoping and wishing. In January, I received my deferred decision from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign which in all actuality was a reach school for CS majors regardless of its 60%+ general acceptance rate. Nevertheless, statistics aside, it drastically knocked my expectations down a peg. I thought to myself, if I couldn’t even get into a public school like UIUC, what chance did I have at the Ivies and other top private schools? Leading up to March decision dates, I knew I had to keep my expectations in check to avoid any real devastation and shattered dreams. So, I kept telling myself I would not get into anywhere, would emphasize how the application process is such a lottery, and would banter with friends about getting rejected everywhere. As increasingly many strangers or family friends asked me where I wanted to go to college, I learned to modify my answer from being “MIT and Stanford” to “whichever school accepts me” as kind of a cop-out answer but also a truthful one as there was no point in idolizing a school that would not end up accepting me.
MIT ruined my pi-day. It was my top choice school and they slammed me with my first rejection. It hurt. I ended up moping around the rest of the evening with my other friend who also got rejected. Still feeling pretty down the next day, I opened up my inbox to find an email from Cornell. Instinctually, I clicked on it and was shocked and confused. I spent the next twenty minutes googling “likely letters” before finally arriving at the realization that I had gotten accepted into Cornell. Long gone were the memories of MIT as I rode my Cornell high all the way through my Rice waitlist, USC rejection, and Ivy Day twelve days later when I was officially offered admission to Cornell. The single acceptance made me completely unfazed by my other ivy school rejections and waitlists. I got into Duke a day later much to my surprising seeing as how I decided to start my Duke application two days before it was due, but the excitement didn’t last long because I had so much built up anxiety and stress leading up to Stanford decision day. It especially doesn’t help when you’re quite literally surrounded by the Stanford buzz that comes from attending Stanford Online High School.
Alas, I got waitlisted. With a yield rate of 80%, the dreams of the school that I had held on to for 4 years shattered. That night I wallowed in my sorrows in the darkness of my room while scrolling through the Cornell meme page on my computer to console myself. To be perfectly honest, I had kind of forgotten about Carnegie Mellon. It had always flown under my radar, it didn’t have the flashiness of an Ivy/Stanford/MIT even though I knew they were a tied for #1 top Computer Science programs. It’s crazy how it worked out that my last college decision was my Carnegie Mellon acceptance the next day, which pulled me out of my Stanford slump. Looking back, I’m so incredibly blessed with the acceptances that I got and the fact that I even had tough choices between so many top schools. I’d like to think I have no real regrets about how my applications went and I now prefer to think of the schools that I got rejected/waitlisted by as simply not good fits for me even if I had thought at the time that they would be.
- Carnegie Mellon University School of Computer Science* (RD)
- Cornell University* [Hunter R. Rawlings III Cornell Presidential Research Scholar] (RD)
- Duke University* (RD)
- Georgia Tech** [Stamps President’s Scholarship Semifinalist] (EA)
- Purdue University*** [Honors] (EA)
- Rutgers University*** [Honors] (EA)
- University of Maryland College Park*** [Honors] (EA)
- University of Wisconsin Madison*** [Honors] (EA)
- Columbia University* (RD)
- Rice University* (RD)
- Stanford University* (RD)
- University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign* (EA)
- University of Pennsylvania* (RD)
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology* (RD)
- Princeton University* (EA)
- University of Southern California* (RD)
Reach* Possible** Likely***
(EA) Early Action, (RD) Regular Decision)