Why I Chose Illinois
I’m going to be completely honest with you—Illinois wasn’t my first-choice school.
I’m from Illinois and grew up hearing about University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign my whole life. Because my mom is an alumna, I also grew up coming to campus for football games and tailgates. I’ve owned Illinois swag since I was born. I even went to orchestra camp here for a few summers.
When it came time to start looking at colleges, I never really gave it a thought. It was too different from what I (thought) I wanted, and I was sick of Illinois this and Illinois that.
Instead, I wanted to go somewhere far away from home (preferably a state away, at least). Somewhere small. Somewhere private with a liberal arts focus. Somewhere with maybe Division II sports, but probably Division III, because I didn’t really need to be part of that sports-centric atmosphere.
Basically, somewhere the exact opposite of where I ended up.
I wanted to escape far from my hometown to somewhere I could still feel at home.
So how in the world did I end up at Illinois?
1. It was the best bang for my buck.
I could get in-state tuition at a world-class institution and end up graduating with significantly less debt than I would have as a student elsewhere. Importantly, I was also applying without a major to all the schools I was interested in, so my decision couldn’t be based on the quality of one academic program but the quality of many.
At the time, I was learning toward majors in either the College of LAS or the College of Business here at Illinois, and I knew they were both going to provide me with a great education.
2. I would have seemingly endless opportunities.
I was dazzled by the sheer number of things I could be a part of as an undergraduate, from research to student organizations to musical ensembles. A big school means a lot more things to be a part of, which was something I didn’t really consider early on in my college search. I was too freaked out by the idea of being one of the many in a giant lecture hall and drowning from a lack of individualized attention.
And all the things I wasn’t a part of myself—theatre productions or groundbreaking innovations—I could benefit from. I could do really cool things, like go see superb plays (staged by Theatre students) and get to take classes with serious innovators in their fields.
Also, Champaign-Urbana is a metropolitan area that’s a lot more exciting than where I’m from, so I could see live music, eat at great restaurants, and catch a bus ride home to the Chicago suburbs pretty easily.
3. It was close to home, but not too close.
I really did want to get away from home when I went to college. After all my acceptances came in, I decided that Champaign-Urbana being about two hours from my hometown was just far enough that my parents wouldn’t visit constantly and I wasn’t tempted to go home all the time.
However, if something bad happened or I just wanted a quick trip home, I was close enough that my parents could come running and a weekend at home wouldn’t be a big deal.
4. I could make a big school feel small.
I could do this through my extracurriculars and picking the right residence hall. I lived in Allen Hall my first two years of college, and I loved it. I could take classes in the basement and free music lessons every semester; attend cool talks by artists, writers, and inventors; and hang with a diverse, friendly microcosm of campus. I wanted that artsy, warm-fuzzy small liberal arts college feel. That’s what I got at Allen.
I also realized that getting to know professors/TAs and asking for help would just have to be a priority. Big classes can feel a lot smaller when you work hard, go to discussion sections, and attend office hours. At Illinois, I would have to be my own best advocate, and I knew myself well enough to know that I would battle through shyness or intimidation to get help.
5. Academics would be the right amount of tough.
I think there’s a lot of value in feeling a little stupid. If you already know everything, then why even bother coming to college?
I wanted to go somewhere where I’d be challenged, and I really have been here. Classes that have been most satisfying and most worthwhile have been the ones that frustrate me, make me work really hard, and sometimes don’t end in quite the grade I wanted.
It’s good to be a smart person, but it’s even better to be a hard worker. (Come to Illinois, and you’ll be surrounded by them.)
6. I went to an Admitted Student Day.
Before applying to Illinois, I had only ever visited here with a tourist mindset. I needed that campus visit to rethink Illinois as a place where I’d be living and learning for four years.
I went in the middle of April my senior year, definitely leaning heavily toward Illinois, and by the time I was sitting with my parents in Potbelly on Green Street, I had made my decision. Touring, asking questions, and really getting the vibe for what kind of place it was and whether I would fit in sealed the deal.
The rest is history.
As always, please comment with any questions for me!