My brothers and I are triplets, and we applied to college together. This morning, one of them sent me a screenshot of a letter—on this day two years ago, we were all rejected by one of our “reach” universities. At the time, I remember being devastated. My dream school, after a long and arduous application process, only gave me a letter of rejection. I would never walk on their quad, go to classes in their halls, and meet friends in their dorms. I was destined to go to somewhere else.
Looking back, receiving that rejection letter was one of the best things that ever happened to me.
Without that rejection letter, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Illinois is the perfect school for me, and there’s no other college in this world that I would pick over it. However, that’s only clear to me now, after I’ve attended this school for nearly two years. As a high school senior, it may not be easy for you to clearly see which school is the best choice for you. I hope that this post helps guide you through the process, or at least gives you an insight into the factors in my decision two years ago.
Ask yourself, “What am I looking for?”
You’ve spent the past couple of months filling out applications to prove to universities what you can provide for them. Now, it’s time to flip that question around and ask what the university can offer you.
What are you trying to get out of your four years at college? Do you want a bountiful supply of research opportunities? Would you be more successful at a large or small college? Will you miss your parents and want to stay close to home?Make a list of things that are most important to you. At the end of the day, YOU are going to be the one attending the school, and it’s vital that YOU are happy. Find the things that give YOU the best deal.
The most important things to me were academic opportunities and campus life. I wanted to lead a work hard, play hard lifestyle, and Illinois offered exactly that. I’ll delve more into exactly what I was looking for later, but just remember as you read on: it’s time to think about YOU.
Does your college provide the right academic environment?
In high school, I knew I wanted to major in Astronomy, or at least minor in it. Because of this, I was looking for a specific range of schools. Very few schools offer astronomy courses, let alone a major in the field. Fortunately for me, Illinois offers an Astronomy major and has a relatively large astronomy department.
As I plan to attend graduate school, these academic factors were extremely important to me. I need to take advanced astrophysics courses and conduct research as an undergraduate to prepare myself for a career in science. Illinois just so happened to check off those boxes.
However, I was able to make these decisions because I already knew exactly what I wanted to do. Asking yourself if Illinois is the right academic environment for you might be difficult, especially if you’re undeclared. Nonetheless, that doesn’t stop you from doing research. Go through your department’s website. Check out their areas of research. Scroll through the courses they offer and see if you find any particularly interesting. Illinois is an incredibly academically diverse school, with more than 150 different undergraduate programs. Chances are, there will be something for you.
How about life outside of class?
Although your primary goal should be to earn a degree and get good grades, your life outside the classroom is equally important. After all, college is a place you’re going to be living at for four years—putting your head down and grinding for all that time may not be productive or healthy. Having something that you enjoy and find fun is essential to not getting burnt out all the time, and it should be something you consider when picking out colleges.
Before coming to Illinois, I was a rugby player on my high school’s team. Professional sports is not what I want to pursue as a career, but I have immense fun playing, and it keeps me in shape. Fortunately for me, Illinois’s rugby team is very active and is a great way to keep in touch with my hobbies while at school.
Think about what you’re looking for in extracurricular involvements. Is there a sport you played in high school that you want to continue? Do you want to get involved with societies within your major or career interests? How about joining a fraternity or sorority? With more than 1,800 registered student organizations at Illinois, you’re bound to find something that matches your interests.
Apart from being a player on the rugby team, I volunteer with environmental organizations and am part of a social fraternity. All of these experiences combined with school allows me to lead a balanced lifestyle and stops me from being too caught up with school all the time. However, keep one thing in mind; although it’s good to be doing things outside the classroom, you are at college to go to school. Balance your lifestyle well, but keep your priorities in mind.
Are you making the right choice?
Picking the “right” college for you isn’t easy. I remember going through thousands of department pages, student clubs, and campus photos. After nearly two years, I firmly believe that I made the right choice. Illinois is the college for me.
Nonetheless, I can’t give you a definite answer on what college you should attend. Each individual has their own different preferences and will be looking for their own things. However, it’s a decision you should try to make independently—after all, YOU are going to be the one attending college. Think about what’s important to YOU.