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Rising first-year files: The importance of a great college fit

June 21st, 2022

Talk of creating a “balanced college list” is commonplace in the world of admissions but some may wonder, what does it mean and why is it important? Finding the best college for you always begins with self-discovery. What are your core values, your interests, your goals? Then identify the priorities you are looking for in a school: academic, social and financial.

As many of you know, here at Shrop Ed we advise students to break up their college list into three categories of admission odds: red light, yellow light and green light. This is a crucial part of the process so students can remain realistic about each school’s degree of selectivity. Regardless of admission chances, we urge students to think carefully about whether each college on the list truly feels like the right fit.

In today’s blog post Luisa, a Shrop Ed advisee, is kind enough to share her story of navigating the application process. Luisa had her sights set on Harvard and like so many applicants, had to readjust her sights. She was admitted to another Ivy and other highly selective colleges, but ultimately found that her green light option provided an amazing set of opportunities as well as a warm and inviting environment. With the help of her balanced college list and following her intuition, Luisa found the right fit as a Turing Scholar at the University of Texas, Austin. We are grateful that Luisa was willing to share her story, as so many students may relate.

Luisa’s experience of navigating the college admissions process is shared below…

Like many second-generation immigrant kids, I was raised on stories of how the previous generation grew up poor, thousands of miles away in their home country. They saved hard, studied harder, and made their way to the land of opportunity. They made their families proud, and now it was my turn. I had to go to Harvard.

As I couldn’t exactly apply only to Harvard, I applied to eleven schools total, only one of which was a green light school. Though most would probably not consider UT Austin a green light (especially for my major of Computer Science), as a Texas resident I knew I would at least be auto-admitted to the College of Liberal Arts because of my academic record. Besides, I wasn’t really going to go to UT.

In January, I received my UT decision. I’d gotten my major of Computer Science as well as been accepted into all three honors programs I applied for: Turing Scholars (CS honors), Dean’s Scholars (College of Natural Sciences honors), and Plan II Honors (Liberal Arts honors).

I was already excited just to receive the obligatory acceptance letters in the mail. To my surprise, there was something else written on the letter from Turing Scholars. I got a personal handwritten note from the director of the program, and with it, a first inkling that there might actually be something special here.

In March, I attended the Turing Scholars open house event alone. Professor Lin, the director of Turing, waved me over from where I was awkwardly hovering in the corner. I was already freaked out to be talking to him, and even more so that he actually recognized my name. Again, there was that sense of something special—something I’d never felt with another school. After spending the day learning about Turing, that sense grew into the strangest feeling that I’d found somewhere I belonged.

An eternity crawled by before Ivy decision day finally arrived. 

Like the vast majority of Harvard applicants–and vast vast majority of non-ALDC (recruited athletes, legacies, those on the dean’s interest list, and children of faculty and staff) applicants–I didn’t get in.

Still, I had been accepted into Rice, UCLA, and Dartmouth.

Of those three, Dartmouth was the top choice. At the admitted students’ day in Hanover, I learned that to be a Dartmouth student, I’d have to take a 100-person-large intro to CS class, be limited to a max of four classes a term, and have far greater requirements in Government and English as part of their liberal arts education. If I wanted to do research, I would have to go around asking professors, as there’s no established undergraduate research program.

Even when I tried to be present, while walking across the Dartmouth Green or sitting in on a sample Linear Algebra lecture or visiting the little shops lining the streets of Hanover, I found my mind wandering back to what I would have at UT Austin.

At UT, I would be one of 50 Turing Scholars in a department of 600 CS majors for my year. I’d take front-loaded classes with the same small cohort of Turing Scholars–five honors CS courses in the first year–a structure that allows 75% of Turing Scholars to get internships as freshmen. A requirement of the program is to write and defend an honors research thesis, many of which have been published and presented at conferences. As a Dean’s Scholar, I would write another research thesis. I’d also be automatically admitted into UT’s Freshman Research Initiative where I could spend up to two semesters in a research stream of my choice, ranging from autonomous robots to fish behavior. Truly a STEM kid’s paradise.

I was caught between the old dream and what was growing into a new dream that was all my own. Blinded by “prestige,” it took another eternity to realize the old dream wasn’t right for me. Dartmouth was not what I wanted. Even Harvard wasn’t really what I wanted. I’m proud to be a Longhorn of the class of ‘26, and I wish you all the best of luck as you fine-tune your college lists to represent what you truly want.