Jack is a senior in Houston, Texas. He attends a public magnet high school.
Last month you were trying to decide between Brandeis and Pitzer. Which did you choose? Or did you go a different direction altogether?
Funny story! I chose UH! While the financial packages at Brandeis and Pitzer were amazing, they still weren’t enough, and my appeals for both colleges fell through. I decided that taking on so much debt from these schools after I graduate wasn’t worth it, and while my parents said they would help me, I also would’ve felt guilty if I did decide to let them shoulder a bit of the burden while I’m attending one of these colleges. But I still really want a higher education experience that’s away from my home and from what I’m familiar with, so I think I’m going to try again after one or two years and transfer after having some more money saved up. Or maybe I’ll find some amazing opportunity or otherwise end up being really attached to UH and decide not to transfer after all? I have some ideas for how I can navigate my future and aspirations from this point, but I’m also trying to keep an open mind, so, for now, I think I’ll just wait and see where this goes.
How did you make your final decision? What were the factors, and what was the deciding factor?
The deciding factor has always largely been financial. Trinity and UTSA gave me really janky financial aid, and they weren’t on the top of my list, so I didn’t consider them. UT, Pitzer, and Brandeis had financial aid packages that were comparable, and I could see myself really thriving in these institutions because of a number of factors--distance from home, academic rigor and opportunities, social and cultural fit--so it would ultimately come down to which institution would offer me the most aid. They were barely affordable, but I figured they would be more within reach after submitting requests for more aid. After the financial aid appeals fell through, I had to fall back into my more financially viable option, UH. I had a hard time making this choice--I did a lot of hypothetical bargaining and compromising for my other schools before settling on UH. But I knew I could grow into this decision eventually because, ultimately, UH is a great school, and I know that I can make a fruitful and fulfilling experience out of any college. Things didn’t turn out the way I wanted them to, but I think it was the right choice to make, and I feel happy with all the work I’ve done to have had these choices to make in the first place.
Did you agree to stay on the waitlist at Oberlin or American? How does that affect your thinking about where you've committed? Do things still feel kind of up in the air? Or are you set on your path?
I didn’t really think twice about Oberlin nor American after ending up on their waitlist; I liked these schools, but they were never at the top of my list, so I never followed up. I got into schools that I loved--Pitzer and Brandeis--so I decided to dedicate more of my time and energy on these institutions. I applied to a lot of colleges, so I needed to compartmentalize and move on and be productive so I could maximize the chances of attaining a future that I wanted for myself. I didn’t really have the time or emotional energy to grieve on all of my waitlists or rejections (but I would make time to process from time to time). I’m still striving for a future that fits my own needs and desires regarding what I want out of a higher education experience--that hasn’t changed--but I needed to make adjustments to my Grand Plan for getting there. When my financial aid appeals for Pitzer and Brandeis fell through, I needed to move on, consider my other options, deliberate, and make decisions, so I think my need to be systematic and deliberative gave me a sense of closure that I needed to move forward.
How does it feel to be finished with college admissions season?
It feels undoubtedly liberating. The college admissions process is layered with so many things to stay on top of--deadlines, documents, interviews, essays, scholarships--that it could get hard to manage (or ignore) that foreboding cloud of responsibilities persistently looming over my shoulder. It was taxing, and there was always a next step in the process that needed to be taken care of.
At the same time, I actually enjoyed the experience. It gave me an opportunity to reflect deeply on who I am--what threads of my history informs me, what defines me, what inhibits me, what motivates me--who I aspire to be, and what I can claim for myself in this world. Writing essays about myself and thinking about my past and future was a cathartic experience because I’ve never had to really think deeply about myself in this way and articulate some of these aspects of myself, and I felt more secure in myself and my aspirations by the end of the process.
College admissions is a stressful endeavor, but I’m more grateful than I am relieved that I undertook this process in the first place and approached it genuinely.
If a current high school junior asked you for a single piece of advice about college applications, what would you tell them?
With both the high school experience and the college application process, I think it’s important to stay genuine. Think deeply about who you are and project this best version of yourself in a way that’s genuinely you. I feel like people who try to “cheat” the system by declaring a less-competitive major, taking that 5-point blow-off class you have no interest in, or writing or talking about an experience that they were never really invested in or wasn’t that impactful (or was never even experienced) because they think it would impress an admissions table, or because they think that’s what they’re looking for, is detrimental in the long run, and can even backfire. In essays and interviews, the story ends up being cliche and broad because they end up falling back into that narrative of what they think admissions wants to hear, and because the lack of investment means that they’ll tend to talk in passive generalizations instead of being able to really dissect the emotions and the impact it’s had on them. And a lot of times, admissions officers can also sense when a person isn’t being genuine. They read so many hundreds of applications that I’m sure they’ll be able to pick out the applicants with passion and authenticity and the applicants trying to act the part. Furthermore, being genuine allows you to feel more secure in your college choices, because you can know that colleges accepted you for who you are, knowing that you would be a great and valuable fit, culturally and academically, for their institution. I think that I really enjoyed my high school experience and the college application process because I took classes I was really interested in and chose extracurriculars that I truly found fulfilling, and I was able to reflect my passion in these areas naturally in my interviews and essays and dive deeply into my growth as a person, thanks to an approach that was less “playing the game” and more gravitating towards personal exploration and growth.
What's left for high school? Is the yearbook finished? How was prom? What else is going on this month?
The yearbook is done and we really couldn’t be happier with how it turned out! Prom is done and it was the most fun I’ve had in a while! I have some things I need to clean up with my club before I finally depart with it after three years and leave it with a new set of sophomores. AP’s are done, finals are next, senior activities week, then graduation!
What are your summer plans?
Get a new job. Replace my driver’s license again. Read (really excited to read for fun again without having to worry about summer reading!), skateboard, write music! I’m also planning on taking a summer literature/film class at UH which I’m really excited about!
Nothing, except I’ve had such a pleasure being able to share my reflections with you!