Senior speak: colleges

Alice Chien and Ellen Wang

After tumultuous months of refreshing Gmail inboxes for some response from colleges, the tables have turned. By April, colleges have chosen the students that best fit their school, and students must choose the college that best fits them. As one of the first major decisions in a student’s adult life, it is important for students to separate the notion of “best match” from “highest ranked” and choose the environment that best fosters personal growth by considering factors such as programs, student life and more. The Howler interviewed several seniors on which factors influenced their college decisions the most.


Mansi Achuthan – Cal Poly San Luis Obispo (SLO)

Ultimately, it came down to two choices: SLO and Carnegie Mellon (CMU). After being accepted to SLO, I started reading about the school’s Computer Science (CS) program, which I quickly learned was top notch. I really liked the “learn by doing” philosophy and small class sizes. I was set on attending SLO until I received my acceptance to CMU. At first, I was all over Carnegie because of prestige, and I thoroughly enjoyed visiting the campus and talking with professors and students. In the end, it came down to my major. I got into Information Systems at CMU, which is an excellent program, but I am currently more interested in learning the technical aspects of CS versus its applications in business. I also did not receive much aid, so I was looking at a $40,000 difference per year, which did not make much sense considering my future plans for masters. Additionally, I got into the honors program at SLO; priority registration for classes is helpful since CS is so impacted. 

Here is my advice to underclassmen: choose a school because the program you were accepted into caters towards your interests, not because it’s a highly ranked school on US News.


Rion Morita – Waseda University

Going to Japan was a risk because I knew the environment would be very different than Irvine. I chose to go to Japan because I wanted to go back to my motherland to learn and appreciate more about my culture. I feel like living in America most of my life has not given me the opportunity to connect to my Japanese side. I also chose Japan because I knew it would be a fun experience, given that the small city is filled with new things to discover. 

A tip is to branch out from all of the standard colleges that most people go to. Just because your friends are going, doesn’t mean that it will be the right fit for you. Don’t chase someone else’s dream. Adding onto that, I think it is important to challenge yourself and become more independent from the Irvine bubble that we are surrounded in.


Sean Gao – Duke University

Deciding between UCLA, Williams College and Duke, I reasoned that with 30,000 undergraduates, UCLA would provide less individualized attention. Furthermore, because I don’t qualify for in-state tuition, UCLA is equally expensive as the other two schools that have more accessible undergraduate opportunities for less students, so I eliminated it from my choices first. After narrowing my options to Williams and Duke, I focused on how I felt at each school. At Williams, I felt closer to the professors than the students; although this was nice, I value strong relationships with close friends more. Conversely, Duke was extremely hospitable; students would gladly show me around campus and clarify difficult concepts during class, and I appreciated how accommodating everyone was in this new environment. I want to be comfortable living across the country and Duke immediately felt like home. Beyond feeling, I also considered academic fit. Being a liberal arts college, Williams focuses on venturing outside your comfort zone to explore new disciplines. While perfect for some, I want to delve deeper into my STEM interests; Duke and the Research Triangle’s myriad opportunities to gain hands-on experience match my academic and professional goals so well I had to attend.


Justin Lee – UC Berkeley

After so many hard decisions, I decided to commit to UC Berkeley! The major factors that were involved in my decision were location, environment and tuition. In the Bay Area, there are so many internship opportunities, labs and businesses where students can gain more experience, and it isn’t as far as the east coast, so I didn’t see transporting from and to Irvine a big problem. Also, I already have an established network that I can reach out to in Berkeley, and with over 30,000 undergraduate students, I realized that I have so many communities I could potentially develop within. Lastly, tuition influenced me significantly. As much as academics are extremely important, I realized that paying for that education is equally as important. Out of all my choices, Berkeley had the most appealing financial aid and tuition for me. When I did my last minute college decision, I considered these factors just as important as academic quality, because I know all these colleges have exceptional education. 

Some advice for choosing a college is to visit and see if you can imagine yourself going, learning, living and being part of that college and its community!


Linh Huynh – University of Pittsburgh

Financial aid and program compatibility were the two most important factors in my college decisions process. Financially, Fordham and Florida were my best options, as my National Merit finalist status earned me full scholarships and benefits like research stipends. However, Fordham’s only compelling STEM factor was its 3-2 engineering program with Columbia; I also eliminated Florida and the UC’s, as large undergraduate populations would offer few research opportunities in my first years of college, and I wanted a balance between classroom and experiential learning. I chose Pitt due to its 2-4 guaranteed pharmacy program and a merit scholarship award. The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC)’s extensive hospital network and the generous National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding Pitt receives would allow me to work in both clinical and lab settings. From freshman research to pharmacy rotations, the pharmacy faculty really emphasized accommodating individualized studies.

The stigma around choosing a college without prestige initially bothered me, but my decision was ultimately a choice best for my circumstances. College is not the defining achievement of one’s high school career; there is much more during these four years that speaks to a person’s accomplishments and character, and they can’t be overlooked!


Nadia Sawaf – IVC 

Honestly, I would have never thought of attending community college because of the stigma against it, but choosing IVC is probably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. The tuition is much less expensive compared to a 4-year university, where I would be taking the same general education classes anyways, and the class sizes are smaller which allows me to have closer relationships with my professors. Through the Honors Program, I’m also given the opportunity to transfer to most UC schools, including UCLA. By going through this route, I’ll definitely have an easier transition from high school to college and I’ll also have more time to decide what career I want to go into. Another reason why I chose IVC is because I personally don’t feel ready to leave home, since I have a really close relationship with my family. 

My advice to underclassmen is to just do what’s best for you!


Deborah Ehrlich – Ringling School of Art and Design

By the end I had narrowed my way to two that had the motion design degree I was looking for: Otis School of Art and Design and Ringling School of Art and Design. I defaulted to committing to Otis, which is a good school and fairly close by. My main fear of choosing Ringling was the distance. However, at a glance, I could find that the technology and opportunities at Ringling would be unparalleled at my other schools. The motion design program there starts head on, giving me the time to develop in my major, while most other schools require a foundation year in a traditional medium. After I got some pep talks from my parents, I decided to switch over and now I’m all aboard the Ringling train. 

For advice, I’d say that the Internet is usually your best friend when looking for art colleges. It’s not going to be the easiest thing to try and get college advice at a more academically inclined school like Northwood, but I find it best to look through YouTube, see what work comes out of the schools and talk to someone talk to Mrs. Rohrs.