The Bell Tower on UC Riverside’s main campus. (Los Angeles Times)

Opinion

Column: How I chose my college

As you get closer to your college years, remember, your happiness is just as important as a good education.
<a href="https://highschool.latimes.com/author/joliewng/" target="_self">Jolie Wang</a>

Jolie Wang

May 25, 2022
This year was one of the most competitive years for college applicants. Since many colleges made SAT/ACT scores optional or unnecessary, the number of applicants for UCs reached an all-time high, making it harder for everyone to get admitted. I, along with a number of my friends, didn’t get into the UCs we wanted to go to.

In April, most college decisions were out, and we only had a month to decide which college we wanted to spend the next two to four years at. My classmates had already started committing to their college of choice, declining any other college admission offers they had and everyone was posting about their commitment. While it seemed like everyone else had made their pick, I was still deciding between a few colleges.

I didn’t think it would be this hard to make a decision. When I was in elementary school, I had a friend whose sister went to California State University, Fullerton. She told me her sister went to school Tuesdays and Thursdays and had every other day of the week off.

Right then, I told myself that I had to get into CSUF no matter what. Who wouldn’t want a schedule like that? Now I know, making a decision on which college to go to isn’t as easy as that and class schedules are different for every student depending on your major and the classes you take, not which college you go to.

Among my admission offers, I was torn between the University of California, Riverside, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and Purdue University.

To help me decide, I visited all three of these colleges and these visits heavily influenced my final decision. Visiting the campus is really important because you definitely want to see where you’ll be studying for the next four years.

I attended UCR’s Highlander Day, which is a day for admitted students to get to know the campus better and see all the programs and clubs UCR has to offer. When I got to the entrance of UCR, I noticed how modern and bright the campus was, and I felt welcomed immediately. I was able to see the main cafeteria as well, and it smelled pretty good in there. UCR has convenience stores on campus as well as different stores like Subway and The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to see what the dorms looked like because I had somewhere to be in the afternoon. However, my friend sent me pictures of what the new housing building, Dundee, looked like.

It was really modern, and since it was relatively new, I thought it would be nice to stay there in the future. The campus isn’t too big, so I figured I could walk or ride a bike to get to my classes. Overall, UCR felt really comfortable and the students seemed very friendly.

Contrary to my overall good impression of the UCR campus, I didn’t really like the fact that the area around UCR was practically deserted. There were only roads and empty pieces of land beyond the campus parking lots. UCR has a nice campus, but the college itself is just built in a really bare location. Without a car, there’s really nowhere fun you can visit during your free time.

During my spring break, I flew out to Chicago with my family to visit UIUC and Purdue. I looked online beforehand to see if I could schedule any campus tours, but UIUC and Purdue’s tours were all fully booked for the college I was admitted to. So, my family and I just decided to walk around the campuses ourselves.

First off, UIUC is huge. The campus is so big it would probably take me an hour to walk from one end of the campus to another. Second, UIUC’s buildings are very old. Most universities in the midwest and on the east coast were built in the 1800s, so the architectural style is older than colleges on the west coast.

Trailing behind one of the campus tour groups, my family and I were able to see one of the dining places of a residential hall. It was like a food court at the mall; there were so many restaurants lined up next to each other and it was very spacious, so there were many places to sit. UIUC also has one of the largest libraries in the U.S. on campus.

The location of UIUC is also pretty nice; Green Street, a well-known street in Illinois, is right next to UIUC, and there are lots of restaurants nearby within walking or biking distance.

After walking in circles for a good 15 minutes, my family and I finally managed to find the English building. Inside, the interior design was very old, and the lighting was very dim. It also looked like a typical high school hallway, and it wasn’t very refreshing to see. I wouldn’t want college to be a repeat of high school; I wanted to experience being in a new environment.

The next day, we drove two hours from Chicago to West Lafayette to visit Purdue. The weather was so horrible on this day; it was windy and rainy, which meant that we couldn’t visit the campus for as long as we would’ve liked.

Purdue is even bigger than UIUC, though it didn’t feel that way since we didn’t get to stay very long. The buildings are also very old, but I liked it better than UIUC. Even though the exterior looked ancient, the interior was quite modern.

Purdue also had a multitude of unexpected things on campus; they have two of their own golf courses, and they even had an airport! I would’ve never imagined a college to have its own airport.

Purdue’s location was very convenient; there were many places to eat around campus, and it was all within biking distance. However, I didn’t see many Asian restaurants nearby; there were a few Chinese restaurants, but it was mostly fast food and other restaurants that served common American foods like burgers and french fries, and this worried me a little bit because I love Asian food and I cannot survive without it.

Since it was raining when we were walking around campus, we took shelter in the closest building to us, which happened to be the English building. A student opened the door of a classroom, so we took a peek and it looked like a courtroom. This gave me a bad feeling, and I realized I didn’t want to be attending classes in an intimidating room like that.

After flying back home, I opened my laptop and decided to submit my statement of intent to register for UCR. Something about UIUC and Purdue just didn’t feel right to me. I didn’t feel like I fit in with the school, and I couldn’t really see myself studying there for four years.

When choosing a school to attend, I think it’s important to take weather into account. As a Californian, I can barely handle 50-degree weather. When I went to Illinois and Indiana, the temperature was averaging in the high 40s, and at night it was around 35 degrees.

Note that spring had already started, yet it was still freezing. I knew I wouldn’t survive living in Illinois or Indiana, especially during the winter.

Ultimately, I chose UCR because it was closer to home, the dorms were nice and the campus felt comfortable. California weather was also something I was used to. Since I’m looking to be a teacher in the future, I need to get my teaching credentials in California to be able to teach in the state, so it would also make more sense to stay here for college.

As you get closer to your college years, remember, your happiness is just as important as a good education. Choose a college that you will enjoy studying at. As the high school Class of 2022 heads off to the next chapter of their lives, I hope committing to a college goes smoothly for everyone.

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