The college admissions process is a major part of any high school senior’s life. It brings feelings of stress and anxiety associated with the grueling process of completing applications and the seemingly never-ending wait for results.
As documented by numerous YouTube reaction videos, the process produces an intense range of emotions with students crying tears of immeasurable despair and then bursting with tears of absolute joy, all in the span of a minute.
Despite these emotional challenges and additional difficulties due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Palisades Charter High School seniors have continued to excel and have shown that their hard work has paid off.
Sean King, University of California, Los Angeles
Sean King will attend the University of California, Los Angeles this fall. He will be majoring in Materials Engineering at the Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. King said that he fell in love with materials science after visiting the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in eighth grade.
“I got into a nice conversation about the nature of materials with someone working at JPL. I asked how they got into this field, and they told me that they majored in materials science and engineering,” he said. “Since then, I started to do research and fell in love with the field.”
Going into the college admissions process, King said that he did not have a dream school. He applied to 13 schools, and initially, he said he was simply hoping that “at least one of them would take [him].” He ended up getting accepted to all of the schools he applied to, with the exception of Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley, where he was rejected and waitlisted, respectively.
King said that his decision regarding where he was going to submit applications was largely influenced by tuition costs.
“I’m a twin and my parents are teachers,” he said. “I had to get rid of all of the schools that were above UC price.”
He said that he attended multiple virtual career days and major-specific information sessions, which he said were also factors in his decision. Besides these virtual events, King said that he went on self-guided tours armed with additional information about the schools from college students he knows.
As a key piece of advice to future seniors, King said that keeping track of deadlines, especially those for financial aid programs, is important in the admissions process.
Halsey Hulse, Cornell University
Halsey Hulse, a member of Palisades’s varsity tennis team, will be attending Cornell University. Although Cornell was not originally her dream school and was not a college where she expected to get accepted, Hulse said that she is excited to attend and major in either Mathematics or Physics in the fall.
Out of the 25 schools she applied to, Hulse received 11 acceptances, nine rejections and five waitlists. Although she was able to narrow down her list of acceptances to two schools with the help of multiple pro and con lists, Hulse said that choosing between the last two was a big challenge for her and that her commitment to Cornell came down to the wire.
Despite the challenges that arose due to the pandemic, Hulse said that she was still able to go on in-person college tours to several of the schools she got accepted into. However, she said that going on these tours earlier in the school year would have greatly narrowed down the number of schools she applied to in the first place. Nevertheless, Hulse said she believes that getting the opportunity to travel to colleges was a valuable experience, especially due to the widespread shift to virtual tours and information sessions.
“[Going on in-person tours] helps give you the vibe of the place and definitely shows you a lot more than the virtual tours do,” she said.
As for advice to current juniors applying to colleges next academic year, Hulse said that they should “trust the process, however cliche it sounds, because most of the time [the college admissions process] works out and you’ll end up at a place you love.”
Sarah Kageyama, Vassar College
Sarah Kageyama will attend Vassar College and plans to major in Science, Technology and Society. Although not her dream school, Kageyama said that Vassar was “one of [her] top choices” and was a college she said that she was confident in getting accepted to.
Out of her 21 applications, Kageyama received five acceptances, seven waitlists and a transfer option to Cornell University. When choosing which university to attend, she said that she based her decision on factors such as the course offerings, student organizations, connections to other colleges and location.
She said that she ultimately chose Vassar because “it would be a better fit for [her] major and because it was less than two hours away from New York City (making the resources of the city easily accessible).”
As for her major, she said that her interest stemmed from her passion for both social justice and STEM, which she garnered through her experiences in programs and clubs such as Palisades’s Asian Student Union and the LA Mayor’s Youth Council. She said she believes that majoring in STS will greatly “aid [her] in activism through a technological approach.”
Kageyama said that going through the college admissions process helped hone her writing and interview skills significantly. Additionally, it gave her an opportunity to look inwards and learn about her own values and viewpoints.
She said: “I think I finally came to understand that I am more than an application number; I am more than grades, more than test scores, more than awards and more than extracurriculars on a resume. No college decision is going to change that.”
Kalea Martin, Grinnell College
Kalea Martin is headed to Grinnell College as a Sociology major this fall. Grinnell, a small private liberal arts college located in Iowa, is Martin’s dream school.
“When I first heard about it, I was only slightly interested, but as I did more research, I discovered how amazing and unique Grinell is and I absolutely fell in love with it,” she said.
Martin applied Early Decision to Grinnell, and although she was considering colleges such as Oberlin College, Smith College and Allegheny College, she chose not to apply to any other schools.
This was because she saw all of the qualities of an ideal college in her school of choice.
“Grinnell has everything that I am looking for,” Martin said. “It is a small college, has a close-knit community that supports each other, has abundant opportunities for its students, has an open curriculum and has an overall caring, encouraging and great environment.”
At Grinnell, she said that she plans to major in Sociology, largely because of her positive experiences with the Social Justice Pod and a Sociology and Humanities class she took during her time at Palisades. Additionally, Martin said that she is also considering a concentration in Global Development Studies, Policy Studies and/or Peace and Conflict Studies.
An important lesson and piece of advice she gained from the admissions process is to never judge a college based on its location or name.
“I never thought I would be going to Iowa, but now I am super excited to try something different and never would have found the school of my dreams if I let its location deter me,” Martin said.
Grace Binder, University of California, Los Angeles
Grace Binder will attend UCLA in the fall and plans to major in Biochemistry. She said she chose the major because it was “truly a cornerstone of [her] academic interests.” Besides aligning with her interests, Binder said that she chose to major in Biochemistry because she “found the interrelatedness of cell structures and composition with atomic structures and chemical formulas fascinating.”
Like King, Binder “went into the application process with no expectations or dream schools.”
She applied to a total of 11 schools, getting accepted to all but two of them. When considering which colleges to apply to, Binder mentioned that she considered a myriad of factors, including location (she preferred major cities), majors offered (she looked to see if either biochemistry or molecular/cell biology was offered) and campus resources such as tutoring and research.
Binder also said that she had the opportunity to go on multiple in-person college tours before the COVID-19 pandemic and that “some tours reinforced [her] decision to apply to certain institutions, while others eliminated [her] desire to apply.”
Based on her experience, she said that her most important advice to the rising senior class is to trust themselves and all of their accomplishments. She also stressed the importance of being positive, as she said that it made the admissions process so much easier for her and is a tip she will apply to stressful situations in the future. “
As long as you remain true to yourself in your application and demonstrate passion for what you want to accomplish in college, [you should] keep a positive outlook for the future,” Binder said.
Kayla Sadaghiani, University of California, San Diego
President of the California Scholarship Federation and Senior Representative Kayla Sadaghiani will be attending the University of California, San Diego this fall. Sadaghiani said that her college admissions experience was “bizarre,” as she felt unsupported at times because of the “absence of the college center and not getting to speak to your counselor in person.”
She applied to six colleges, receiving three acceptances and three rejections.
Initially, UCSD was not an option she was seriously considering. “This was not my dream school, and it wasn’t even in my top three,” Sadaghiani said, adding that she “wasn’t even considering UCSD if [she] got in.”
However, after visiting the campuses of UCSD and UC Santa Barbara in person, she said that she “felt right at home” on the UCSD campus. In addition to the campus, Sadaghiani said that she preferred the university because of its proximity to home and its financial aid options.
Sadaghiani will be majoring in Anthropology with a concentration in Climate Change and Human Solutions.
She said that although she was originally going to choose Molecular Genetics as her major because of her goal of following the pre-med track, she switched to Anthropology to “make [herself] stand out by choosing a non-STEM major.” She said she picked Anthropology and Climate Change because of her fascination with the different aspects of the human experience and the increased importance of climate change in today’s society.
Sadaghiani’s advice for rising seniors is to “begin writing your essays in the summer because that is when you will likely have the most free time.” She also recommended having a group of people to review the essays and reaching out to colleges about financial aid.
Palisades seniors faced multiple obstacles during the college admissions process, most of which were caused by the restrictions posed by the pandemic and the increased competition due to test-blind policies. However, all seniors interviewed agree that the process has taught them valuable skills that they will implement later in life, such as staying positive to relieve stress and never judging something by initial impressions or assumptions.
The general thoughts of the 2021 admissions process were summed up by Binder: “It was a rollercoaster, but it was manageable.”