Thursday, June 23, 2011

Words of a Prospective Wildcat

I was blown away today, but not because we’re in the Windy City.

As you’ve all probably already garnered from the blogs of my fellow Cornellians and their photos, Northwestern’s campus is just gorgeous and filled with incredible, friendly people whom have nothing but wonderful things to say about the place. They love it here, and that is delightfully reassuring.

Today’s tour really confirmed my previous perceptions that Northwestern was THE place to spread one’s wings; it’s a place where one can discover and explore all his/her interests (or even the world via study abroad), while still being able graduate without delay (oftentimes easily picking up design-your-own dual degree) and gaining experience for the professional world. The flexibility and resources available are found nowhere else.

I learned so much about the former Fighting Methodists known today as the Northwestern Wildcats from Josh Bay, our amazing tour guide. The campus architecture is a beautifully eclectic synthesis of gothic spires and their edgy modern counterparts.

As I had anxiously planned, we took a very special photo in front of The Rock (Northwestern’s famous, ever-changing stone drawing board/bulletin/mural/window of expression) by accessing the online RockCam. We went shopping for Wildcat wares, sunned up at the beach at the southern edge of campus, watched college students on the green spin their heads on a rotating baseball bat and crash to the ground in some sort of relay race, and stuffed our faces at Clark’s Diner. I remember smiling to myself when Joe commented that I had picked a great 1st choice school.

It’s so odd that this is technically my first college visit. A fine way to start off!

While the campus tour was a nice surprise, dinner this evening with Northwestern’s Associate Director of Admission, Mr. Aaron Zdawczyk was the real eye-opener, one that oddly left me a bit conflicted.

He is a really awesome guy and interesting conversationalist who Taylor is convinced resembles Jake Gyllenhaal. This is a guy who has been all over, working in places from Wuhan, China (even more humid that Chicago) to Columbia University, and who is happy to say Northwestern is where he belongs. We’re lucky to have him as the admissions director for Northern California.

I will take to heart his advice about the essay portion of the application process. The key is to strike a balance of personal relevance to showcase your best writing and so college admissions officers can get to know the real you. I’m glad Aaron didn’t give us the usual useful, yet tiresomely over-repeated, advice to avoid infamously overused topics such as that trip to Spain or building houses in Costa Rica. The essay can really make or break.

He explained that the components of a Northwestern candidate are “like building a house.” There has to be a balance between a solid foundation of academic excellence built on by extra curriculars and a really strong essay.

Aaron went on to talk about a great many things regarding Northwestern’s amenities and the admissions process, but one topic was of particular attention for me: HPME. He corrected me that the program admits up to 40 instead of 30 people, but I also learned this is out of roughly 800 applicants. 100 are chosen to be interviewed and 60 more are weeded out. It was nice knowing the numbers but mostly daunting.

Aaron also introduced me to a different path. The top Pre-med sophomores at Northwestern automatically gain acceptance to Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine, almost similar to the HPME’s arrangement. However, I have my doubts. I feel like there’s a better chance with HPME because while Northwestern’s campus seems really friendly, it also must be highly competitive since it’s filled with the best of the best. I have no idea where I would stand in the 8,000 undergrads, or even if I can (get accepted). Regardless, I will be working my hardest… wherever I end up.

Then there is issue of financing Northwestern in the first place. While the university has a highly generous financial aid tradition, it would be virtually impossible for me to gain access to it due to personal situations. Their financial aid is need-based and they offer no merit-based aid, except National Merit Scholarship. Tonight, I learned that Northwestern offers $2,000/year in the NMS Finalist scholarships. I know that USC’s NMS Finalist scholarship offers half tuition and University of Miami offers almost a full ride, so when someone put me under the false impression that tuition could be reduced by $25,000 at Northwestern, I should have known it was too good to be true . I feel foolish now, because I had previously thought that I could actually afford to attend the school of my dreams. Now understand that so many National Merit Finalists attend elite schools like Northwestern, so it wouldn’t be logical for such prestigious universities to give all that scholarship money to everyone.

This has certainly been a learning experience. While Northwestern will always be number one in my heart, I am uncertain if I will be listing it as my first choice college with NMS if I’m chosen as a finalist or if I can even afford to attend at all if I’m miraculously accepted either to regular undergrad admissions or (even more inexplicably) to HPME. What I do understand now, is that I should start being more open to other colleges as well.

Dinner at Spiaggia's

1 comment:

  1. Never underestimate the power of actually getting your financial aid letter! I say apply first and then narrow the schools down based on what you'd have to pay. If it's still too much, don't hesitate to send an appeal letter asking them to reconsider (e.g. "Dear School A: School B gave me $10,000 more in financial aid than you did! If I can't get more help paying, I won't be able to attend School A and I'll go to School B instead!") I did it, and it worked perfectly.