College Admissions Decision Part IV: Visiting Colleges and Writing My Application

See Parts I and II and III in my series revealing where I’ll be going to college.

I tried to improve my grades. The fall of my senior year I earned a 3.97 GPA, bumping my cumulative GPA to a 2.99.

Heartened by my improvement, I visited a range of colleges. I visited liberal arts colleges. These kinds of schools are the gem of United States higher ed. Private liberal arts colleges only serve undergraduates, are committed to a broad base of learning, and boast a high student to faculty ratio. My whole family has been educated in liberal arts colleges (Smith, Claremont, Amherst, and Middlebury) and all had tremendous experiences. I also visited large research universities. In a large university there are more resources, more people, more organizations, and more happening, but less face time with professors, a less personal atmosphere, and sometimes overwhelming living situations.

I did not look at undergraduate business programs. I have many real world business experiences and, besides accounting, classroom work wouldn’t enrich it much I think.

I did consider the overall entrepreneurial culture of a college campus. I want to be around kids who dream big and aren’t ashamed of to say it. I considered how passionately students took to the "life of the mind". I talked to professors, studied their programs, and pondered their probable availability for one-on-one dinners and their ability to awaken a classroom. I considered the location and weather of the college. Having lived in San Francisco my whole life, I haven’t seen snow for more than a few days at a time. I like moderate-to-warm weather. Finally, I considered the college’s alumni network – its vibrancy and distribution of careers.

In my application I had 500 words to tell the college about myself. My personal "character" is where I had to shine, given my poor grades. I wrote an essay about "life entrepreneurship," using a Joan Didion quote as a jumping off point. I had immense difficulty crafting an essay that would communicate my four crazy years of high school / Silicon Valley. My (private) attitude was, "Some college admissions people will get it, some won’t, and that’s how it goes."

Some schools, especially small colleges, still do personal interviews. At every school but one where I interviewed, I got in. Given my experience a) interviewing candidates at my own company, b) interacting with adults, c) communicating a sales pitch, I always kicked butt in my interviews.

Throughout all this I talked to adult friends and school peers. I learned early on that books and articles about higher education were fairly useful while the random anecdote by an bachelor-toting adult was usually not. This, of course, is the fascinating influence: everyone who’s gone to college (about 27% of America) seems to have an opinion about colleges and admissions. The problem is the world’s changed. Also, as time passes, cognitive dissonance does wonders. College grads think about those four, long, incredibly expensive years in a way that’s kind on the brain. Sometimes they repeat nice-sounding catch phrases like, "College is all about learning how to think" or "It’s not about the college you go to, it’s about what you get out of it." (There’s some truth in both.) But – but! – all this being said, several adult friends really illuminated this time in my life with characteristic wit, hindsight, and humor, and I appreciate that.

On January 1st I submitted my applications online to a dozen schools and hoped for the best!

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