It’s hard to believe that seven days ago, I was still completely unsure of what road I would take come this fall. I remember sitting down with my family at our dinner table as they patiently listened to all the bottled emotions I unleashed during an intense internal battle of what college to attend. To Cornell or to Berkeley, that was the question.
Since emigrating from China at the age of nine, I’ve lived happily with my family in the bustling and thriving Bay Area, home of arguably one of the best public university in the world – University of California, Berkeley. Although I didn’t initially understand why Berkeley was special, it has grown on me over the years, so much that I set my ultimate college goal to getting into UC Berkeley. I’m not sure if it was the frequent campus visits, my college friends’ enthralling tales, or the inspiring stories of Berkeley alumni that made me sure Berkeley was the place for me.
It’s wholly impossible for me to describe the overwhelming joy I felt the day I received my Berkeley acceptance notification. It was 4pm on March 24th when the Berkeley decisions were released online, and I had an iPhone in hand, ready to check my admission status by 4:01. With shaky fingers, I held my breath and logged into my account. As soon as I read the word “Congratulations”, I exhaled loudly and took one slow breath before the tears streamed down from my eyes. The moment was simply priceless.
I was admitted into the Industrial Engineering and Operations Research within the College of Engineering at Berkeley, which is ranked as the third best overall undergraduate engineering school in the country by US Weekly. I thought I was sure about enrolling at Berkeley the day I learned of my admission into its Class of 2015, but little did I know that eight days later, I would receive great news from an Ivy League school – Cornell University.
Two summers ago, I had the extraordinary opportunity of living Ithaca, New York for three weeks to take a Hotel Administration course at Cornell University’s Summer College program for high school students as part of the Ivy League Connection. To say that those were the best three weeks of my summer would be an understatement. I can’t honestly remember having so much fun while still learning so much about the hotel industry and business in general. On top of that, I met many students from all over the country and around the world, and I can honestly say that they are some of the most interesting people I know! Truthfully, my three weeks at Cornell was one of the most (if not the most) eye-opening experience I’ve ever had.
Although I enjoyed my time at Cornell, I didn’t expect to get into Cornell Engineering – the best undergraduate engineering program out of all the Ivy League schools in the East Coast. After recovering from the pleasant surprise of being admitted, I decided to seriously consider Cornell as an option since I had such a wonderful time in Ithaca two summers ago. By the first week of April after all of college decisions were released, I narrowed my list of schools down to UC Berkeley, Cornell, Rice University in Houston, Texas, and Harvey Mudd College (part of the Claremont University Consortium) in Claremont, California.
Once my family and I paid a visit to Southern California to visit Harvey Mudd and UCLA, I did some critical thinking and further narrowed down the list to Berkeley and Cornell. Both Harvey Mudd and UCLA are wonderful schools, but I got a sense that they were not really a good fit for me. (A word of advice to all rising seniors: Personal fit is a very important yet often neglected factor that should be considered!) After conversing with students and professors at Berkeley and alumni of Cornell as well as my school teachers, friends, and family, I came to the conclusion that regardless of which school I picked in the end, it would not be a bad decision in terms of academics, student life, personal fit, etc. The deciding factor was whether I wanted to stay close to home and live in a familiar environment or venture out to the East Coast and try something new.
This was the toughest decision I’ve ever had to make. To say so otherwise would not only be an extreme understatement but also a lie. With that said, I want to stress that this was also one of the most exciting decisions I’ve ever made. (Oh, the paradox?) For those who do not know me, I love new adventures, whether it comes in the form of a refreshing trip with friends or a challenging physics project. And what could be a better way to truly indulge myself into adventures, one after another, than to move across the country for the next four years?
Although there are other more rational reasons why I chose Cornell, ie smaller student-faculty ratio, more undergraduate research opportunities, and better funding/less budget cuts, the most important one was being able to spread my wings and leave home for four years to see how I can handle living independently. While comfort is something we should all seek as we grow older, we should all endeavor to embark on some adventures while we are young. And I truly believe that the adventures that push us beyond the boundaries of our comfort will help us discover something new about ourselves.
This was one of the best rewards I reaped from being a participant in the Ivy League Connection. My summer at Cornell was the first time I went to a new, unfamiliar place without my family. While there were stressful times when the work load was too demanding and my group mates were in disagreement, we all learned to handle the difficult situations that were thrown at us. Because of the friendly environment at Cornell, I ultimately walked away feeling confident that I am capable of working through challenging circumstances. With fond memories of the three amazing weeks I spent in Cornell two summers ago, I am more confident that I will soon have four thrilling years at Cornell University. Big Red, here I come!