I first began thinking about college vaguely during my sophomore year of high school in Acton, and my eyes were drawn to small liberal arts schools located out of state—very different from a large state school like the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Mindsets and circumstances changed throughout the years, and ultimately my college search journey led me here: to a place where I’ve made some amazing memories, and a campus I can’t wait to go back to after remote learning ends.
Starting to Research
When it was time to think about my college plans more concretely, my parents told me that I was limited to going in-state. This was best for us financially, since my sister would be a college freshman by the time I entered my second year. With these constraints in mind, I applied to eight total colleges—my top three being Northeastern University, UMass Amherst, and Emerson College. I looked at places that I felt provided many opportunities. Northeastern, for instance, offered study abroad and co-op opportunities that would allow for experiential learning. Located in the heart of Boston, Emerson would give me access to internships in the city, and UMass Amherst had such a strong alumni network. I was also looking for a sense of community — as I grew up with the same group of friends since the seventh grade. Though I wasn’t necessarily shy about meeting new people, I wanted to be able to make deep connections and long-lasting friendships wherever I went to college.
I toured all of my top three schools in the same month, each time with different company. First, my parents and I drove to Alewife station and took the T to Northeastern. While impressed with the presentation given at the beginning of the tour—which highlighted the co-op opportunities—my mom expressed concern over the small dorm sizes. She also thought that it would be difficult for my parents to visit me often, since they weren’t used to driving in the city. I went with a friend to tour Emerson. I knew that it was an urban location, but I was a little taken back when I realized that Boston itself was the campus. While Northeastern had some common grounds and lawn chairs, Emerson had a lot of concrete and busy streets. I knew it was a matter of keeping an open mind, but part of me still wanted a more traditional campus experience. Then there came UMass Amherst, which I toured with my boyfriend at the time and his family. A little miscommunication about timing led us to spend a beautiful August day in downtown Amherst before the tour began. When we got to campus, we were greeted by lively tour guides, vibrant colors, and lots of open space. The dorm rooms were also pretty spacious compared to the ones I’d seen in Boston. I think it’s also worth noting that it rained on both of my city school visits, but it was sunny all day when I went to UMass Amherst. It was kind of poetic and fateful now that I think about it.
Before starting my application process, I made sure to do even more research on my top three schools. I looked closely at the pamphlets given out during the tours, signed up for online newsletters, and made it a point to go to each of the information sessions from recruiters who came to Acton. Something that really stuck out to me about the UMass Amherst info session was when I talked with Jules Lauzier, a first-year admissions counselor who said that UMass really felt like home to her. She said it didn’t feel clique-y like high school, and that we’d always find a community or even multiple communities to join. All of this research allowed me to write detailed supplemental essays for my applications.
The first decision to come out was Emerson — in December of my senior year. I was very happy to find out that I was accepted! Even if I didn’t end up going to Emerson, that first acceptance really solidified the process for me. College was no longer this abstract idea that I had to apply to; I had an actual place to go. My UMass Amherst decision came the day after Christmas, so I treated it like a present and opened it with my family. I felt even happier knowing that I now had a choice of where to go. Northeastern came in January. It was my first rejection, and I took it pretty hard. My sister who was filming my reaction had to cut the camera off, as I started to tear up. I just knew I worked so hard on my application — so reading the letter left me deflated.
There was also pressure from my peers to go to elite private schools, so I felt a little ashamed that my choices were between just one private school and a public state school. At the time, I was volunteering as a Writing Center tutor at my school’s library, where one of the librarians was a UMass Amherst alum. I just remember ranting to her, fully letting out all of my negative and uncertain thoughts.
She told me that the elitist mentality was toxic and that going to UMass Amherst was such an amazing experience for her. She made me realize that I could have access to the same opportunities my peers had at a more affordable price. For instance, if I liked Northeastern’s study abroad program, UMass Amherst has many great ones too! In fact, she was able to study abroad in Australia during her undergrad years. If I wanted an internship in the city, there was news that UMass Amherst had just bought the Mount Ida campus to house student interns in Boston. It didn’t take long for me to see the silver lining.
My family and I attended Destination Day at UMass Amherst on a cold February morning, but we were greeted by warm, welcoming smiles and breakfast pastries. We had Star Ginger for lunch at Blue Wall, my mom was happy to see comfortable-looking dorms, and by the end of the day, I bought my first UMass Amherst sweatshirt from the campus gift shop. I was confident and excited about my decision.
Fast forward more than a year later, and I’m happy to report that I now have my sense of community. I met a lot of new friends but kept a few of the same ones whose journeys also took them from Acton to Amherst. I also have access to all these amazing opportunities, like being a student blogger for UMass Admissions!