Search for home: Seniors hear back from dream colleges


Photos submitted by Kitty Jong and Catherine LaMendola

Priyanka Hardikar, Staff Writer

Two days before her 18th birthday, senior Catherine LaMendola received the email she had been anticipating for two weeks. She opened the attached PDF file and read it repeatedly until she was sure that it was real.

It wasn’t just any email. It was the acceptance letter to the college of her dreams, McGill University.

“I brought my laptop out to show my mom, and she was like, ‘You need to call your dad and tell him about this,’” LaMendola said. “When I called him and said, ‘I got in’, I started crying happy tears. This was, again, another moment when I knew that McGill was where I wanted to go. I was so overcome with happiness and relief that I couldn’t contain it.”

This past summer, while she was browsing the Internet, LaMendola came across an article about the recent increase in American students studying abroad. LaMendola’s mom encouraged her to consider schools in Canada, which she said were foreign, but not too foreign. LaMendola said McGill fit the bill perfectly for her, with its Ivy League-quality education for $17,000 a year and its prestigious title “Harvard of Canada.”

“I had a hard time picturing what I was getting myself into, and what really signed it for me was the campus visit in October,” LaMendola said. “When I stepped onto campus, I knew that this was the place where I wanted to be. What really set it apart from other schools were the people that I met. Everyone I talked to, from the kids who were going to school to the professors who lived in the city, were really friendly and accommodating to me. I feel like it’s a city full of people who I will fit in well with. The way the college is set up and surrounded by the city makes for a great location. I can literally walk across the street and be in the heart of Montreal. The campus is really beautiful and with the leaves changing, it was really picturesque.”

Applying for McGill did not require writing essays.  LaMendola said the application process was very straightforward, and only required basic information – test scores and a high school transcript.

The application process for University of Texas at Austin was more time-consuming for senior Kitty Jong. Jong applied for the design program, which required her to submit an art portfolio. As a two-dimensional artist, Jong said creating the three-dimensional pieces needed for the portfolio was her greatest challenge.

“I really wanted to give up at one point,” Jong said. “The only thing that kept me going was the hope that I would get into UT.”

After a three month wait, Jong received her decision letter at the end of March.

“It was a Saturday morning, and I was still in bed when I checked,” Jong said. “When I saw that I had not been accepted, I was kind of shocked. I didn’t want to believe it at first. When it finally dawned on me that I couldn’t go to my dream school, I just couldn’t stop crying.”

Despite this setback in her journey, Jong was uplifted by her friends’ encouraging words and an acceptance letter to University of North Texas.

“When I was accepted to UNT, I was just satisfied because it made me feel like I had a safety net and somewhere I could go,” Jong said. “I’m hoping UNT will teach me the skills I need to become a successful graphic designer. We have so much to look forward to in our lives and all you can do is continue with life. You can make it better from there.”

To apply to her dream school, University of California at Los Angeles, senior Jasmine Li had to write three essays. One of her topics asked her to write about a place where she came from and how it influenced her dreams. Here, she said she came up with an unusual analogy.

“I talked about how I grew up on this one spot on my couch. As a little kid, I would watch ‘Lion King’, but as I grew up, I ended up studying at that spot instead of only watching TV,” Li said. “That spot became a part of my learning. I always lived at that spot. I would come home to that spot. It was like my own sanctuary. I experienced life at that spot, as weird as it sounds. Altogether, it defined the living room – it couldn’t be truer to living. Everything I learned there formulated my dream and my career path of combing the arts and sciences.”

At the end of March, Li logged on to the UCLA website, anxious to find out about her future.

“I was just really nervous. The next four years – they’re a big change in your life,” Li said. “I finally refreshed the UCLA website, and the login showed up. I logged in, took a couple of deep breaths and clicked the link. I had to close my eyes first. After I opened my eyes, I saw the banner with ‘Congratulations’ on it. I was really surprised and I jumped up and screamed.”

Like Li, senior Schuman Chen said she worried about her decision letters. She said the stress of waiting got to her.

“I knew that it would be months before I would receive any decisions, but college decisions were always on my mind,” Chen said. “Not knowing when I would receive the decision letters made the waiting process that much more stressful. I looked forward to and dreaded every decision letter that came my way. Every time I saw a letter in my email or the mail, I would feel an irrational surge of hope, only to be met by bitter disappointment.”

After receiving rejection letters from her dream schools – Rice, Northwestern and Emory – Chen posted an encouraging status on Facebook. Chen said she hoped it would remind others who were dealing with a similar situation that they weren’t alone.

“I told them that these rejections don’t determine where they will end up in life – that this is a beginning, not an end,” Chen said. “I told them that they still have a chance to accomplish everything they had hoped to accomplish and to have the courage to chase their dreams and to make improvements in their lives.”

Recently auto-accepted to UT Austin, Chen plans on applying for the biology program there. She said she is looking forward to a new beginning.

“Now that I’ve decided to go to UT and have done my research, I couldn’t be more excited to go,” Chen said. “I have a feeling that I belong at UT and that I’m really going to like it there. Now that I think about it, I’m really glad things turned out the way they did because this experience has taught me to be courageous and to not let fear stand in the way of achieving my goals. This experience has taught me to accept the events of my life as they are and start planning ahead for the next step. Life does not end with one rejection or even for eight. Life keeps going on, with the future bringing many new opportunities. College doesn’t define who you are as a person. Only you can do that.”