The Path to My Dream School


Liz Steddin

I remember the first time I stepped foot on the campus at my dream school. Surrounded by tall redwoods, fresh air, and vibrant students, I immediately decided I had to become a UC Santa Cruz banana slug. 

Following my junior year, I jumped at my first opportunity to study at the university. I moved into a cramped dorm room with two roommates at the end of June, and began a 5-week study program. 

The curriculum was rigorous, and the fact I was the only high school student in all of my classes often overwhelmed me. However, my classmates not only went out of their way to welcome me, but helped me access studying tools, and find my way around the city of Santa Cruz.

After the session ended, my intentions were crystal clear; I absolutely needed to get in. My personal college counselor and I spent weeks critiquing essays, brainstorming activity descriptions, and honing my UC application until it seemed perfect. 

I spent the next four months biting my nails and overthinking my pending decision. 

All of a sudden, on the 16th of March, I opened up my student portal, and there it was. My dream school had declined me. I was shocked, and in a bleak state of disbelief. I must have read the message a dozen times, each time expecting that my mind was playing tricks on me, and I was somehow misreading the decision. 

I knew that I had to do what I could to fight the decision. I reached out to people I knew who had written successful college appeals, and also did research on the side in order to determine what decisions I could make in my writing in order to give myself the best shot at overturning the rejection. 

Unanimously, I was instructed to reach out to anyone I knew who worked for UCSC and request they write me a letter of recommendation. Luckily, I had become close friends with my residential assistant, who I still frequently talked to at that time. 

He gladly accepted, and wrote a glowing letter about how I interacted with other students and professors, and referenced the times I had reached out for help with papers, and collaborated with others when my curriculum toughened. 

In addition to that, I wrote a cover letter in regard to the book I had spent my senior year writing and ended up publishing. This project was omitted from my original application. I focused on how the proceeds of the book were going to mental health organizations, and my other contributions to my community.

At this point, I truly believed that my appeal couldn’t be any stronger. I foolishly convinced myself that I was in, and after reading my letters, the school would absolutely have to accept me. 

I started to act like an incoming UCSC freshman. I researched the school, pictured myself there, and even almost bought another hoodie (thanks mom, for talking me out of that). I couldn’t let go. 

About a month later, I got another email. They still couldn’t take me, the best they could offer was a place on the waitlist. My eyes traced each word of the letter, as tears formed around them. In addition, my disappointment was in the context of losing prom, graduation, and an exciting summer job in Yosemite, all due to COVID-19. 

I had to move on after that. I put in a deposit for Seattle University, and geared up to spend the next four years in a rainy city. This was, and still is, the next best place to be in my opinion. 

I got rid of all UCSC gear I owned, and forced myself to move on from what was once my goal. From then on, it would be all things Seattle U, with no exceptions. I replaced UCSC with SU, found roommates, friends with similar interests, and began an audition for the Seattle University dance team.

At that point, when I was least expecting it, another email popped into my college inbox. “CONGRATULATIONS” was written in bold, as Sammy the slug danced across my phone screen. 

That was it. I committed immediately, and am now gearing up to move back into the school of my dreams. 

This entire process tested my patience to an extent I didn’t think was possible. The college application process is unpredictable; nothing is promised. No matter where you have or will end up, the most important thing is being open to wherever the cards will fall, and willing to fight for what you want, but prepared if it doesn’t go your way. Everything will work out, I promise.