Referring to herself as a “literal mess,” Elizabeth Gaba ’17 spent Friday, March 24 — the day of the USC decision notification — frantically calling and texting her mom. It wasn’t until she received a text saying, ‘Happy now?’ accompanied by a picture of a big white acceptance package that Gaba could breath a sigh of relief.
“I knew from ninth grade that if I got into USC, there wouldn’t be a single question whether would go,” Gaba said. “The second I got that acceptance, I didn’t even bother checking my other ones. I just immediately submitted my deposit.”
Gaba will attend the USC Thornton School of Music and plans to pursue a degree in Popular Music Performance with a focus on vocals.
Although Gaba remained attached to USC throughout the application process and never lost hope about her prospects of admission, she faced doubt from college counselors and adults. In the fall, her college counselor strongly encouraged her to apply Early Decision to New York University, believing it to be a more realistic option.
Despite these hesitations, Gaba said if she could redo the application process, she would have been more confident in her application and would have applied to fewer schools.
Gaba credits Upper School Dean Chris Jones as her most significant source of encouragement.
“He has never for a second had any doubts in me, and he’s always been there when I needed him,” Gaba said. “That’s just been a great support system throughout this whole process.”
Courtney Nunley ’17 had envisioned herself as a Hoya at Georgetown University. It had been her top choice since the fall, when she submitted her Early Action application and later received an acceptance letter in the mail. Despite her acceptance in December, Georgetown did not notify her of her financial aid package until April, prompting her to apply to both safety and reach schools Regular Decision.
One of these schools was Yale University. She submitted an application expecting a rejection, not allowing herself to seriously consider the possibility of being a Bulldog. But on March 30, “Ivy League Decision Day” Nunley found herself pleasantly surprised.
“I left class right when the time was for me to get [my Yale admissions decision],” Nunley said. “I went to the restroom, and I didn’t know [my classmates] all realized that that’s what I was doing.”
When Nunley calmly returned to class, she said her classmates assumed the worst due to her lack of visible excitement. But it didn’t take long for a student to ask about her admissions decision and within moments, the entire class erupted in celebration.
“For a long time, even after I got the decision from Yale, I was really thinking I’d go to Georgetown, just because I want to go into political science and I thought D.C. was the place to be,” Nunley said. “But I didn’t get as much financial aid as I expected from Georgetown, and it’s not like my mom and my aunts couldn’t afford it. It’d just be a little tight.”
Finances played a role in Nunley’s eventual decision to attend Yale this fall, as she received almost a full ride. However, it was her visit to campus that cemented the decision and prompted her to begin to see herself actively participating in student life at Yale.
“I didn’t want to choose it just because it’s Yale,” Nunley said. “I think you should definitely go with fit. I think that’s a lot more important than prestige. Yes, the college you go to will have some influences on jobs and things like that, but I feel like it’s more than a name on your resume. You’re going to have to spend four years there, maybe more, so you’re going to need to go somewhere where you feel comfortable and that you think it going to be good for you.”
During Yale’s admitted students weekend, Nunley met with professors, attended a constitutional law class and was impressed by educational policy program within the political science major. She was also drawn to the many extracurricular opportunities, particularly Yale’s club volleyball team and a capella groups.
“I like that everybody at Yale didn’t seem like they have to fit into one bubble, that they could do a ton of different things,” Nunley said. “I feel like I’ve been involved in a ton of different things in high school, and I wanted a college that would support me doing that too.”
Wesley Chang ’17 has been coasting through senior year since he received his acceptance letter from Pomona College in December. But prior to receiving the admissions decision, he had been relying on his verbal commitment to swimming at Pomona, which he worried would fall through. Chang said three days before the application deadline, he was notified of the possibility of being rescinded due to issues with junior year grades.
“That was the most stressful part of the college process: not knowing what I was going to do,” Chang said. “Not knowing after I verbally committed if I had other options and had to look for something else.”
All of Chang’s concerns soon dissipated. He looks forward to majoring in Economics and International Relations at Pomona and credits his interest in economics to the AP Micro and Macro Economics Course at Harvard-Westlake. Chang said he is also excited for the independence that comes with living in a dorm and the freedom to enroll in broad range of classes relating to his specific interests.
In addition to anticipating the next four years at Pomona, Chang is still focusing on ending his high school swimming career on a high note. Both he and the Harvard-Westlake swim team have had success during the current swim season.
Recently, the team placed ninth overall at the 2017 Southern Section California Interscholastic Federation competition, which was the team’s highest placement in school history. Chang was a finalist in the 100-meter breaststroke race at CIF.
This summer, Chang will travel to Croatia to train with the Croatian National Teams and will compete in the Swimming Junior Nationals in Indianapolis.
Looking back on the college recruiting process, Chang stressed the importance of demonstrating interest to schools, even “reach” schools, as well as the advantages of communicating with coaches from a wide range of institutions.
“My advice is to start filling out college questionnaires and recruiting forms early,” Chang said. “Even if you think you don’t have a shot at a school, just fill them out because the schools can give you insight about what you should do about other colleges. I wasn’t fast enough for Harvard, but they still helped me out, finding different schools and contacting other coaches for me.”
Unlike many of his classmates who are moving hundreds of miles away from home, Tony Kukavica ’17 will be doing the opposite this fall. He plans to attend the California Institute of Technology, which is only five minutes from his house — roughly 55 minutes closer than Harvard-Westlake.
“I’m looking forward to staying really close to home,” Kukavica said. “It is so convenient, so I should definitely take advantage of [the proximity]. I’m also looking forward to being in a city where there are so many resources to pursue my various interests in sciences, violin and chess. There is just so much availability.”
Having already been accepted to CalTech Early Action, Kukavica was accepted to the University of California Berkeley as a Regent Scholar and waitlisted at Harvard University, Yale and Stanford University in the Regular Decision pool. Although he is mentally set on CalTech, Kukavica is still actively pursuing the Stanford waitlist and said that he would have to seriously consider both options were he to be admitted.
With less academic pressure since December, Kukavica has been focusing on his extracurriculars, particularly violin and chess. His chamber music group at Colburn won a national competition in March. Kukavica has been coaching chess and running the Chess Club by organizing tournaments for Harvard-Westlake students and selling shirts.
Kukavica said he found waiting for admissions decisions, especially after submitted his Early Action applications, to be the most stressful part of the college application process.
For him, the essays, while a burden, were not as stressful because of his time management and head-start on essay writing during the summer before senior year.
Kukavica’s advice for rising seniors is to not stress on a singular component of the college process.
“It is all part of a bigger picture and no one thing can ruin what you have worked for, for all these years,” Kukavica said. “Just relax, be yourself and things will work out.”