High Stakes: Clue one

By Allegra Tepper


Meet Shawn, a self-proclaimed “laid-back” senior who, like the other subjects of this story, will be sharing the trials and tribulations of his collegiate quest with Chronicle readers for the next eight issues.  Shawn is planning to apply to the binding early decision program at the University of Pennsylvania, mainly due to its size and urban environment.

Shawn, whose SAT scores in Critical Reading and Math both rank above the 95th percentile, is relying on his scores to set him apart more than any other part of his application.  While he was a varsity athlete, a junior year injury has barred Shawn’s stats from playing into the equation. Shawn says that if it’s going to have that positive impact he needs, he’ll “definitely play up [his ethnic minority].”

Shawn is undecided upon a major, but believes his best bet right now is history.

“All I know is that after college, I want to go to graduate school or law school,” Shawn said.

If Shawn is not accepted from the early pool to Penn, he plans to apply to approximately 12 other schools, including some of his other top choices, Emory University, University of Wisconsin-Madison and New York University.

“A school’s proximity to a big city is a huge factor, as well as a student body of above 5,000,” Shawn said. “Harvard-Westlake has around 1,600 kids, the size of a lot of small liberal arts colleges. I need to go bigger than that, and I would prefer to get out of Los Angeles.”

Shawn is currently considering five public universities outside of California.  In addition, he plans to apply to six University of California campuses.


Unlike Shawn, Taylor is determining her college list almost solely on her major.  An aspiring performer, Taylor is looking at music conservatory programs like those offered at the Peabody Institute at Johns Hopkins University, Oberlin College and Thornton at University of Southern California.

“I am really unsure about everything besides the [music] programs,” Taylor said. “I have seen the rural schools which I think are adorable, but the resources a city offers for auditions are also really important to me. I would love the experience of going away, but Los Angeles could be good for my career.  I am definitely not applying early.”

Taylor is still “figuring things out” when it comes to her applications. She is in the process of writing her first draft of her main Common Application essay.  While Oberlin is her top choice because of the double degree program in which students can obtain a Bachelor of Music and a Bachelor of Arts in as few as five years, Taylor has yet to visit the campus.  While she hopes to have the opportunity to visit the Ohio campus, Taylor can only be sure that she will have the chance to see it if and when she is accepted.

Taylor believes the biggest factor playing into her college admission will be auditions with music departments.  As for her final choice, finanical aid will most likely trump all other factors. 


Annabelle is adamant about one thing and one thing only: she will not be applying anywhere early.

“I’m indecisive and feel like I need to have all of my opportunities and options open before I can actually make a choice,” Annabelle said. Having said that, Annabelle recognizes Columbia University in New York as her first choice.  A varsity athlete for all four years of high school, Annabelle has been in talks with the Columbia coach, as well as those at Cornell and Wesleyan, but has not been recruited anywhere yet.

While Annabelle speculates recruits could be on the horizon for smaller Division III schools, she is emphatic that Division I athletics are of utmost importance. 

“I grew up in the Pacific-10 Conference,” Annabelle said. “I love Pac-10 schools and I just want to be a part of it.”  Of her list of eight schools, University of Southern California and Stanford are the two that fit those parameters.  While Columbia is her first choice, Annabelle says if given the option between USC and Columbia, making the decision would be unfathomable.

“I hate being in the cold,” Annabelle said. “I would really love to stay on the west coast.  Hands down I am going to [USC or Stanford] if I get in.” Annabelle said the only factor that could possibly trump sunny California weather is money.  She will be seeking need-based aid from all of the schools to which she applies.

Annabelle expects to major in either anthropology, linguistics or sociology.  She has a 3.4 weighted GPA and is working on improving her test scores this fall.  She believes it won’t be the numbers that set her apart from the crowd but her athletics, essays and performing arts involvement. And if all else fails, Annabelle says she hopes her unusual ethnic background will make her stand out from her peers.

*names have been changed