By Brandie Hanson, 18, North HS (Torrance)
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Brandie was excited when her acceptance letters arrived.

It was early November of senior year right before UC deadlines. I glanced at another piece of mail from UC Davis and thought, “Maybe I will apply to some UCs.” So I stopped what I was doing, filled out the application online, wrote a personal statement and an essay in two hours and had my mom look over them. Then I clicked submit and went out to dinner with friends, feeling good that my UC, as well as my Cal State, applications were done.

I’ve seen that college applications were a stressful time for so many of my classmates, but it didn’t have to be. Friends were spending hours stressing over their college essays and personal statements—one had 16 drafts. I was in calculus last year with seniors who had stayed up all night working on their essays and didn’t do their homework. Many were applying to competitive schools like USC, UCLA and UC Berkeley just because of the name, but these schools were out of reach for them. Knowing which schools were within my reach, I eliminated the pressure on myself.

My goal isn’t to be rich, it’s to be happy with my career. So where I get my degree from doesn’t matter as much as a location where I will enjoy myself.

My focus was public schools close to my home

Junior year I thought of colleges near the beach—my home away from home—like San Diego and Santa Barbara. I didn’t want to go out of state or up north because I wanted to be  no more than a couple hours from home. Cost didn’t seem to be too much of an issue because I am an only child and my parents have been saving for my college education since I was little. I ruled out private colleges because that would be wasting money since I wasn’t worried about where my degree is from. I feel I can get a great education at my choices because I’m a firm believer that it’s not the school, it’s how much work the student puts into it.

When I took my first SAT, I went in with a goal of 1800 out of 2400, which seemed realistic. I received a 1750 on my first test. Instead of taking SAT prep classes, I took the SAT one more time later in the year. I got a good night’s sleep, ate a healthy breakfast and knew what I was getting myself into. I got a 1790, one question away from my goal!

I began to make a final list of colleges I would apply to. At the beginning of junior year I had toured UC San Diego and knew that was where I wanted to go. My best friend, Arohi, goes there and I stayed the night plenty of times. We’ve walked to the beach, going down the cliffs that are right across the street from her college—it takes only minutes. I’ve looked through her notes and watched her do homework and it is not as hard as I would’ve expected. And I love the layout of her dorm. It’s a suite with five rooms and two students to a room. Each suite has a bathroom, no communal bathrooms! But I knew I couldn’t count on getting into UCSD so I had to research other options.

I wanted to major in journalism because I love to write. I found schools that fit my criteria mostly by listening to what everyone around me had to say. All my teachers talked about how Cal State Long Beach has good programs for everything, including journalism. My environmental science teacher tried to convince me to go to UC Davis because he knows I love the environment and Davis is an eco-friendly campus. Looking through a UC brochure I learned that most of the UCs, including UCSD, don’t offer journalism as a major. I turned my attention toward San Diego State University, which offers journalism, as well as a few other schools.

In September of senior year my English teacher took us to the computer lab to research colleges on a website our school has called Naviance. After looking at Naviance I saw that my GPA and test scores were similar to those of students at my school, North High, who had been accepted to UCSD, UC Santa Barbara, San Diego State and Cal State Long Beach. That made me even less stressed about getting in.

College app time in October rolled around quick. Yet I was prepared. I applied to five schools: San Diego State University, San Francisco State University, Cal State Long Beach, UC Davis and UC San Diego. Some friends applied to as many as 10 schools.

I found a school with everything I want

Turns out that I got accepted everywhere I applied. I’ve decided to go to UCSD because that is where I am most comfortable. I’ve become more sure that I want to write about the environment when I become a journalist. I can major in environmental science or double major in communication and creative writing. I plan on writing for UCSD’s newspaper, The Guardian, and I am going to try to be a part of student government. Even though there isn’t a journalism major, I can still get experience and be a short walk from the beach.

Since I was realistic about applying to college, it didn’t take over my life. I have two friends whose parents made them take SAT classes for two years and yet there was no improvement in their scores after three tries. It took a toll on my friends. One cried after receiving rejection letters because her mom kept telling her she could’ve done better. But I believe that my friends, classmates and their parents are forgetting the main goal when choosing a college: to go somewhere that makes you happy and allows you to pursue what you want to do.

If you liked this story, you should check out some other L.A. Youth stories about college …

How I chose the right college. Jennifer, 18, had her mind set on the East Coast until she realized she could get a great education and be happy close to home. (November – December 2008)

Q & A: Getting ready for college. A counselor answers questions on how to prepare for the application process. (November – December 2008)

Applying for financial aid. Starting early made it easier for Sasha, 19, and her parents. (November – December 2008)

College: How we got accepted. Our special package on getting into college includes inspirational stories from students at San Fernando HS, advice from a teacher and a reality check from Geraldo, who almost let the pressure get to him too much. (October 2006)

Other stories by this writer …

Eating right while eating out. After learning she had high cholesterol, Brandie, 17, made her diet healthier. (January – February 2009)