Optimistic about College Choice

By Jelani Hayes on June 26, 2013
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Jelani Hayes

University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pa.
Hometown: Moreno Valley, Ca.

There is something truly liberating about optimism. The term is most commonly used to express positive thoughts about future events, but here I am arguing to use the word optimism to describe past decisions. Put simply, I am very optimistic about my decision to attend the University of Pennsylvania because I believe my future will be brighter, in part due to that choice.

There was never a question about if I would go to college.  My parents ensured that I believed formal education did not end with a high school diploma. College is a rite of passage in my house. It was, however, a question of where I would be going to college all the way until April of my senior year of high school. I ambitiously applied to 18 schools across the rankings spectrum. After being rejected by my top choice, Stanford, I took a leap of faith and accepted my invitation to join University of Pennsylvania’s class of 2015.

In the right place, and loving it
My decision to apply to Penn came rather late, and before deciding to apply I knew very little about the Ivy League school. It doesn’t exactly have the name recognition of some of its sister schools like Harvard, Cornell, and Princeton. Following a very long deliberation, I chose Penn because I was pleased with its academic reputation, I liked the fact that it was in a big city—Philadelphia—and, being from California, I was ready for a change in scenery.

Know Yourself

Having been at Penn for nearly a year and half, I truly cannot imagine myself anywhere else, as cliché as that may sound. I love its academic atmosphere, I have a great group of friends on campus, and I am glad I am getting a taste of the East Coast.

Nonetheless, if I had it to do all over again, I would approach college differently. Getting into college is only half the battle. Once you’re accepted, you enter a world in which your peers come from around the globe. They have different educational backgrounds than you do, and they may be more or less prepared for college academics.

More research would have helped
Upon entering college, I did not know how hard I was going to have to work to maintain my grades. I quickly realized that while some
of my peers were experiencing the same surprise, others who had come from more esteemed high schools and boarding schools were adapting to academic life at Penn with ease. The change from living at home to living in a dormitory was also pretty significant. I was not sure how to balance academics, my social life, and everyday tasks like doing laundry.

Truly, these are lessons most commonly—and perhaps best—learned with experience, but if I were able to do things over, I would have researched how to enter freshman year with the most efficiency. The best resources are the current students at the college you will be attending. In my experience, upperclassmen generally enjoy offering advice. I wish I had made a larger effort to obtain their advice before my first semester.

Above all, however, I am optimistic about my choice to attend college and, specifically, the University of Pennsylvania. This means that despite the small bumps on the way—realizing the dining hall was closed when I was starving and getting by on only three hours of sleep before my calculus final—I am hopeful that my time spent at Penn will prove to be nothing less than a life-changing experience.

This hope is liberating. It frees my mind so I can enjoy college without having to wonder if I made the right decision about what to do post-high school.


Abby Johnson, Wis.

Anjelica Enaje, N.Y.

Jelani Hayes, Pa.

Leah Ferguson, Mass.

Sydney Nolan, Minn.

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Jelani Hayes

Jelani Hayes

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