I just went on a long journey called the college decision process, and I’m happy to announce that it’s finished, once and for all.
It began with a wild scramble to find any possible college name to include on my spreadsheet.
I heard about Bethlehem College & Seminary several times, and then a friend went there. Tiny school in Minnesota started by John Piper. Added it to my list.
My dad mentioned that Wheaton College was near Crossway Publishing. I jotted it down. (Learned later that John Piper went there.)
Purdue University was listed as a “best buy” in my college books, and an online acquaintance mentioned that it had responded to the COVID crisis well. It went on the spreadsheet. Later I took it off because it was a huge, public university and I was trying to narrow things down. Somehow, it found its way back on my list again.
Onward Through Obstacles
Then my adventure wound through new obstacles I never faced before: application deadlines upon deadlines, reference letters and more reference letters, interviews, fee waivers, and … dun dun dun … the FAFSA (which actually didn’t take that long).
Since my ambitions were pretty high, UC Davis was my “safety school.” It turned out that I could apply to a few UCs all at once, and my fee waiver covered them, so I added in Berkeley and a few others. Just for fun—I didn’t bother to apply for financial aid for those or anything.
In the end, I probably had applied to about nine or ten colleges altogether. Little and big, Christian and secular, public and private, and mostly out-of-state.
(Although my parents lament my impending departure out of the house and across the country, it’s their fault that option was open. They were both out-of-state students.)
Decision Notifications and Financial Aid Packets
My first acceptance letter came around Thanksgiving. It was Wheaton College. And after doing some research, it turned out that there was not one Christian publishing house around there … but several. Although it was competing with Bethlehem College & Seminary, Wheaton was my top choice for a while.
As more acceptance letters came in, I wasn’t as excited about them. I explained this to my celebrating parents. “Yeah, the acceptances mean that they want me—but when I get the financial aid packets that will tell me how much they want me.”
We got our financial aid package from Wheaton, and it was encouraging. Incredibly, the remaining costs matched up pretty closely with the set cost for Bethlehem College students, even though Wheaton’s tuition was much, much higher. God was blessing us.
But it was Purdue’s financial aid package that shocked us. The scholarships and grants for the first year would cover tuition, room, and board…. I couldn’t believe it. Public universities were supposed to be expensive for out-of-state students! My heart lifted a giddy praise to God for opening this door. I felt a little bit like He was calling me to a secular school to be a witness for Him, but at the same time, I didn’t want to jump to conclusions too quickly.
College Visits Adventure: Days 1-3
In late March, my mom and I set out to visit these top three colleges of mine. We started by flying out to Chicago, because it was near Wheaton College. We shared a row of seats on the plane with a lady named Jessica, who did us a favor and took a beautiful picture of the city from her window seat.
At the end of the flight, I got a decision notification from Washington & Lee University, another college I had applied for. By this point, the closest thing I had gotten to a rejection was being waitlisted by UCLA. But I had NO interest in considering any more colleges besides my current top three; I was already so torn!
My mom and I were eager to learn if this might be my first rejection letter. Jessica was amused by our overly enthusiastic response to what was, indeed, a rejection.
We had a real Chicago pizza that day—delicious!—and then went to Wheaton for the “myWheatonDays” event the next day.
Pretty much everything about Wheaton was amazing. It clearly had strong academics and a diverse community of people who loved Jesus. The students were crazy enthusiastic. (If you mentioned any state out loud, even in a classroom, someone would whoop!) And overall, the visit was incredibly spiritually uplifting.
Wheaton was the only college I stayed at overnight, so I really got to know students and experience the community. Before the trip, I was pretty sure that it would take me a solid two years to adjust to college life, and a lot of the adjusting would be pretty lonely and miserable. But getting a taste of college life at Wheaton was super encouraging, and made me even more excited about what the fall might hold.
Plus, I got to see the ACTUAL wardrobe that inspired C.S. Lewis to write The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The real thing!!
College Visits Adventure: Days 4-8
The downside of Wheaton was that it left me with a horribly dim picture in my head of what Purdue must look like. If that was what Christian community looked like, a gigantic public university must be awful in comparison!
You see, I’ve grown up in a Christian bubble, and practically all my friends are people who go to church. But I don’t want to isolate myself forever and be afraid of non-Christians. I want to reach out to them and hear their stories. I want to be like Jesus. He didn’t just eat and talk with people who were already righteous—he ate with sinners and thieving tax collectors (Mark 2:15)!
I still felt this in my heart after I left Wheaton, but I was pretty sure I wouldn’t like Purdue. I was so glad to be wrong.
(I’ll share more on exactly why Purdue is awesome later!)
During this part of the trip, I got to stay with my aunt and her new family. It was delightful. And then I received another notification decision …
I was accepted into UC Berkeley. Bragging rights!
It was crazy how much God was blessing the results of this college decision process. I didn’t need to take the SAT, so I guess my GPA and extracurriculars were enough on their own. I’m not sure if I would have liked Berkeley, or if they would have had enough housing, but it did make me wonder if I should have applied for financial aid and considered it further.
College Visits Adventure: Days 9-12
Two colleges down, one to go! We drove our rental car to Minnesota to see Bethlehem College & Seminary. While we were there, we got to see my “Minnesota Grandparents” (childhood friends of Dad’s) and their family for the first time in several years, as well as my aunt and actual grandma, which was very sweet.
Bethlehem College seemed like the kind of place I would be very happy at. Studying theology and great books at a tiny school with friends and family around me. Chapel was wonderful—better than Wheaton’s in my taste.
Since I was the prospective student from farthest away, I won a gift card to their lovely little bookstore. Of course, I spent it on a monster of a Bible storybook to stuff into my luggage for my little sisters.
But the college seemed a little too small after visiting Wheaton and Purdue. I wanted more opportunities than they could offer, to explore my other interests, dive into a more niche major, consider studying abroad, internships, etc.
In the end, I loved and can fully recommend each of those three colleges. I could only choose one, though, and my final choice was Purdue University.
As I promised, I need to get a little deeper into how my visit to Purdue went and why I liked it. Some of these are valid things I was thinking through, and others are just random (snow!).
- I got into the Honors College, and the visit was great. The mock class was fun, the location of the residential hall was great, and they spoil the students with bigger dorm rooms and other perks. It is very selective, so its size of 2,000 students makes the university feel a little smaller.
- I also liked the business program, and the Purdue OWL Writing Lab is very well known for its helpful resources.
- I hear the weather is horrible, and I’ll probably suffer a lot of the time, but we got to see a beautiful dusting of snow!
- It’s kind of in the middle of nowhere, but the financial aid might make up for that, because I’ll be able to spend more money on educational opportunities I’m excited about: writing conferences, traveling elsewhere for summer internships, possibly studying abroad….
- It has good safety ratings!
- It has a big name, so I don’t have to be afraid of how it will look on my resume, or of it needing a long explanation whenever I mention it.
- My mom reminded me during the trip that you can find Christian community anywhere, and it was true. One of the Q&A students mentioned that she went to church when she was talking about extracurriculars, and Mom bumped into another Christian mom super quickly on the tour. There seem to be some good churches around the area and Christian clubs, too.
- Speaking of Christians, I’ve kept in touch with my online writer friend who goes to Purdue. She has been so incredibly helpful and answered so many questions for me. Sadly, I wasn’t able to meet up with her during the visit, but I’m looking forward to meeting her in the fall!
- From what I’ve picked up, Purdue is not a party school. It seems to have lots of nerds pursuing double-majors and doing internships, which is just the kind of atmosphere I want.
- Looking at data from Niche, it seems to be a lot more politically balanced than most colleges. I like that!
Purdue isn’t perfect, and it’s going to be crazy transitioning to college life in the Midwest. But the more I think about all the factors, the more I see what a great fit this could be for me, and the more I’m thankful for this opportunity. Overall, I’m just really excited to see what God does with my life this fall.
Time for some random questions and answers!
What will your major be?
I am currently enrolled into Purdue’s College of Liberal Arts as a Creative Writing major. However, I would really like to do a Marketing major in the Krannert School of Management, because I can see a lot of ways that would stretch me and practically help me with my goals. I’m thinking I’ll either double-major or do Marketing with an English-related minor. We’ll see!
What is your advice for highschoolers beginning the college decision process?
First of all, research and apply for lots and lots of scholarships! If nothing else, it will build up your arsenal of reference letters and essays for when you begin applying for colleges.
Second, take some dual-enrollment classes with a local community college. So many reasons to do this:
- It’s usually free!
- There are sooo many class options.
- Thanks to COVID, you can do it online!
- Dual enrollment courses actually are much easier than AP courses in my experience, but they still look amazing on your transcript and resume.
- They’re a great way to test out majors you are interested in.
- You get credit for college, which means you’re ahead of the game before you even enroll!
Third, keep a spreadsheet—or multiple spreadsheets—with all your potential colleges and their info, with all your deadlines to meet, with financial aid info, etc., etc. It will keep you sane!
What are your career plans?
My dream job is to work at a book publishing house. Perhaps as an editor, maybe helping with book launches … haven’t figured that out yet! But if I could find an internship at one, it would be an amazing opportunity to explore things further.
Maybe I’ll even start my own business one day once I have some experience under my belt. I still want to publish a book or two! In the meantime, I’m enjoying my part-time work with Duran Kinst Strategies.
What do you think?
Congratulations, you made it to the end of a 9-page blog post! (I hope you skimmed it.) Have any questions? Any stories to share? Leave a comment below!
Note: While I could have referred back to many details (such as what order I heard about the colleges, when I started each step of the decision process, etc.) … some creative license was taken with the chronology of events in this article.