College Decisions


I had four college choices:

  • University of Texas at Austin
  • University of Chicago
  • Carnegie Mellon University
  • Cornell University

California Institute of Technology (Caltech) was a fifth possibility as it offered me a spot on its waiting list; however, I decided to reject the offer and instead choose among certain acceptances.

My decision was mostly based on location and cost. After living in Austin for nine years, I felt it was a time for change. It’s not that I have anything against the city—Austin is a wonderful heck of a place. But I wanted to get out of Texas, and have that idyllic new experience. When I began college applications in the fall of 2009, I only had one choice in state: UT Austin—I didn’t apply to Texas A&M University or Rice University, as many of my schoolmates did. (I noticed an interesting pattern in my acceptances/waitlists/rejections.)

That said, money was a also pretty important issue, if not the most. UT’s list price was approximately $24,000 per year, while other schools I applied to had list prices of over $50,000 per year, up to $57,790 per year (UChicago). This is of course changed by scholarships and financial aid, but this was a striking difference. Would it really be worth an extra $25,000 to $30,000 per year for a “better” education? And would it actually be “better” at all?

Regarding my interests, I would probably say I’m an intellectual. And UT does have great academics. My primary interests right now are in math and science (I listed mathematics as my first-choice major), but I do think I would enjoy a liberal education. UT’s undergraduate studies are split into multiple programs; I chose the College of Natural Sciences and the College of Liberal Arts. This actually a reflects a sort of liberal arts change in myself just the past year: Had I applied for college one year earlier, I think I would have picked engineering instead. This would have been a great fit at UT as the Cockrell School of Engineering is very strong and ranks in the top ten engineering programs in the nation. I’m not saying the other programs are not good—the Dean’s Scholars and Plan II honors programs in the College of Natural Sciences and College of Liberal Arts respectively were both very attractive, especially Dean’s Scholars. I attended an invitational for this and was really pleased with the atmosphere, the openness, the excitement.

The other three schools I hadn’t visited, but I found plenty of helpful information on their websites (*edit: later on, I did visit UChicago). I researched a lot into UChicago, and also spend much time looking into CMU, though not as much. For both I also had a helpful alumni interview with an interviewer who was very excited about the school. I thank both of you! For Cornell, however, I barely reviewed its website, and was not contacted for any interview.

UChicago was the first to give me a real acceptance. (UT has this 10% auto-admission rule, and being admitted to somewhere to which you know you are going to be admitted is nothing like being admitted the normal way.) I was very happy, and one main thing it had going for me was its strong math department. Of course, it’s also renowned in economics, and I saw possibilities in a math/economics mix. As an Early Action admit, I also received various gifts from UChicago, including a calendar, various post cards and letters, a course catalog, and a scarf. Plus, other publications it sent to me struck out as a very intellectual school—the one I remember in particular is “The Power of Ideas.” Admittedly, that title is pretty cheesy, and the letter accompanying it even acknowledged that, and that it should be a much, much, longer name. Basically, the pamphlet was filled to the brim with intellectual curiosity, and that got a two-thumbs up from me.

The next acceptance letter came from CMU, about three months later under the Regular Decision cycle. I was somewhat disappointed as I was accepted to the Mellon College of Science but waitlisted to the School of Computer Science. In my interview, my interviewer and I discussed the Computer Science program a lot, and that was the main reason I applied. So, at this point, it was UT versus UChicago versus CMU. We decided to check off CMU. (When I say “we,” I mean to include my parents.)

Soon came Cornell. UChicago versus Cornell was a very hard choice. I had still not yet received the financial aid decision from Cornell, so I was considering UT with slightly reduced cost (small scholarship from Dean’s Scholars honors program), UChicago with a massively reduced cost, but still significantly more expensive than UT, and Cornell with unknown cost. But I had expected Cornell’s financial aid to be about the same as that of UChicago, so the choice was basically between UT and some out-of-state school. (By the way, UChicago did offer more aid than CMU, so that was another reason for rejecting CMU.)

Then arrived Cornell’s financial aid decision. This was the most shocking document I received in my entire college application run. Cornell basically offered far, far more than UChicago, bringing the cost of UT and Cornell to the same price range, with Cornell still slightly more expensive. (I guess one thing the Ivies have more than other schools is money.) And because Cornell’s academics are comparable to UChicago’s, we took UChicago off the list. Finally, we were left with two choices.

UT versus Cornell. Money was mostly out of the question. Cornell would probably come out ahead in academics, that is, even when compared against two honors programs. Since Cornell still costs slightly more money, we concluded that the academics and financial concerns cancel each other out.

So now it was a question of style and location. I chose Cornell.


Cornell Class of 2014!

6 thoughts on “College Decisions

  1. Congrats on choosing a college! I know you’ll do superb given your smarts and unique talents. The chart (15% rule) you made was a very interesting concept as well. Good luck with all Sean, and if you need anything just holler.


    1. Thanks Jackie! Hey I might see you soon–I signed up for a UChicago visit with Mark before I decided on Cornell (I might as well visit UChicago anyway, perhaps to anticipate grad school), and Mark was planning to visit Northwestern the next day. I thought I would tag along. That should be on the 17th.


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