Senior Year Chronicles: Isabelle
Senior Year Chronicles: IsabelleBy Sarah Leonard, Director, Research & Analysis, Advanced Placement
Throughout the 2016-2017 school year, four College Board staff members talked regularly with four students who were navigating their senior year of high school and preparing for their futures. This installment of the “Senior Year Chronicles” summarizes Sarah Leonard's conversations with Isabelle from Georgia.
After a few minutes of talking with Isabelle Riddle, a senior at Sequoyah High School in rural Canton, GA, it becomes clear she’s someone who recognizes the importance of balance in her life. Part of this may be due to her after-school life as a dancer (she does everything from pointe to hip-hop), but it also manifests itself in her academic attitude. Her favorite classes senior year were AP Calculus BC, Honors Anatomy, and Visual Art. Isabelle has always loved math, and anatomy is a natural choice given her desire to pursue a career in pediatrics. But art is something new.
“This is my first year taking an artsy class, and I have enjoyed expanding my mind in that way,” she shared. “The class helps to relieve stress, and I am learning basic art skills that everyone should know.”
In addition to taking a rigorous course load, Isabelle is a member of the College Board’s Youth Advisory Council, and she is involved in training her Labradoodle, Chloe, to be a therapy dog. “She’ll be able to go [to] libraries, hospitals, nursing homes. I’m hoping to take her into pediatric settings, [which would give] me some experience working in medical settings. I think it’s a great idea to combine dogs, which I love, children, and medicine.”
A little over a month into her senior year, Isabelle was excited about the college application process. “It’s exciting to know that I will attend one of the schools I am applying to now in less than a year,” she said. (On her list: Duke, Emory, Georgia Tech, Harvard, University of Georgia, and Yale). “These senior year steps determine my life’s trajectory in a way, and it is cool—and a little scary—to be making those decisions right now.” However, this great excitement was also her greatest worry—particularly, finding the right college “fit.” “There are so many colleges with so many programs and so many factors to consider that I feel like I can’t make an informed decision about which school would be right for me.”
Fortunately, one thing Isabelle was less worried about was financial aid, thanks to her involvement with QuestBridge, a scholarship program for high-achieving, low-income students. QuestBridge hosts an annual conference focused on the college admissions process, teaching students about preparing a college application and financial aid processes. Isabelle participated in their College Match program, which grants application fee waivers and full scholarships to some of the most selective institutions in the country.
Through her involvement with the program, Isabelle realized that her diversity (she is Native American) is an asset “because I can bring a distinct perspective to a college campus.” She added, “QuestBridge also helped me realize that my income doesn’t have to hold me back. It is important for low-income Native students to understand that there are other options out there.”
By December 2016, Isabelle had applied to four of six schools (Emory, Georgia Tech, University of Georgia, and Yale) and was in the process of finishing applications for Duke and Harvard. Excitingly, she had already been accepted to the University of Georgia and was awarded an academic scholarship!
The planning and research Isabelle put into her college search process could be a model for other students. “I tried to look at several factors when deciding on my college list,” she explained. “I tried to go for a good mix of schools—some close to home, some far away; some reach, some match, and some safety schools; some engineering/research, some liberal arts focused.”
While the application process was about what she expected, other aspects of college-going were more daunting. Isabelle was able to tour a couple of college campuses, visiting her sister at Harvard and attending a summer program at Yale. “I wish I could get to know every campus I’m applying to in this way!” she said.
The other thing she found challenging was the financial aid application process—in particular, juggling college applications with scholarship applications, FAFSA, and CSS PROFILE. While she received a QuestBridge scholarship for juniors in 2016, there was no guarantee that she would receive a scholarship in 2017, and even if she did, the amount awarded varies by institution. As a back-up plan, Isabelle applied to several national scholarships, including Jack Kent Cooke, Ronald McDonald, and Coca Cola.
By February 2017, Isabelle had exciting news on both the admissions and scholarship fronts. She was accepted into Georgia Tech and Yale, bringing her college acceptances to three (she was previously accepted at the University of Georgia), and she had secured $1,000 from the Coca Cola Scholars Foundation. She was now one of 250 finalists vying for 150 $20,000 awards.
Isabelle was eagerly waiting for April 1, when she would hear from four other institutions: Duke, Harvard, Princeton, and Vanderbilt.
Initially, Isabelle thought fall of her senior year would be busy applying for college admission and scholarship awards. Spring, she figured, would be more relaxing. But as a semi-finalist or finalist for several scholarships, she was now entering interview season, and she had three interviews in February: one for Georgia Tech’s Presidential Scholar Program, one for the Coca Cola scholarship, and one for the University of Georgia Foundation Fellowship scholarship (the latter two in the same weekend!).
She was also busy preparing for AP Exams; she took five this year (Calculus BC, English Literature and Composition, Microeconomics, Physics C: Mechanics, and U.S. Government and Politics). While her teachers administered spring practice exams and after school review sessions, Isabelle was a little worried about retaining information from her fall-semester Microeconomics class.
Even with all of these accomplishments, Isabelle was still a high school senior, which meant dealing with a mild case of senioritis. “I think mostly I’m starting to feel burnt out and tired of doing homework and studying,” she said, which was understandable given her rigorous course load and the extra demands of the college search and application process.
After a whirlwind spring, Isabelle finally had a chance to catch her breath and celebrate her remarkable achievements. One of those achievements was being accepted at all nine universities to which she applied: Duke, Emory, Georgia Tech, Harvard, MIT, Princeton, the University of Georgia, Vanderbilt, and Yale.
“I really never expected to be able to say that [I got into all nine schools], but I am so happy it’s true!” she said.
Choosing among the nation’s top institutions is daunting, but Isabelle took a pragmatic approach and made a pro-con list, narrowing her choices to two: Harvard and the University of Georgia.
“Both schools have positives and negatives, so the decision has been really tough even though I know they are both great options,” she reasoned. “Some of the biggest things I’m looking for in my college are pre-med advising programs, research opportunities, and a student body that is passionate about learning and doing whatever it is they like doing. I’m still trying to decide if I want to be far away from or near home, though.”
In the end, Isabelle’s pro and con list helped her make her decision. This fall, she’ll be a University of Georgia Bulldog. "The travel, research, and individual mentoring opportunities were too much to pass up. I am looking forward to next year!" she shared.
In addition to these stellar acceptances, Isabelle also amassed a tremendous amount of funding through scholarships and financial aid packages. She ended up winning one of the coveted $20,000 Coca Cola Scholarships, joining 149 other young people nationwide in earning this honor. However, because of the generous financial aid she received in the form of UGA's Foundation Fellowship, Isabelle plans to save the scholarship money for medical school. Perhaps the most important aspect of her financial aid awards, especially after all the hours she logged with applications and interviews, is that “no school was totally unreasonable” for her to attend.
“My family’s financial situation won’t hold me back from going wherever I want to college, which I think is how it should be,” she said.
Looking toward the future, Isabelle is excited to switch up her routine in college. “I think a new set of people and places will refresh me,” she said, adding that she’s also excited to start focusing on her primary area of interest, biology. Isabelle closed by saying, “I have really come to admire all that the College Board does through serving on the Youth Advisory Council, and I am so thankful for y’all.” After corresponding with her for the past several months, I’d say the feeling is mutual.