Kathleen Schaefer is a graduate of Petalum'a Casa Grande High School and is going to Harvey Mudd College next year. Press Democrat photo by Jeff Kan Lee


Throughout most of high school, I simply assumed I would apply to the UC system, get into a few campuses and choose from those options.
I thought as little as possible about college and the complications of getting in. I adamantly refused to participate in any activity simply because it would look good on college applications and, unlike many of my classmates, I waited until late in my junior year to begin taking standardized tests. Yet once I started, the entire application process drew me into its insane, obsessive fixation. I spent hours flipping through the Princeton Review, coming no closer to choosing the perfect college.
I never had a strong idea of what type of school I wanted, and as I continued my research, my expectations for college developed into an aspiration to attend Stanford or the Ivies. When it became time to apply, my number of applications became ridiculous and the document where I saved all of my college essay drafts grew to more than 20 pages.
Despite never trying to make myself look like a perfect candidate for the top schools, I had earned the test scores and grades and developed a resume that seemed to place me within their range. I figured I deserved those colleges. I worked for them for my entire high school career. I got my straight A’s in honors and AP classes. I studied for almost a year to win the Academic Decathlon. I spent the summer managing two internships. That should be enough.
Stanford and the three Ivy League schools I applied to disagreed.
But despite an upsetting pile of rejection letters, I never felt devastated. Truthfully, I had not worked hard to get into college, not in the same way some join multiple clubs and take classes on the SAT simply to make their applications look a little more competitive. I worked for myself, choosing classes because I wanted to take them, getting A’s because I liked being successful and studying because I found the actual desire to curl up on a couch and read a long packet of information. And that was enough for me.
It was all also enough for UC Berkeley, UCLA, UC San Diego and UC Davis to accept me, as well as Harvey Mudd, a small science and technology-based liberal arts school in Claremont.
When I narrowed my choices to Harvey Mudd and Berkeley, most people assumed I would choose Berkeley. It had the name recognition that an 800-student, undergraduate-only college never could achieve. Berkeley had the glamour of a large university, and the tours seemed to advertise the school as an extensive playground for young adults with a focus on education. But at Harvey Mudd, after the obligatory mention of clubs and sports, the tour guides, professors and teachers all spoke extensively, almost boastfully, about the difficulty of all their classes and the intense workload at their school. So I chose Mudd with the belief that I could not find a better education.
For most of my senior year, colleges meant stress and anxiety as I tried to fill out too many applications and then wait months for a reply. Not until the moment I sent in my enrollment deposit to Harvey Mudd did I begin to feel excitement at the prospect of four years of college. Only then did I begin spending hours reading every piece of information I could find about my future college. Now I am ready.
When I started, I had no idea where I belonged, but I know now I do not belong in a school that requires me to rearrange my life just for the privilege of attending. I belong at Harvey Mudd.