Starting your college search and choosing the right college is a stressful time. What do I actually want in a college? Will my parents approve of the schools I want to do to? What will my future college do for me? All the staff at High School Starleague has been through the same situation as you, if not twice for transferring to another college. As most of us are about to graduate, we asked our staff from different majors across the country to share some personal experiences on the same college decisions we made four years ago. We know you folks have a lot of questions and we hope sharing our stories will help you find the best college experience for you!

What were your most important factors when choosing colleges?

Alex Hsu
Alex HsuMajors: Business Administration & Computer Science | University of Puget Sound

Could I justify paying some exorbitant amount for a private college vs. a more reasonable price for an in-state college (the cheapest option)? If a liberal arts experience with smaller class size was going to cost me 100% more than an in-state university, I wasn’t going to go. However, I was offered substantial scholarships at all the liberal arts colleges I was accepted into. My final decision looked like, “do I go to University of Washington for $29,000 each year (my family’s pre-determined contribution), or do I go to University of Puget Sound for $42,000 per year.” When it was $29,000 for a school of 40,000 students, or an additional $13,000 for a school with 2,500 students and gr9 access to professors– I chose the $42,000 school. In my mind the marginal benefit > marginal cost, and I could always transfer to an in-state school if things didn’t work out. Ranking wasn’t a factor since those are BS (for the majority of careers) and don’t really matter, since you’re the largest determinant of your own success.

Brodin Plett
Brodin PlettMajor: Film Production - Directing | Minor: Visual Effects | Chapman University

Applied based off of major, program and location but I knew I was going to either USC or Chapman.  Chapman’s small student body and campus worried me because I thought I would know everyone and feel claustrophobic but it was the best film program. Didn’t care for the Cal State schools and UCLA is a death trap for film. USC didn’t accept me and Chapman gave me a fat scholarship for half of my tuition so I went with the obvious choice. 

Cindy Wang
Cindy WangMajors: Business Economics & International Studies | Minor: Management | University of California, Irvine

I was born and raised in Hawaii and to be honest, education in Hawaii is terrible. Majority of the people I knew that had the financial means went to college on the mainland. Money wasn’t a huge problem for me (bless my parents) so I applied to mainland schools with the best rankings relative to tuition and the schools with the closest environment to Hawaii’s. I chose UC Irvine because of its high Asian demographics (60-70%) which is about the same as Hawaii’s demographics. Weather below 75 degrees to me is freezing to me so I preferred the warmth of SoCal over the other west or east coast schools. Interesting fact: UC Irvine actually enrolls more international students (mostly Korean and Chinese) than Caucasian students. I had a much better chance of meeting foreign students to practice Chinese and learn Korean culture with. I also saw that UC Irvine had a big gaming community from a showcase on the login screen on the League client as well. I decided that UC Irvine, regardless of paying full out-of-state tuition, was the best fit for me.

Tiffany Le
Tiffany LeMajor: Advertising and Graphic Design | Fullerton College

After being introduced to many different options, I narrowed my choices down to the private art and design schools in the U.S. One of the main factors that weighed on my decisions was the specific major/path. As a graphic designer, I wanted the whole art school experience and was looking forward to immediately jumping into the art courses and start developing my skills. I felt like attending an art school would be a lot quicker with my advanced skills as opposed to going through the same general education courses as everyone else in regular university. Other factors like location, diversity, and size were never an issue. I’d pack my bags to learn what I love anywhere, my ambitions would never slow down just because of how homogeneous or diverse a school’s culture is.

If you were to redo your college admission process, what would you have done? What should be important in choosing colleges?

Cindy Wang
Cindy WangMajors: Business Economics & International Studies | Minor: Management | University of California, Irvine

Most people when choosing colleges look at the quality school programs and tuition but forget to ask about the resources that a college may or may not provide. Student services and resources are extremely important! Are you a low income student who may need access to emergency food? Does your school have a “food pantry” that provides free basic food supplies and information about additional resources to address long term needs? Do you have a psychological or physical disability? Does your college have a free counseling center or services that can help you get around campus? Does your school have veteran services? LGBTQA services? Study abroad services?

Kevin He
Kevin HeMajor: Cognitive Science | Minor: Psychology | University of California, San Diego

If I could go back in time and advise myself on college applications, I would have smacked my lazy, high school self into shape and applied to a broader range of colleges. While my college experience at UC San Diego was unforgettable, I learned after traveling to many different campuses for work that the school environment is vastly different, and that each school’s approach to student life was the real defining factor for me. It’s hard to be a good student when you don’t feel at home on your own campus.

Alex Hsu
Alex HsuMajors: Business Administration & Computer Science | University of Puget Sound

Finances should be #1. If you’re lucky to be in the position where the finances are more relaxed, I’d strongly people to think if they’d benefit from a small class size, liberal arts experience. I was someone in HS did the minimum amount of work for my A since that was what everyone else did. I wanted to be in an environment where everyone prioritized learning over grades and I also knew that if I went to a big school, I’d continue to put in the lowest effort for 4.0 GPA possible. Small class sizes are actually the best thing ever. Small classes allowed people like me who are not always comfortable participating in large classes to speak up. You have a high control of how the class plays out, and a high amount of 1 on 1 access to your professor. There were only 24 students in my largest freshmen class and the largest class size in all my 4 years will be a mere 40.

What were some challenges you faced going to college?

Josh Miller Day
Josh Miller DayMajor: Information Systems | Minors: Entrepreneurship & Korean | Pennsylvania State College

My freshman year was extremely difficult. The majority of my friends almost immediately moved on to other things while I struggled to make new friends. My living situation was extremely poor and I was constantly wrapped up in a lot of drama with my roommates. Due to this, I sort of turtled up in my dorm room. Only playing League of Legends and watching Supernatural (quality show by the way, I highly recommend it). My grades were poor because all I did was game and sleep for the most part. It wasn’t until I started lifting and getting involved with my Esports club where I made a group of amazing friends that were constantly getting me to leave my home to explore awesome and new experiences.

A lot will change from the time you go to college to the time you finish. You want to choose a school that will be conductive to your education and your lifestyle. Find a school that provides loads of awesome opportunities for you. Friendships are temporary, and the career paths your parents force on you might fade as you spend time away from them and discover new passions. 

Jimmy Zhang
Jimmy ZhangMajor: Psychology and Social Behavior - Experimental Design | University of California, Irvine

Oregon, by all measures, should have been the ideal school for me: renowned for Psychology, a beautiful campus and great campus food. As great as it sounded on paper, there’s a lot of information that schools intentionally leave out of their brochures. It wasn’t until I actually visited the school that I learned that Oregon just wasn’t for me. After growing up in LA, the literal 2 hours of sun a day that Oregon provided was not enough. I didn’t fit into the sports-centered culture they had and most of all I felt alone up there. It just wasn’t somewhere that I could call home and definitely somewhere I couldn’t see myself spending 4 years, so I headed back to LA. From there I started attending a city college in Santa Monica and start the transfer process from scratch. I ended up transferring to UCI, a much better fit for me, two years later,.

Cindy Wang
Cindy WangMajors: Business Economics & International Studies | Minor: Management | University of California, Irvine

Moving from Hawaii to California–by myself–was a hard obstacle to overcome. I had absolutely no family and no connections before moving across the Pacific Ocean. Having a car in my undergraduate years without a serious job is a money dump so I couldn’t go anywhere on a whim unless I wanted to spend money Ubering around. Adjusting to the cold weather–yes, cold SoCal weather– was insane.I’m about to graduate soon and I’m still not used to the SoCal yet. Walking around college hearing students butchering the words “spam musubi,” “taro,” and “poke” is pretty funny but depressing at the same time: makes you miss authentic Hawaii food back home. Transferring back to Hawaii was never a serious option for me since being in California allows for more social mobility and more career paths for me to take. However, after joining the UC Irvine League club and getting more involved with the general gaming community, I found my family away from home.

Tomber Su
Tomber SuMajor: Music - Piano | Biola University

Getting used to a huge demographic shift than I what was used to. I went from a predominantly Asian (75%) environment to one that was mostly white (5% asian). All on-campus food is not created equal.

Alex Hsu
Alex HsuMajors: Business Administration & Computer Science | University of Puget Sound

Going from 70-80% Asian to 5% Asian (even though I expected this) really is a different experience, you start doing things like figuring out what your identity is etc.

How did you pick your major?

Tiffany Le
Tiffany LeMajor: Advertising and Graphic Design | Fullerton College

I know art majors get a bad rap because of the selective learning curve and slim rate of success compared to other majors, but I wanted to do what I love, and love what I do. I’ve always found myself at my happiest whenever I get involved with art- whether that be through film, photography, design, or painting. Ever since I picked up on graphic design, I’ve fallen in love with learning the concepts and principles that the design world has to offer. Graphic design is everywhere, always important and always changing. I guess one of the main things that I first enjoyed about designing things is that I get to see people’s delightful reactions whenever I create something personal for them. I found my passion when I first started designing Facebook banners for my League of Legends friends. I would include their favorite champion, a cool background, and their gamer tag. I realized how fun and easy it was to design cool things like this for people, so I kept on taking commissions and it led up to my career as a freelance graphics artist. It makes me happy knowing that I have a skill that can help out others when it comes to aesthetics!

Jimmy Zhang
Jimmy ZhangMajor: Psychology and Social Behavior - Experimental Design | University of California, Irvine

Psychology was something that my parents raised me to consider a filler major. “A soft science like psychology could never bring me a happy life.” As it is with most of us growing up with immigrant parents, they were dead set on me being a doctor. Psychology was something to fill in the blanks for students who were just kind of lost. After all, it’s hard to get to med school with a psychology degree and it keeps you away from the ultimate goal of becoming a doctor. Even now, 4 years later, it’s still kind of a mystery to me as to why I chose psychology. I did always enjoy helping people and understanding others was something that piqued my interests. But above all, it seems like the allure of being lost was the main factor. For that reason I always shied away from it until I realized it was exactly what I needed. When everything has always been so planned out for you and rigid you just have so little room to grow as a person. You end up spending so much time working towards a destination that you miss all of the stuff in between. All the medical research work I did in highs chool and practice tests my parents forced on me couldn’t tell me anything about myself. What’s my own criteria for happiness? How do I manage my own feelings? Can I really handle myself out there on my own? Sometimes you just need to wander for a bit, some people might consider you lost but you’ll find a lot more worth discovering.

Alex Hsu
Alex HsuMajors: Business Administration & Computer Science | University of Puget Sound

Growing up I was like, “Hey, I’m going to be an engineer!” and I took all the fun AP math and AP science classes to prepare myself and make myself more competitive for the top schools. By the end of high school, I began to realize that I wasn’t really sure why I wanted to be an engineer– that I was following Asian social norms and expectations. At that same time, I realized that I probably wasn’t cut out to be an engineer. I wasn’t doing badly, but doing the same painful math/science grind for 4 more years didn’t seem appealing to me (even if topics like linear/combinatorics/e&m are interesting). Concurrently, High School Starleague was growing and I had increasing exposure to business. I applied to University of Puget Sound as Business and Computer Science double major, thinking that I could always switch back if I needed to. I’ve since switched from being a programmer with business skills to a business professional who is able to leverage coding skills.

Going to college, what were some things that happened that you would have never expected?

Ben Yan
Ben YanMajors: Business Administration & Aerospace Engineering | University of Washington

I was a originally bit disappointed with UW because I didn’t reach as high as my efforts in high school reflected (stupid amount of AP’s, stupid GPA, stupid class rank), but turns out everything eventually works out. I got a research position with the head marketing professor at UW’s business school (a world-class expert in loyalty programs) before summer even started, and it now looks like I have internships during summer and things to do during the school year until I graduate. To be completely honest, UW is one of the best things that has happened to me. Since public school is significantly easier than another highly competitive private school, it’s allowed me to take tons of time off to fly out, go out, and do tons of fun stuff that I want to do (like running events with HSL). Don’t be too pressured by your parents or peers to get into a “TOP” school, if you’ve worked hard up to this point, there’s nothing stopping you from excelling wherever you go!

 

Tiffany Le
Tiffany LeMajor: Advertising and Graphic Design | Fullerton College

I didn’t expect there to be so many older people in college. I mean, I know some adults find their way back to school later on in their lives, but I keep running into so many! Which is totally cool. I love being able to meet the different people in college who are from all ends of the spectrum.

Kevin He
Kevin HeMajor: Cognitive Science | Minor: Psychology | University of California, San Diego

If you told my high school self that I was going to start my own gaming club and go on to work in the gaming industry, I would have laughed at you. I was very much a player, not an organizer, and I had some pretty dreamy ideas of what actually working in the industry entailed. Looking back, I’m glad that I ended up surprising myself, because if you end up getting exactly what you expected in college, you probably didn’t take as many risks as you could have.

Josh Miller Day
Josh Miller DayMajor: Information Systems | Minors: Entrepreneurship & Korean | Pennsylvania State College

Interning at Blizzard was one of the most fun experiences of my life, along with traveling to Boston yearly to attend PAX East. At Penn State, I got a chance to work with extremely talented and passionate individuals. Also becoming a part of certain friend groups where I was the only white guy was an interesting experience.