Author: Tanvi Varma
As the only child to two first-generation immigrants, navigating the college process was scary, stressful and difficult. I approached the search not having a clear idea of what characteristics I wanted in a college. I thought I wanted a small school, yet my parents questioned whether a big school would be more suitable. They thought I would thrive in a larger-school environment. I also thought that I wanted an all-girls school because I was under the impression that that would boost my self-esteem and I would come out a stronger, more confident person.
The only thing I knew for sure was that I wanted to be in a big city I had never lived in before, such as Los Angeles or New York. I did not want to attend a college in the Bay Area, where I’m from, because I wanted to explore a new place. My parents, however, were very keen on me attending Santa Clara University because it was only 20 minutes from my house.
When deciding between attending college on the East Coast or the West Coast, my initial gut reaction was East Coast. However, looking back, I think I was more keen on the idea of living on the East Coast than actually living there. People kept telling me that the weather would be a big adjustment because the East Coast has extreme conditions. I thought I would be able to survive the weather and would go for a week at a time to experience it. What I was not taking into account, at the time, was the fact that I would be spending six to seven months in this weather.
I also knew that there was a high possibility that I would major in psychology, which helped narrow down the list to Southern California colleges with psychology majors. I then toured schools such as those in the Claremont consortium, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and the University of Southern California (USC) to get an understanding of what type of school I preferred. I was overwhelmed by the size of USC and UCLA when I toured them, which made me realize that large schools intimidate me.
Once I knew that I preferred small liberal arts colleges in Southern California, my list of schools was finalized. I applied and then waited for the decisions to come in before touring all the possible options. I did not want to visit the schools before applying, because if I really liked a school and was then rejected, I would be devastated. When I received my first acceptances, I was ecstatic. I remember receiving my first letter in the middle of November and feeling relieved knowing that I would be going to college. Even today, my mom sometimes quips, “Did you even for a minute doubt that you would be going to college?” Now I realize how silly the thought was, but at the time, I was genuinely worried, especially with how competitive the process is nowadays.
In the first week of April, I drove down to LA and toured the short list of colleges: Loyola Marymount University, Pepperdine University and Occidental College. I remember visiting Occidental on a Saturday and watching some of the students participate in the Relay for Life. A fellow student took me around campus and I instantly fell in love with the campus. When we stopped at the Green Bean, I told my dad that I could see myself here for the next four years. At this point, the tour had not finished, but I was already 100 percent convinced. We were supposed to visit Loyola Marymount University the next day, but there was no need — I was so sure about Occidental that we paid the deposit that same day. It truly was the perfect school for me.
Flashing forward, I have now finished my third week of school and have absolutely no doubt that I made the right decision. The school is small, with classes no larger than 35 students, but the campus does not have the feeling of being small. With an undergraduate class size of roughly 550, Occidental is about the same size as my high school, making the transition much easier. And the community is fantastic, especially the students and faculty members. I remember settling in during OxyEngage, the pre-orientation program, and being in awe of how driven the students were — it was very noticeable just by their topics of conversation. The faculty members are so understanding and willing to help if you seek it out. My classes are very challenging but interesting, and every extracurricular activity that I am currently participating in keeps me extremely busy. But I would not have it any other way. My parents visited the previous weekend and even they could tell that college has already been great for me.
I am so glad that I chose a school with a beautiful campus in a large city like Los Angeles. There is so much to see and do, and I am so excited to be able to spend the next four years of my life here.
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