The College Acceptance Chronicles: How Arielle Harris Got Into USC, Michigan, and More

By Cindy Chanin On April 25, 2014

Arielle’s story has inspired everyone here at the Rainbow Family.  She recently gained admissions to 8 universities and even received a personal email from the Tulane admissions officer who reviewed her application (and offered her a $20,000 yearly scholarship), saying that her overall portfolio/personal statement was one of the best he had seen all year. I could continue to sing the praises of this phenomenal young woman, but I thought it would be wonderful for you all to hear it in her own words.  So without further adieu, I give you our first Rainbow Blog Featured Contributor, Arielle Harris:

Describing my experience through words is difficult.  I am still in awe at the work I accomplished with my essay.  Usually when I write about myself, I find that I sound redundant and leave a lot “fluff” wording.  However, when I met with Cindy, we worked word-by-word to make strings of sentences, that in the end were magical.  All these sentences piled on top of one another eventually to create a masterpiece of an essay.  I wrote about a topic very personal to me: my father’s passing from colorectal cancer.  I was only ten-years-old when he died, and yet I was still lucky enough to share some very special moments with him, ones of which Cindy told me to grab hold of and insert into the artwork of an essay we painted together.  My father and I had a close bond through Scooby-Doo, soccer, and music.  There was so much to write about that I did not know how to properly verbalize everything.  But Cindy’s magical ways helped me access and channel authentic phrases that, after re-reading my work for the day, put a smile on my face.  What I love most about working with Cindy is that she did not take over my essay, but helped me sculpt it.  She would listen to my story very intently, tap into her intuition, and share ideas with me that were born out of everything I was trying to say…what came so easily for me to speak orally but felt somewhat blocked when putting the pen to paper.  She did not care about what makes an essay look good, but instead what makes an essay feel good.  She worked with me to make the reader see an image of me, to feel what I felt, to smell what I smelt.  Working with her instilled this confidence within myself.  I recognized that although this is a college essay, this is not an essay for college, but an essay for ME.  This was my chance to write about something I love and feel passionate about.  For future applicants, if you are writing about something that does not make you happy, DO NOT write about it.  Every time I came to work with Cindy, I felt excited. I knew we were going to continue enhancing the picture we were painting.  In addition, Cindy helped me create a theme that carried throughout my essay. It was very difficult to incorporate numerous aspects of my past (Scooby-Doo, soccer, music), while creating a common idea, and then relating it to who I am today.  But with simple steps, Cindy guided me to create an overall picture of who I am and what I have to offer to the world.  She gave me worksheet exercises to pinpoint poignant, quirky, and/or noteworthy themes in my life.  We had meaningful, deep talks about my past.  Eventually, everything became very organized; I was ready to take off the training wheels. When it was time to submit my essay, I knew I was going to get into great schools.  Though I had good grades and good scores, none of that mattered to me when I finished my masterpiece.  I knew I wrote an essay that showed the wonderful parts of my life; I brought myself to life on paper. More than anything, I was happy with my creation no matter who would see it in the future.  After a long wait of 4 months to hear back from colleges, I was admitted to my top choice school: University of Southern California.  I could not be more excited to start in the Fall.  With Cindy’s help, I actually enjoyed my college application experience.  Everyone says it is such a stressful time in a senior’s life, but I looked forward to the lessons I would learn from Cindy every week.  I loved working on my essays because I knew that in the end, the risks I was willing to take would serve to highlight my story in the most compelling, personable, and unique of ways.

I had been admitted into 8 schools: University of Michigan, University of Wisconsin, Brandeis University, UCDavis Honors, UCSB Honors, UCSC Honors, Tulane, and University of Southern California.  I wanted a school with “rah-rah” school spirit, drive, music, and community; I narrowed it down to Tulane and USC.
Before making my final decision to attend USC, however, I felt torn between these two schools.  Tulane had not only offered me a merit scholarship of twenty thousand dollars a year, but had also personally contacted me telling me that my essay was one of the best they had read all year.  The more I heard about the school, with its incredible public service, vibrant city, and incredible community, the more I found myself tempted to tour.  Out of all the schools I was admitted to, I had only toured USC and felt it unfair to make my final decision without touring all the schools I was considering.  So, over spring break, I traveled south and visited the jazzy city and Tulane.  Tulane is beautiful and I loved it.  However, there was a spark that was missing for me, a feeling I had felt when I toured USC.  I felt excited and ready to begin day one when I visited the Trojan campus.  Yet, when I visited Tulane, I did not feel that sense of spirit, excitement, and competition that I fell in love with at USC.  USC has a sense of drive that corresponds to the type of person I am.  I now know that college is about the experience and what you make of it.  I knew that USC was the place I would excel in exploring myself through academics, sports, friendships, music, and so much more.  I was led by what my gut told me to do; so, I chose to follow the path that made me feel good, not what I knew would be easier on my wallet.  Sure, USC is expensive, but every penny is worth what I will receive in return.  Of course, I promised my mother I would work to help pay off the cost, but that is such a small price for the large gift of attending the university meant for me.  Ultimately, I knew USC was the place for me and I cannot wait to start day one in the Trojan family.

1. What obstacles, if any, did you have to overcome in your college app process? How did you overcome them?
I love overcoming obstacles, and the college application process was certainly an obstacle.  The summer before senior year started, I went through many personal obstacles related to some anxiety problems.  After the summer passed, I recognized how much those obstacle courses had changed me into a newer, more comfortable ME.  Because all these changes had happened so close to the college essay process, they were so new and interesting to me.  I felt I HAD to write about them. The changes were a result of an issue at the core in my life.  Although I knew I should write about what had just changed in me that summer, I decided to dig deeper and think about what caused my anxiety in the first place, and what really makes me a person as a whole: my father’s death.  I began writing my essay about the wonderful memories I had with him…and everything just flowed.  It was so natural, so meaningful, and so precious.  I felt changed just writing the piece of work.  But then there was the past summer…what about all those changes?  Would I just forget about them and not write about what they had done for me?  So this was the very problem: choosing the right topic for me.

In choosing a topic for your college application essay, you really want to choose a topic that represents who you are.  This is the chance you have to show the colleges the person you are and how you can contribute to the school and to the world.  I found that my father’s death from colorectal cancer was what completely changed my world.  Everything that happened in my life after his death somehow correlated with him.  He had given me a new journey to embark upon: to face life in a new light.  I knew that writing about him and the way he affected me was what I needed to do.  By digging deeper into my life and looking at recurring patterns that make up who I am, I found parts of myself to write about and incorporate into my overall message.  Digging deep was how I chose the topic on which to write.

2. What were some of your biggest fears you had about college admissions and attending college in general? How have you overcome those?
Not getting into a school I applied to was, honestly, not one of my fears.  I felt confident in my application, and I knew I had worked hard in high school.  My biggest fear was that I would not get into the school I wanted IN-STATE and that I would end up attending an OUT-OF-STATE school.  For me personally, I love California and its unique qualities continue to appeal to me, even though I was born in Los Angeles and have lived here all my life.  I never get bored with Cali.  Truthfully, I have never really enjoyed traveling; it leaves me anxious and leaves me constantly thinking about California.  However, I taught myself to relax and I told myself the reality of the situation: I may be living out of state for the next four years of my life.  I became more confident with the idea because I reassured myself that no matter where I go for college, I will make the most out of what I get.  Whether in or out of state, I will be going out of my comfort zone…it’s college…it’s inevitable.

3. If you could do it again what advice would you give to yourself?
If I could redo this college process, I honestly would not change a thing.  I worked with amazing people to create my application and I am so pleased with how everything turned out.  I learned so much about myself in the process, while simultaneously learning from others.  Cindy has been my mentor through this process: encouraging, guiding, advising, and comforting.  I knew I was in good hands during this process and I was not afraid to take risks with Cindy.  We symbiotically work together to create art.  It has always been that way between us.  I had fun during what many people would consider “a miserable process.”  As long as YOU enjoy what you are doing in this process, it will not be miserable.

4.  What are you most excited about in regards to enrolling at USC in the fall?
University of Southern California: home of the Trojans.  Just typing this out makes me smile.  I am looking forward to every part of USC!  I do not know where to begin.  I am ecstatic to become a part of a family that creates a community for living an exciting and challenging life.  The music, the sports, the academics, the concerts, the extracurricular activities, community service, the people, the scenery…all of it makes me feel like a little kid first arriving at Disneyland.  Everything is new, big, and beautiful.  Endless possibilities lie ahead.  I am excited to become independent and make mistakes (within reason).  I want to embark upon new journeys, new opportunities, and make new changes to my life.  I am ready to be a Trojan and Fight On!  Everything about the school’s determination, drive, and focus could not be more fitting for me.