I’m a big believer in taking inspiration from the people around you and when it comes to work ethic, nobody has inspired me more than one of my closest friends, Sofia. I first met Sofi in fifth grade after she’d moved to Miami from Venezuela but it wasn’t until freshman year of high school that we became really good friends. For four years, I watched her work harder than anyone else when it came to school and extracurriculars so when she got into Princeton, I may have cried a little too. Over quarantine, I was lucky enough to get to interview Sofi and ask her a few questions about what her pre-COVID Princeton experience was like. Here’s what she had to say:
Her Campus (HC): For as long as we’ve been close friends I’ve known that when it was time to apply to colleges you were going to apply to Ivy schools. What made you decide that you wanted to pursue an Ivy League education?
Sofia Alvarado (SA): When I began to look into all the different colleges, I realized that many of them offer a rather similar, world-class education, but to me, the Ivy Leagues were able to give me more than other state or smaller private schools. I was looking for more personalized education, meaning I wanted the smaller classes that foster a close relationship with my professors, which is harder to obtain in bigger state universities. Furthermore, I wanted the connections many Ivy League schools to offer — the alumni network is out of this world and is always willing to help out the students. Then, because of their big endowments, Ivy Leagues have the opportunity to offer better financial aid packages than other private institutions and when it comes to funding student projects, they have a greater capacity to have those funds available. Lastly, since I was a kid, many of my “dream schools” happened to be Ivy Leagues, which obviously played a role when applying to college. Overall, I knew I could get a great education no matter where I went, but the Ivy Leagues could provide me with more opportunities than other universities.
HC: Can you describe the process of getting to Princeton? (Applying, Decision, Orientation)
SA: The process was very similar to other institutions. For Princeton, I used the common application platform and some supplemental components (essay, short-answer questions and a graded written paper—which I thought was interesting). Then, like many other private institutions, they offer the interview component and Princeton prides itself on having such a dedicated alumni network that it is able to interview almost everyone who doesn’t indicate they don’t want one. I didn’t apply early, so my decision rolled around Ivy Day. From then on, I received various personalized letters from alumni and my admission officer. Then, I attended Princeton Preview in April, a weekend where the university invites admitted students to tour the campus, stay with a current undergraduate student, and have the opportunity to get a taste of the school before committing. I ended up committing the night before Princeton Preview on a whim.
Then, orientation is a pretty long process compared to other schools, and unlike most of my friends who had theirs in the summer, our orientation is about two weeks long before classes begin. After we complete move-in and the first welcome events, all first-year students go on a five-day orientation trip — there are three different types: outdoor action, community action and Dialogue and Difference in action. Then, when we come back to campus we have days packed with different orientation events, shows by different groups on campus, meetings with our different advisors to pick our classes (we pick them about three-days before classes begin) and activities with our zee groups (a group of about 15 first-year students who live in your hall and shares one RCA).
HC: What was it like leaving home and moving up north without any of your closest friends and what was your adjustment period like?
SA: It was definitely bittersweet. I was very ready to embark on my new adventure at my dream university but it also meant leaving my closest friends and family behind. It was difficult thinking about what I wanted to bring with me since I would not have the opportunity to just come down for a weekend if I missed something or have my parents just drive it up. But, I was able to do what seemed impossible when I first thought about moving to New Jersey. Then, luckily, for me, adjusting was not very hard. I have always loved the New England area and visited it frequently since I have family living there. Something that really helped was that my roommate and I hit it off right off the bat and we are currently best friends planning to room together for our remaining time at Princeton (a big shoutout to Alex!). Community action was definitely a little tough because we were in this retreat center in the middle of the nowhere and it wasn’t my favorite, but I also met my other best friend Ellen there (thank you for taking one for the team and killing that dragonfly in the middle of the night), so it wasn’t all bad in the end. Also, due to all the events and the workload that soon picked up after classes began, it kept me busy which made adjusting very easy. Lastly, keeping constant communication with my family and friends from home really helped.
The winter was hard, as it would be for anyone used to living in Miami, but at least we got a very mild winter, which I guess was good for my first year (it was still awful).
HC: Describe a normal day in the life of Sofia at Princeton.
SA: I like to wake up around 7:30 am, which is pretty early considering my earliest class is a 10 am this semester. Waking up early gives me the opportunity to get the best start to my day, get ready without having to rush, eat breakfast, and then spend about an hour reading for pleasure and catching up on the news. Then, I head to my classes. This semester I took five classes, which gave me a much busier schedule so I ended around 4:20 pm Monday-Wednesday and 11:50 Thursday and Friday. I do have breaks in between, so I will catch a meal with my friends in between and spend my extra time in Frist Campus Center (our student center), where I will either do some homework, read some more or just take a break. Then, after I am done with classes, I like to go to the gym for about an hour, then go to my dorm after to shower and change and then get dinner with my friends. Some days after dinner I may have some club responsibilities, but if not it is usually followed by heading to a late meal to pick up a small snack in-case I get hungry later (usually grapes) and then heading to Firestone Library with my friends to do homework and get some work done. I don’t tend to procrastinate much throughout the semester, so if it’s not midterms or final weeks, I end up being in bed ready to sleep by 12 am.
HC: Now that you’ve spent a full semester there, what would you say are your five favorite things about Princeton?
SA: There is so much to love about Princeton, it really has become my second home, so picking just five things is hard. Definitely, my number one would be the people. Everyone is super interesting, friendly and accomplished; I have also met some of my best friends in just a few months. Then, I would say how available the faculty is to us. I think we Princeton students are a little spoiled with how much our professors are willing to meet us outside class and office hours and really help us with whatever we need. Going to a relatively small, undergraduate-focused institution definitely has its perks. Then, I also have to mention our freedom in choosing classes. Unlike most schools that have general education requirements, Princeton has distribution requirements which really give us the freedom to explore classes we are truly interested in and passionate about. Another thing is my zee group. I got really lucky with the people who live in my dorm and I also happen to have the best RCA ever, McKalah Hudlin (best neighbor ever!). Lastly, there are so many traditions at Princeton and the university really is committed to making it the best four years ever, so the Universities commitment to the undergraduate community would be my last thing. From the thousand study breaks to all the different events the University creates to make the semester go a little bit easier, I am very grateful for them all and am looking forward to the next three years that lie ahead.
HC: What’s your advice to all the young girls out there who may be thinking of going to an Ivy League school one day?
SA: Work hard, study lots, but also make sure you do things you are passionate about and make you happy. I think the Ivy Leagues do a really good job in deciding based on a holistic review of its applicants and they only choose people who they think will be able to do well there. I think it’s important to trust the process and just let it play out because, in the end, you will most likely end up where you are meant to be. Make sure to do well in your academics and standardized testing, but don’t forget that you are not just a GPA or SAT number and colleges know that. Be yourself in your application, talk about what makes you you and what your passions are, and everything should work out. I know the college process can be very stressful and if you are like me and neither of your parents went to school in the US, you may have to figure it all out on your own (and maybe have the help of an awesome college counselor, Ms. Gilman, like I did). So if there is any way I can help or answer any other questions, feel free to email me at [email protected]!