Over the past few weeks I’ve had the opportunity to meet many newly admitted students. Answering everyone’s anxious questions about academics, student life, transitioning to college, etc., I was reminded of my own decision as a senior choosing where I would study for the next four years.

Unlike many of the ambitious seniors I’ve met this year, I did not apply to 15+ universities and have a stack of acceptance letters to choose from; my admissions process was more clear cut. I only applied to two schools–Georgia Institute of Technology and USC–and was accepted to both. As soon as I became interested in Industrial Engineering in high school as I explored career options, my parents strongly encouraged me to go to Georgia Tech. It was, after all, a great school with a strong reputation. In addition, it was the school that “made sense.” Georgia Tech was only 40 minutes away from my hometown, my older sister and I could go to school together, and as Georgia resident, tuition and books would be free. I don’t blame my parents thinking I was crazy for passing up an almost free education at a top engineering school.

But something about Georgia Tech was just lacking. Each time I stepped on campus, I wasn’t excited about the prospect of studying there. I didn’t feel like I would be part of a community, and I thought I would be lost in a sea of students in huge classes and major programs.

I remember the first pamphlet I received from USC my junior year of high school, and I’ll admit that I was initially intrigued by the thought of studying engineering at a school that had palm trees and beaches nearby. Who wouldn’t want to live a glamours college lifestyle in southern California? But the rational side of my quickly put the sunny skies and beautiful campus aside, and began to consider the more important aspects of USC. (Read this fun article in the WSJ about how high school students are too often swayed by campus amenities above academics)

USC was obviously a great engineering school, with top ranked academics, a strong alumni network, and plenty of opportunities to succeed in Industrial Engineering. But above Georgia Tech, I felt that USC was a community that would truly help me engage in engineering, not just study it through textbooks. I learned from current students that USC had outstanding research facilities, and that undergrad research was not only common, but actively encouraged. (Little did I know that I would too begin paid research only weeks into my freshmen year at USC.) It also seemed as though the staff and faculty were able to utilize the benefits of a private education to offer small, more intimate class sizes, better classroom/lab facilities, and a wider range of support and tutoring services. Finally, I loved the connections and opportunities USC students had from being located in California; all the best companies–many of which are headquartered in California–were recruiting USC students after graduation.

When I finally had the opportunity to visit USC for a campus tour, I was blown away by the campus, students, faculty, and staff. The students seemed not only intellectual, but well rounded, and were pursuing their interests in various fields (unlike some of the more single-minded, anti-social engineering students I had met at other universities…). The faculty were excited to be teaching–not just teaching as a means of having access to a research lab. And most importantly, USC just felt like home. There was something intangible about the way I felt walking around campus imagining myself as a Trojan.

When I returned home to Georgia I had a tough decision to make. Should I go to the cost-effective school that my parents wanted me to attend, or should I take a risk and move across the country to the school of my dreams? Fate made my decision for me and took away the only real obstacle standing between me and USC; I was incredibly blessed to receive the Trustee Scholarship, which was the final tipping point for my parents to stand behind my decision to move across the country.

Looking back, I had no idea how my college decision would impact my life so much. USC has offered me opportunities I could never have imagined, and I am confident that I would not have excelled in my academics or risen to such leadership positions elsewhere. In addition, every day at USC has been an absolute joy. After three years at USC, I now can’t imagine a college lifestyle that doesn’t involve regularly going to the beach, exploring a large city like Los Angeles, and growing from the diversity on campus and in the southern California area.