Academics are great. We’re all in college to learn things that will further our career goals, whatever they may be. Engineers, especially, spend gain skills and accumulate knowledge that will be integral to our success in the working world.

But school does not revolve solely around academics at any age. In kindergarten, children learn to make friends. In high school, there are myriad more memorable milestones than taking the SAT: driving to school for the first time, asking someone to prom, sneaking out to lunch off campus.

I got into many schools that provide incredible academic opportunities. However, when I reviewed my acceptance packets (all sixteen of them—I was addicted to the Common App), I realized that, on a scholastic level, the offerings were pretty much the same. Some schools had smaller classes or a different approach to their general education program, but all would provide an environment conducive to learning.

At that point, I decided that I would ignore academics and base my decision on other factors. I thought about the campuses that I had visited, recalled my interactions with students and admissions staff, and came to an immediate realization: I already knew where I wanted to go. USC.

I knew that USC was the only school where the sterling academics of an elite university would be matched by a student body of which I could effortlessly be a part. I was especially impressed with the engineering students, who were, more than anything else, normal people. The students I had met at my Explore USC session played sports, played video games, and were not nearly as awkward as the ones at other schools. I could see myself joining that group.

USC’s campus was also an attractive aspect of the university in my mind. An oasis in the urban sprawl of Los Angeles, it was flat, warm, and meticulously maintained. The grass was perfectly green, the trees were perfectly trimmed, and it had a sense of order and tradition that I enjoyed.

When I met Professor Crowley, whom I have since had for one class and expect to have for at least one more in the future, at my Explore session, I enjoyed the fact that he was a regular guy who genuinely cared about his students and their wellbeing. I’ve noticed that aspect of all the professors whom I have had. One of them, who teaches a tricky electrical engineering class required for computer science students, practically begs us to call him at home every day until 10:00 if we have any questions on homework or class material.

Going to school 2500 miles from home was a big risk, but it is one that has paid off in the friends that I have gained, the life lessons that I have learned, and the challenges that I have surmounted. I felt that USC would be the best place for me because I knew that I would fit in and that I could actively contribute to the community in a rewarding manner.

So I guess my advice to you is this: Don’t blindly rely on rankings to guide your every decision. If you do, you’ll miss out on things that, in the long run, matter a lot more. Figure out what is important to you, what you want to achieve, and what university will provide the environment most conducive to meeting those goals. You’ll be happy that you did.

Good luck with your decision-making process, and Fight On!