Where should I go to college? Student stories, University of Florida

July 21, 2015
There are about 4,000 colleges in the U.S.

With an ever-increasing number of four-year colleges in the U.S. — 2,968 as of 2012, according to the National Center for Education Statistics — the choices are endless. (Korea Times file)

There comes a point for every student during which the question comes: Where should I apply for college, and will it be a good fit for me?

It’s a tough question to crack, even after the standard one- to two-day campus tour, and with an ever-increasing number of four-year colleges in the U.S. — 2,968 as of 2012, according to the National Center for Education Statistics — the choices are endless.

The Korea Times is kicking off a new series to help students make what may be one of the biggest decisions of their lives by inviting graduates of colleges across the U.S. — the Ivies, the public schools, the liberal arts colleges, the small, the big — to write about their experiences and school cultures to provide a window into each institution.

Isabel Won is a second-year pharmacy student at the University of Florida, where she also completed her undergraduate studies in psychology in 2014.

Isabel Won says University of Florida is more than just a university — it’s a home that allows you to leave a legacy that is your own.

By Isabel Won

Growing up, the pressure of being accepted into a prestigious university weighed heavily on my shoulders. While my family never blatantly told me to study hard, I always knew that it was expected of me.

I worked relentlessly to excel in my academics. Many of my friends encouraged me to apply to schools outside of Florida, specifically those Ivy Leagues, but my family wanted me close to home and their wants always came before my own. By then, I was packed and ready to go to the home of the Gator Nation: Gainesville, Florida.

When I first stepped onto the giant 2,000-acre University of Florida campus, I did it with a preconceived notion that all I would be doing was studying. I was the girl too nervous to raise her hand in class, the girl who was scared to voice her opinion, and I found myself preparing to be that same girl again.

As it turned out, being on my own in a new place was the breath of fresh air that I needed.

As a Korean American, I found a true home here at UF. One of the most amazing aspects of campus life is the rich culture and opportunities that it offers for minorities. It’s an incredible network of individuals who strive to make an environment that fosters the development of leaders. They, in turn, truly welcome each and every person, no matter what ethnicity, with open arms. That type of genuine kindness leads to friendships that gives students the courage and confidence they need to step out of their comfort zone and unlock their potential.

I became involved within the Asian American community. Before college, I never thought I would join Greek life, but I finally found my niche in an Asian-interest sorority known as alpha Kappa Delta Phi (aKDPhi), and from the moment I officially became a sister, I could already see myself growing as a person. Through this organization, I’ve learned how to proactively initiate conversation, how to be careful with what I say, and how to effectively manage my time. The sorority gave me the launching pad to be an expert networker and a person who takes every opportunity like it’s my last. Because of it, I was able to hold various leadership positions, including a role as the executive director of Asian Kaleidoscope Month, the largest Asian Heritage Month in the state of Florida.

From the outside looking in, many people would just pass Gainesville by because it doesn’t have the appeal of a big city, but what they don’t see is just how much the small town truly builds itself around the university.

Isabel Won is a second-year pharmacy student at the University of Florida College of Pharmacy, where she also completed her undergraduate studies in psychology in 2014.

Isabel Won is a second-year pharmacy student at the University of Florida College of Pharmacy, where she also completed her undergraduate studies in psychology in 2014.

Gainesville treats students like the first sons of a family — I’m sure many Asian Americans can relate to the importance of this statement — where they are catered to through cheap rent, weekly deals on food, and free transportation throughout the whole city on the RTS bus system with a student ID.

What makes this city really special are the hidden gems that you can’t find anywhere else, whether it’s going rock climbing, zip lining, or paddle boarding at the local university-owned “beach” also known as Lake Wauburg, or spending your time in between classes munching on Krishna (a campus hotspot/tradition that gives you all-you-can-eat, karma-free food for just $5) or at Satchel’s, an eccentric junkyard-turned-pizza joint that offers eats inside a vintage van.

Known for its giant food truck rallies, hipster coffee shops, and scenic nature trails, I fell in love with Gainesville’s humble “home away from home” atmosphere.

But there’s excitement, too — our “Swamp,” Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, is usually a sea of orange and blue that can make any passerby proudly gator chomp, rain or shine, whether we win or we lose.

Being a Gator is a strength that never fails to lose its value. This is a connection that turns intimidating networking into sweet reunion. Success and financial stability are traits that many of our alumni possess; because they remind themselves of how they got there, they are always the first to come to Gainesville to recruit students for potential internships and jobs.

And that’s because they know that this school focuses on both the quality of education and the development of strategic planning, becoming a team player, understanding the importance of leading with a passionate heart, and other skills you can’t learn in a classroom.

I never knew that I was capable of being more than a studious girl who wanted to become a pharmacist. I never knew that I would find a strength and passion in programming events for Asian student organizations on campus. I never knew that my resume wouldn’t just be the three numbers of my GPA, that it would become so competitive filled with the kinds of opportunities-turned-experiences I’ve had here.

The University of Florida cultivates relationships built on unconditional support, loyalty, and an unbreakable bond. This place is more than just a university — it’s a home that allows you to leave a legacy that is your own.

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The Korea Times is looking for college students or graduates who would be willing to share advice regarding the search for the right school.

If you or someone you know has a story to share, please contact us at news@koreatimes.com.

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