Today’s post is the first in what we’re calling Signet’s College Types Interview Series.

When students are creating their college lists for applications, one of the criteria we ask them to consider is the type of school that appeals to them. To provide more context, we’ve asked several of our tutors and consultants to share their own experiences at five different types of colleges.

First up in the series is a large public university. Public universities are state-run, so not only do they exist in every state, but they are also generally one of the most affordable options out there.

Keep in mind that the mention of any specific school in this series is not an endorsement by Signet.

Name: Lee W.

School Attended for Undergrad: University of California Berkeley

Year of Graduation: 2011

Major: Mechanical Engineering

Thinking back to when you were applying to colleges....How did you hear about your school?

I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area in California, so I wasn't that far from Berkeley. It’s a big school that most people on the West Coast are familiar with, and it was on my radar because it was close to home.

Did you take a college visit to your school?

Yes. For me it was a pretty quick local trip. Also, since both my parents went to UC Berkeley, I found that asking them questions and hearing their stories was really valuable.

What appealed to you about your school?

I knew UC Berkeley has a strong engineering program, which was what I wanted to study. Since it's a public school and I was a California resident, it had much lower tuition than other schools of comparable repute that I was considering. It was also convenient that it was close to home for me.

Once you were accepted, how did you decide to attend your school?

Saying yes to Berkeley was an easy decision for me, because it was close to home and had a strong program in what I wanted to study. It was also much cheaper than my other options. There are a few schools (like MIT & Harvard) which, had I been accepted to them, would have made the decision harder for me.

Thinking back to your college experience...What did you like about your school academically?

UC Berkeley is a big school, so you can study basically whatever subject you want. It also has world class faculty and research facilities, so if you take the initiative to seek out opportunities, you can work on interesting and exciting projects. I was sponsored to travel to Germany to present research I worked on at Berkeley, and I published a journal article as first author—all as an undergrad!

What did you like about your school socially or from an extracurricular perspective?

UC Berkeley is big enough that you can find whatever social scene or extracurricular groups you want to be a part of. You can find students partying every night or those who stay in for quiet time every weekend. I made friends through the dorms, classes, student groups, and intramural sports. There are lots of opportunities to meet different people.

Was there anything you didn't like or would have done differently?

If I was doing my undergrad all over again, I would spend less time partying and more time taking advantage of all the different things to do on and around campus. It's easy to fall into a routine, and I wish I had explored the available options a bit more.

How well did your school prepare you for what you went on to do after graduation?

UC Berkeley prepared me very well for my next step in life, which was graduate school. In addition to providing me with a very strong academic foundation, being at Berkeley taught me how to get things done on my own and take care of myself. As a large public school, Berkeley doesn't have the resources to provide a lot of hand-holding for every student, so you need to learn how to succeed without someone telling you what to do.

Is there anything else you want to add?

As a high school student it's easy to fall prey to the idea that college rankings should be your primary deciding factor for where to attend undergrad. I know I had that mindset when I was applying to schools. In retrospect, I'm glad I didn't get into Harvard or MIT for undergrad, because I probably would have gone to either of those over Berkeley. With the benefit of hindsight, I can see that Berkeley was a better fit for me. I think I grew more there than I would have at any other school.

Want to learn more about the college process? Check out Signet's Guide to College Admissions.