Almost all my friends have decided where they will be going to college next year. So it’s time to pass on my bits of advice to juniors, who are just about to enter the whirlwind maze of the college process. When I was in your shoes last year, I wish a graduating senior had passed along some of this advice.
There are so many adjectives to describe the college-admissions process. Time-consuming, stressful, mentally challenging, over-emphasized, and arbitrary are just a few that instantly come to mind when I consider this past year. As I wrap up my senior year of high school, I cannot help but wonder why I allowed myself to get so stressed over it all. Of course, writing applications can be “nightmare-worthy,” as one of my closest friends put it, yet it can also be an immensely rewarding, reflective, and worthwhile time in a student’s life.
Here are a few tips I wish I had truly listened to before and while I was applying to colleges.
1. START EARLY
I had heard this advice from countless of upperclassmen friends, and actually did try my best to start my applications during the summer before senior year. What I did not anticipate, though, was how long the essays would take to write and how many revisions I would need to iterate through before I would finally be happy with a version.
Editing essays I had half-finished from the summer bled into the fall of my senior year, dramatically increasing my nightly homework and stress level. I know it sounds crazy, but I would honestly start brainstorming essays topics in the spring of junior year. Ideally, try and get a few of the bigger essays completed, especially the infamous “common app essay,” before school starts again. This will alleviate much stress in the fall, when you should be focused on keeping your grades up, finishing standardized testing and filling out applications.
2. DRAFT OUTLINES FOR YOUR ESSAYS BEFORE WRITING THEM
One thing that really delayed my applications was that I had so many essay revisions to make. I’m the type of person who likes to rush into things, so I would just begin my essays without necessarily thinking about the point that I wanted to make. Though I learned this by the end of my application season, I should have created outlines before each essay to have a clearer sense of what I wanted to get across and the experiences I wanted to write about to support my ideas.
3. APPLY EARLY TO ANY SCHOOL THAT ALLOWS IT
Many schools offer either “Early Decision 1 or 2,” “Early Action,” or “Early Action Restricted” deadlines along with the standard “Regular Decision” deadline. For most schools, these early applications are due around November 1st, while regular ones are due around January 1st.
I highly suggest applying to as many schools on your list with early deadlines as you can. Even if you apply “early decision” somewhere, if a school on your list offers “early action” than get your application in for that early deadline. Also, if a school makes decisions based on “rolling admissions”, submit your application as early as possible, as the longer you wait the availability of spots will decrease. Acceptance rates are much higher for these early deadlines, “often doubl[ing]—even tripl[ing]—your […] chances of getting into a top college,” states Forbes.
4. STAY AWAY FROM COLLEGE CONFIDENTIAL
This website is a black hole for comparing yourself to others and increasing stress. Once you’ve decided where you’re applying, there is absolutely no need for you to scroll through endless statistics of students who have and have not gotten into schools you’ve applied to – you will only give yourself more cause to worry. In general, try as much as possible to refrain from comparing yourself to peers applying to the same school as you. There are so many factors that go into college admissions, and if someone has 30 points higher than you on the SAT or one extra activity, that hardly means he/she is more likely to get in than you.
5. DON’T FEEL OBLIGED TO TELL PEOPLE WHERE YOU ARE APPLYING
I found, amongst my friends, a lot of anxiety over where my classmates and I were applying. Everyone wanted to know everything. After I told a few of my friends what my top schools were, this information seemed to get around to people I hardly knew. Do not feel obliged that you need to tell everyone where you are applying, even if all of your friends are. Let your own comfort dictate how much information you give out.
6. LET YOUR OWN PERSONALITY SHINE THROUGH IN YOUR APPLICATIONS
There is such a thing as getting too much feedback on your applications. Teachers, parents, friends – these are all great sources for advice, yet be weary of getting too much advice. If you can, have an English teacher look over your essays for grammar errors, yet choose carefully which of the other advice you follow, and make sure the voices of others do not overpower your own.
As much angst as there is surrounding college admissions, more and more of the discussion surrounding it suggests that what college you attend has little impact on your later career, salary, or happiness (as commented on in a NYTimes Op Ed & Forbes article). Malcolm Gladwell even suggests that high achieving students may be better off at lower tier colleges, “where they [will] have a greater chance of standing out”. Remember that luck really does play a big role in determining who is admitted to certain colleges, and most students, likely including you, end up loving the school they attend, even if it was not their original first choice. It’s hard to discern through all of the stress and hysteria, but everything truly does work out.
I hope that these tidbits of advice help rising seniors. The college admissions process is no-doubt a stressful time in one’s life, yet it can also be a beneficial and worthwhile time for self-reflection. This marks the first time a student is truly forced to reflect on one’s own life and characterize his or her beliefs and passions. Take the challenges of application season as a growth opportunity, and no matter where you end up, you will surely be well off.
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Allison Schwartz wrote this article in the spring of her senior year at Harriton High School in Rosemont, Pa. where she was Editor-in-Chief of the Harriton Banner, the school’s newspaper. She is currently a junior at the University of Pennsylvania.