My top tips to surviving college applications and that senior slump.
As I sat in my school's gym during my graduation ceremony, it kind of felt as if I was going through the motions. It didn't actually feel as if I was graduating which I thought to be quite odd. I laughed and joked with my friends during the ceremony and even when I went up to collect my diploma, I didn't feel as if it was time to say good-bye to the four years that had sped by. It wasn't until I saw the first cap fly up in the air did the butterflies in my stomach light up and I realized it was actually over.
Exactly one day ago, I came back from my college orientation. I made my schedule, got my ID, met some people in my major. And, in three months, I'll be in college. When did it all happen!? How did it all happen!? Well, I'll tell you.
Here are my top tips on surviving the college application process:
1. Start prepping for the ACT/SAT early on.
I began ACT tutoring the summer going into Junior year. Is that slightly early? Probably but it was extremely helpful, at least for me. Many students start their tutoring and classes during Freshman and Sophomore year, including my brother. Starting early allows one to choose which standardized test they prefer to take and are more suited to take. It will also help in practicing and becoming accustomed to the types of questions so, when the time comes, you are not focused specifically on the question but on how to answer it. This will be a huge time-saver during the exam and will allow you to answer more questions and problems.
As of recently, more universities and colleges have become test-optional meaning one is not required to send in their standardized test scores. But, when it comes down to it, it is always better to send in more documents and papers in order to seem more competitive than other applicants.
2. Start college-searching either Freshman or Sophomore year.
I may or may not have broken this one but you should start searching and googling for colleges early on. Like the little over-achiever child I am, I started looking at colleges in sixth grade - when I first pinpointed which career path I wanted to take. From there, I chiseled my list down to the few that met every one of my specifications.
I recommend doing this research with a parent or guardian so as to have someone whose advice you trust. Both of my parents played a huge role in my college search as they helped me make clear what I truly wanted in a college or university.
Of course, searching for colleges shouldn't be a sit-down-for-five-hours-and-google type of process but more a gradual accumulation of information. If you're bored on your laptop one day, just google a couple of universities for a few minutes and leave it at that. You can then pick up later but now you have a better idea of what you're looking for. This will eventually help you compile your list of colleges and universities.
3. Do not apply to more than 15 colleges.
You may be thinking, "15!? I wasn't even thinking of applying to more than 5!" But, believe it or not, more and more students are beginning to go overboard with the number of colleges they apply to. There is always that group of seniors that apply to 20-30 colleges a year. This is what I'd like to call self-sabotage.
Capping the number of colleges you apply to at 15 ensures that you can better focus and perfect your essays and applications instead of having to speed through 26 applications. I personally applied to 13 schools (including UC schools which only have 1 application) and ended up only having to write 10 applications. Although it seemed like an avalanche of essays and paperwork at the time, I was able to truly polish my work and make sure that it was my best effort.
Looking at it from the financial side of things, applying to 15 schools or less saves you a ton of money. Most college application fees range from $40 to $70. There is occasionally that one application that goes above and beyond and costs you a whopping $90 (*cough* Stanford *cough*). This is a crucial time to be saving up money and spending it on applications to colleges you aren't truly considering isn't the best way to spend it.
4. Look for a program specific to your interests and planned area of study.
Partaking in a program that is geared towards your planned major show an interest and initiative on your part in that field. It demonstrates to those reading your application that you are passionate about that career and have much more potential and experience than other candidates.
It is also a bonus if you choose a program at a university you are planning on applying to. On your résumé, it shows that you are dedicated to that particular school so much so, that you participated in a program at their campus. While there, you can also make connections with faculty and students that may prove beneficial to you later on.
I participated in a journalism program at Boston University the summer going into my senior year of high school. There, not only did I learn skills that a professional journalist has, I was also able to experience what life would be like as a BU student while also meeting professors that I could potentially have. Coincidentally, I was accepted to BU later that school year and I plan on continuing my education as a BU student in these four years to come.
5. Community service, community service, community service!!
Nowadays, applications and acceptances aren't simply based on grades and GPA but what you do to help your community and peers. Universities want to know that they are accepting a student that isn't only at the school to go to class, but they are also taking their education outside of the classroom to help the community prosper. But, reminder, you can't prove this by writing an essay telling the admissions committee how you are going to help and participate in school activities. In this specific scenario, actions speak louder than words. Go out and take part in community service and activities to both add to your résumé and help your community and peers.
Although my school required 80 hours of community service to graduate, I had already started my own community service initiative back in middle school. I continued it on through high school and was able to add it onto my résumé when applying for colleges.
6. Finish all of your credits the first year and cruise by Senior year.
Every high school requires a certain amount of credits in each subject in order for a student to graduate. Although that one easy-A art class might seem tempting going into Sophomore year, DON'T DO IT. Take all of your required courses early on so you can take mostly electives during your Senior year. This will allow you not only excel in all of your classes during your Senior year, you will also be able to better focus on applications and all of your Senior year activities.
7. Get a job.
Getting a job doesn't mean working 7 hours every day, 5 days a week. Even a desk job 2 days a week for a couple of hours counts. By writing down that you have a job on your college application, you demonstrate you are a well-rounded individual who knows how to manage their time - juggling schoolwork, sports, extracurriculars, and a job. These skills are essential going into college as this may be the first time you have to figure out your time and schedule on your own. Having a job in high school demonstrates you are able to efficiently manage your time and find a happy medium, proof that you will be able to succeed in your desired college or university.
8. Get a planner - like, a big one.
As cliché as this may sound, do it. Just do it. Go down to Target and get yourself a nice, big planner where the monthly calendar stretches out over two entire pages. Specifically during application season, your planner will not only be your best friend but your savior.
With so many interviews, deadlines, testing, etc. going on, you're bound to forget at least one important date (like I did too many times). By using a planner where you can see the entire month in print, you are better able to manage your time and schedule. Not only will this decrease your stress but give you the comfort that you know what's going on and you are in control.
9. Map out your college essays.
Most of the supplemental essays on college applications have a fairly similar ring to them. So, why write entirely new essays when you can just reuse them?
Go over all of the supplemental essay questions first. Then, if possible, try to find a recurring theme amongst the essays. If you have, find a topic that can be applied to this theme and map it an essay as efficiently and detailed as possible. It will then be easier to write and edit your essay as you are simply following a guideline instead of trying to come up with the essay on the spot.
By reusing essays, you have more time to edit and perfect your supplemental essays instead of writing a dozen sloppily ones. It will also relieve you of unwanted stress, which is a must during application season.
10. Finish all of your applications prior to Christmas Break.
Forget about the fact that applications are due at the beginning of January. Don't wait that long, for your sanity. Start your applications around June or July and work on them until November. This gives you a time span of 5-6 months to perfect and really focus on your applications before your Christmas Break. Once you submit them before the holidays start, you can be assured a (somewhat) relaxing holiday with no work or worries.
I made the mistake of not finishing my applications prior to break (although I had planned on doing so), and it was most definitely one of my top regrets during the application process. Although I had time over the holidays to work on my applications, they were simply a burden during my vacation which I most definitely did not want or need.
11. Don't complain now. Just wait...
Yes, the application process is grueling and mind-numbing. Believe me, I know. But trust me when I tell you this, the application process isn't half as bad as the waiting period.
Although writing essays isn't the most ideal pass time activity, it really isn't that bad. Sit yourself down at the kitchen table, grab yourself a glass of water and some snacks, and dedicate yourself for a good 3 or 4 hours. If you've planned out your essays in advance, you'll speed through your essays and finish more than half in no time. (As bad as it sounds, I skipped a couple of days here and there during 1st semester and spent the entirety of them working on college essays. But, they were worth it.)
Once you've turned in your applications, an enormous burden will be lifted from your shoulders. But beware, an even larger one might sneak up on you - the waiting. At least for me, waiting to hear back from colleges was the most painful of all of the tasks. Being in limbo, not being able to control anything at that point was definitely not a favorite of mine. But, remember - it will all pay off in the end if you've done everything right.
Hopefully, you were able to pick up at least one or two helpful tips from my experience going through the application process. Good luck to all those beginning their college process - the best is yet to come!