I have finished applying to college. After almost a year in this process, and over 15 applications later, I feel as if a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders. It feels almost like the end of an era. After working hard my entire high school career, working for this point…I’m done. I never have to take the SATs again, I never have to write another common app essay or supplemental 250 words about something meaningful. No matter what, I am going to college.
As someone who has now officially lived through the college application process, I’ve decided to share a few tips and tricks to applying to college.
1. Reuse and recycle.
When it comes to writing supplements, a lot of colleges use prompts that are very similar, if not the same. Before you even start writing a new supplement, check the things you have already written. There might be something you can use or part of something you can use. For one of my applications, I submitted 2 supplements I had already written for a previous application. This saves time and energy and doesn’t force you to struggle and find new things to say about yourself.
2. Apply early wherever you can.
A lot of people can’t get their applications in by November 1st, which is understandable. But applying early helps to get more of the process done with sooner, and it gives you a better chance at getting into certain schools. Additionally, getting even one acceptance before winter break makes everything a lot easier. And if you don’t think you want to apply early and then change your mind, that’s OK too. At the beginning of October 2016 I did not want to apply early to any school… Needless to say I changed my mind and managed to submit 6 applications by November 1st. If you really work, you can do it.
3. Early actions is not early decision.
I still get these confused. Early Action is simply regular decision, but earlier, giving you a better chance at being accepted. Early Decision is a binding contract where if you get into the school you ED to, you have to go to that school. Meaning you can only apply to one school ED and if you do apply ED it better be your top choice- because if you get in, you have to go.
4. Think about your recommendations - don’t just pick your favorite teacher.
If you hate your biology teacher, but you want to be a biology major, don’t rule her out so quickly and pick your english teacher! The most important thing is picking a teacher who not only knows you but knows what you’re passionate about. If english is your intended major, it’s a good idea to pick your english teacher. But if you and your english teacher don’t get along, that may not be the best choice. Diversity is also key. Colleges want to see some differentiation throughout your entire application, including letters of recommendation. For example, I chose my biology teacher and one of my humanities/english teachers for my letters of recommendation.
5. Getting deferred isn’t a big deal.
A lot of people get deferred, and many take it as a rejection. However, the college could have just rejected you flat out and they didn’t. Being deferred is simply the college wanting a second look and more information about you as a student. There’s nothing wrong with that.
6. Getting into one school isn’t an excuse to slack off.
Senioritis is a thing, people, and it’s not good. After being accepted into one of my top three schools, my mom told me to stop stressing, that I no longer needed to study so hard and try the way that I do. Sorry mom, that’s total BS. Getting accepting isn’t a binding contract yet, and if your A's and B's suddenly become C's and D's colleges won’t hesitate to revoke your admittance. Being accepted is great, it allows hard working students to finally relax, but don’t let it be the reason you slack off your senior year.
7. You don't need to take the SATs or ACTs five times.
I took my SATs for the first time in June of my junior year. I took them again that following October. Both of these dates are much later than most of my peers. The stats show that taking them more than 2 or 3 times does not really prove to increase your score. After you take it twice, you’re getting the score you will pretty much get every time, no matter how much test prep you do. So don't stress out and don't take them if you aren't ready!
8. Figure out what SAT/ACT plan is right for you.
Classes don’t always work for everyone. Sometimes a one on one tutor is much more effective. Or maybe the tutor doesn’t work for you and prepping by yourself with a book is the way to go. Talk to your parents, figure out what’s right for you - and don’t get stressed out if all your friends are taking a standardized test prep course and you’re not.
9. Don’t tell people your top choice.
This is one of the most important things I've learned. If you don’t get into that top choice, everyone is going to be asking. For me, I chose not to tell anyone about my acceptances except for a few close friends. However a lot of my classmates knew that UCLA was my top choice, it has been since I was a freshmen. I have people ask me whether I’ve been accepted or not constantly. It’s annoying, and if you get rejected from your top choice, it’d be better to save yourself the embarrassment of having to relay that information to your classmates.
10. Finish the common app early.
By early, I mean by October 1st. After that, all you have to worry about is supplementals, which are a lot to worry about on their own. You don’t need the added weight of the stupid common app.
11. Thank your guidance counselor.
Bake them cookies, buy them flowers or something. While you only have to go through this horrendous process once, they live this every single year. Appreciate what they do for you, thank them tremendously.
12. If you don’t see yourself at that school, don’t apply there!
This seems straight-forward, but it’s easy to get swayed by parents and friends and others who want you to apply to a certain school. If you don’t see yourself at Harvard, don’t waste $50-$100 and apply there. There’s no point. If you won’t go there, be honest with yourself and don’t apply.
13. The schools your friends are applying to don’t matter.
Who honestly cares. You know you aren’t going to follow your BFFs to college anyway, so why does it matter if you don’t apply to a school they apply to
This is probably the most important thing about the college process. There are hundreds of colleges out there, and figuring out which ones are a good fit for you is really overwhelming. Ask for help from your parents and guidance counselors. Start to research the names they give you and figure out what you’re drawn to.
15. Create your criteria.
When looking for a school, the things I look for (my criteria) are as follows: (1) warm, (2) in some type of city, (3) not too small, (4) not dominated by Greek life, (5) competitive academic programs, (5) strong alumni, (6) good political science programs. While these are the things I look for, they aren’t the same for everyone. Maybe you want a school with a great music department. Or a school where you can play on the basketball team. It doesn’t matter what they are, it just matters that you have a list of things you want in a school, which will make finding the perfect one a lot easier.
16. You don’t need to apply to a billion safety schools - or a billion schools at all.
I applied to two safety schools early action, and after getting in there I didn’t apply to my other safety schools when it came time for regular decision, which is totally fine.
17. Finally...don't kill yourself.
Take it one day at a time, and don't be afraid to ask for help when you need it!
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