I know, I know…a year before today, I was in your position—a junior about to embark on the college application process. Now, most of my friends and I have heard back from our colleges, are generally much more relaxed than we were a year ago, and I feel ready to pen my college advice.
Let me get to the main point—applying to college is emotional, draining, and confusing, but it can also be rewarding and exciting. After all, you’re mapping out your future and trying to piece yourself together to fit into multiple 200-word limit boxes. Today, I still can say that I don’t know everything about applying to schools, but below, I’ve listed some advice that I do know helped me survive and see my way past the gray fog that is the college application process.
One of the most challenging aspects of applying to college is narrowing and finalizing a list of colleges. While embarking on the college search, here are some questions you might want to ask yourself:
Do I want a smaller college or a larger school?
Do I have a geographical preference?
Do I want lecture-based classes or discussion-oriented classes?
Do I have a high desire for accessible professors?
What career am I leaning towards?
Is cost a major factor in choosing a college?
What activities or interests would I want to pursue in college?
What would be my ideal social scene at college?
To further explore and define your college profile, research and complete college questionnaires online.
Once you’ve created a college list, try to visit schools in-person. If you are unable to travel and visit schools in-person, most college websites offer a virtual tour under the visit page. You can also try Campus Reel, which offers videos and tours of over 300 college campuses. Many colleges offer one-on-one virtual discussions with current students and interviews, which are opportunities to receive a unique perspective and make yourself stand out as an applicant. Media networks–YouTube and Instagram–also act as resources (many colleges have admissions-designated platforms).
Designate a space for college information. This can mean creating an email solely for college applications or even just creating a Google folder. Personally, I created a Google folder with all of my supplements. I also created a spreadsheet with the names of the colleges I applied to, deadlines, interview dates, requirements, and passwords for portals.
While applying to college, you may want to consider applying early action or early decision. According to the College Board, “approximately 450 colleges have early decision or early action plans, and some have both.” An ED applicant applies early to their first-choice college and receives an admission decision from the college in advance of the regular decision notification date. ED is binding: if the applicant is accepted, they must agree to attend the college and rescind the rest of their applications. EA applicants, on the other hand, apply early and receive a decision early but don’t have to commit upon receipt. Besides possibly increasing the chances of getting in, applying early can save the time and expense of submitting many applications and reduce the stress of waiting.
If possible, start writing your college essays over the summer! The fall semester of senior year is a whirlwind–on top of classes, extracurriculars, and last-minute test-taking, it may be challenging to find the energy and time to start your essays. As a New York City public school student, my summer began in late June and my senior year began in early-to-mid September. I made the initiative to begin and finish a draft of my Common App essay in July. All colleges release their supplemental prompts by September 1st, but most come out in August or July. I started writing drafts of some supplements in August. By the time I started school, my Common App essay was finished, along with a few supplements, which made my fall semester much more manageable.
Although it’s difficult to pinpoint what exactly makes a “killer” college essay, write about something that feels uniquely you. While approaching my college essay, I panicked–I couldn’t recall an awe-inspiring revelation or life-changing experience I’d had. I feared that my college essay would be a yawn in the eyes of its readers. However, after attending a college essay panel, I’d realized I could write about a small routine or event in my life–whether it be listening to music or making breakfast with my sister.
Prepare a resume! Some colleges give you the option to submit resumes in addition to the activities list. Since applicants are given such little room to explain and represent their extracurricular lives, resumes are a great way to enrich and further explain your specific roles and passions.
If you plan to interview, don’t forget to ask your interviewer questions. Also, don’t over prepare for an interview. Sometimes you’ll encounter traditional interview questions, and sometimes you won’t. Here are some questions I’ve been asked:
If you could be a marine animal for a day, which one would you be and why?
Why are you interested in our school?
If you had a million dollars, what research project would you conduct and why?
What major do you intend on pursuing?
If I were in your city/town for a day, what would you take me to see?
As you can see, some questions are more expected than others. Ultimately, I’d recommend familiarizing yourself or thinking about what classes you’d be interested in taking or extracurriculars you’d be interested in participating at the school, what makes the school stand out to you, and your strengths and weaknesses as a student. Don’t panic too much–interviewers just want to see how you think.
Don’t compare yourself to other students. Who cares if Person A got a higher SAT score or had a higher GPA or did an internship over the summer? Focus on highlighting and communicating your strengths as an applicant. Don’t nitpick and trivialize others’ achievements and your own by comparing–celebrate how far you’ve all come!
At the end of the day, remember to take care of yourself and breathe. While applying to college, it’s easy to become anxious and even discouraged. Sometimes, you need to close your application tabs, step away from your computer, and take a walk. Understand that the college admissions process is unpredictable. Your emotions are valid and deserve being acknowledged, so make sure take time for yourself.
Madison Loughlin is a current second-semester senior and will be attending Georgetown University in the fall.