Ten Things I Wish I Knew When I Was Applying To College
1) COLLEGE VISITS ARE ESSENTIAL! Each school has its own “vibe” and you need to know if you’re applying to a place where you think you will fit in. Campus visits are the best indication if a school is for you and allow you to see the school’s character amidst piles of (probably) unopened and indiscernible college mail. You may love a school’s picturesque campus and lengthy choice of majors, information you’ve seen in their brochures, but step off campus and end up in Amish country when you wanted a bustling metropolitan location.
2) Everything costs money. While this might sound obvious, there are many costs that aren’t initially considered when applying to college. Application fees ranges from $10-75, add in SAT/ACT reporting scores per school ($11/each) and suddenly applying to 20 schools doesn’t sound like such a good idea anymore. Look into which schools have free applications and for students who cannot afford application fees, set up a meeting with your guidance counselor who, in most cases, can email schools and explain that the cost would be too much of a burden for your family.
3) Names aren’t everything. Ivies and other super prestigious schools are very impressive and offer their students tremendous opportunity, but don’t be discouraged by a school with a “lesser name.” I opted for a great, albeit less prestigious, school that I love, as more and more of my peers decided on top tier schools. I questioned my decision; I feared that I should have looked into big name schools, despite their often hefty price tag. In the end, I realized that my school has pretty much everything I wanted and has given me opportunities, such as an invitation into the honors program and a generous scholarship, that I may not have received at a more competitive school.
4) Ask questions. Pretty self explanatory, but still important. Talk to your guidance counselor if you’re confused or unclear about something, email people in the admissions offices of your prospective schools, get into contact with friends already in college. Being informed will allow you to make the best decision possible.
5) You will change your mind. I decided to go to Manhattan College about 7 days prior to the dreaded May 1st deadline. I had contemplated going to Fordham University, the Macaulay Honors College at Lehman, SUNY New Paltz, and, in a moment of complete frustration, considered avoiding college all together and heading to beauty school. I was stressed and unsure and couldn’t decide, and that’s completely normal. Your safety may become your first choice or you may abandon a liberal arts school in favor of a Pre Med program, and that’s okay.
6) Admissions decisions don’t always make sense. My best friend was quite overqualified for his number one school. An ideal applicant and fit for the school, he had a great GPA, impressive SAT scores, demonstrated commitment to extracurricular activities & social justice and held multiple leadership positions. He even created workshops for our district’s middle school that focus on bullying and tolerance. He was wait-listed. It was shocking, especially when less qualified applicants were being accepted. He initially contacted the admissions department to appeal the decision, understandably upset and confused. Ultimately, he decided to attend a different, very prestigious school where he will undoubtedly flourish. Moral of the story: Even the best applicants can be denied. Don’t freak out, appeals are increasingly popular and even if you ultimately don’t get into your dream school, you may end up somewhere totally different and wonderful.
7) Be responsible for your own deadlines. Guidance counselors are keeping track of hundreds of students; take an active role in your application process. Make sure your transcript request forms are in on time and don’t be afraid to check up with your guidance counselor to make sure that they have sent in transcripts, applications, recommendations etc. Also, be sure to thank even the least helpful guidance counselors with a handwritten letter or card at some point, they’re trying their best.
8) DO NOT PROCRASTINATE. This is especially important when writing supplements. Supplements allow colleges to get to know you and deem whether or not they feel you’re a good fit for the school. Supplements are time consuming; I waited until the morning of my December 15 deadline and didn’t submit my essays until one minute before the application closed. Not smart. Pay attention to those essays like you do your main college essay, which brings me to my next point…
9) The College Essay will consume your life. And you thought coming up with an idea would be the hardest part. You will probably write, rewrite, revise, and rewrite your college essay. You’ll day dream until the perfect topic comes to you, procrastinate a bit, write it, think it’s perfect and hand it into your English teacher feeling accomplished. It will be returned to you covered in more red pen marks than you can count, and while reading it you’ll probably realize that you forgot things like spelling and grammar during a leisurely pre-senior year summer. Ask your teacher for tips on how to make the essay its best and don’t hesitate to have peers, parents and other teachers to read it over and give you their opinions. Everyone will seemingly have something different to say about how to make your essay its best. Ultimately, it’s your essay and if you think your title is genius, and then it probably is.
10) Be organized. Whether you work best with folders, a planner or your phone, you need to be aware of deadlines in order to budget your time. Keep a list of important contact information from your schools if need be, and be sure to have everything done on time. This is also important once you receive admissions decisions, you’ll need to catalogue your papers from each school and begin to notify schools whether or not you will be enrolling.
Anything else you wish you knew? Advice for applicants? Let us know in the comments.