I started applying to college at the end of summer before my senior year. I had already visited a few colleges, and I went into the entire process thinking I was prepared to make a decision about where I would be spending the next four years of my life. Little did I know, a lot more is involved with the college process than I ever imagined, and it was very overwhelming.
However, I managed to stay positive throughout the whole experience, and in three weeks I will be headed off to Ithaca college, ready to start my four-year journey into adulthood. I've learned some tricks to staying positive, and I thought I'd share some of them for incoming seniors who don't know what is coming to them in the next few months.
1. Visiting Campuses
(live footage of me and my younger sister being dragged through college tours)
One thing I had always thought through my years of seeing older kids in my school applying and heading off to college was that you visited schools, picked your top few favorites, and chose whichever one you felt suited you the best. Little did I know, it's not a simple as picking a college which feels right.
One tip I would like to give is, don't be heart set on one college before you even apply. When a college scout came to my school representing Elmira in the spring of my junior year, I thought the campus was beautiful, and that was enough for me to ask my family if we could go visit during Spring break. We scheduled a tour, and once I was there the campus really was beautiful. However, as the tour guide brought us around campus, I realized we were hearing a lot of information about tradition, and it seemed as if the guide thought it was more exciting how old the wood in the library was rather than the type of classes they offered or what the college life was like on that particular campus.
My heart was broken as I realized (or at least thought I realized) that college wasn't going to be what I had spent four years of high school daydreaming about, and it was going to be a new experience that was different than I expected or wanted.
After the tour, we had scheduled another tour for Ithaca College, and I was dreading it, thinking it would be like the Elmira tour which really just didn't interest me. Once I got to Ithaca and started the tour, complaining about yet another boring college tour the entire drive to campus, I began to fall in love with the environment, the campus facilities, and the mentality of Ithaca itself. Although it was too soon for me to pick a college I definitely wanted to attend, I realized it was time to open my mind up to other options when it came time for me to finally apply.
2. Applying to Colleges
My advice for applying to college goes hand in hand with the visiting colleges aspect.
If you take anything from this article, it's that I always thought you needed to visit all of the schools that you apply to before you apply. I realized this isn't true after just a few college visits. If you visit one or two schools, you can get a feel for what a college tour is like, and what you generally want to look for in a college. Then, you can go online and research other schools, think about which ones will suit your needs, pick the schools you want to apply to, and visit them once you are accepted.
I ended up applying to 9 schools, which I realize isn't realistic for everyone considering some college applications are higher than $60, but after applying and waiting for acceptance letters, I was able to knock a few colleges off of my list just by doing a little more research into the school. So for those of you who can't afford to apply to schools you're not seriously considering attending, I would recommend picking one or two safety schools (safety in terms of acceptance and financial aid), one or two ideal schools, and a reach school (meaning you aren't necessarily confident about acceptance but would consider if you got accepted).
The level of difficulty to get accepted to safety, ideal, and reach schools will be different for every person in terms of academics and financial aid, and it's important to think about what the definition of these terms mean for you. I would also highly recommend applying early action, as it's non-binding and gives you more time to make a final decision about which school you want to attend.
3. Choosing a School
I had always thought that once you were accepted to all the colleges you were going to be accepted to, the choice of where to attend would be clear. However, this was not the case for me. I was heart set on Ithaca, but I planned a visit to the University of Vermont just to check it out. After visiting the campus and loving the environment of the college, I was conflicted. There were a lot of good and bad aspects to both schools, and every time I thought I had come to a decision, something stopped me.
What I didn't expect was that my choice between two great schools with two great environments and cultures came down to financial aid. In the end: Ithaca gave me more money than the University of Vermont, and so my choice came down to money. Although not everyone needs to worry about the financial aspect of college, it is important for everyone to look ahead to their future and think about how to get out of college with as little student loans as possible.
4. Picking a Roommate/Dorms
In November, when I was accepted by the majority of the colleges that ended up accepting me, I talked to a girl on the Ithaca facebook, and we became friends. I was so excited about the idea of college, I agreed to be her roommate before I really knew her and before I even knew for sure that I wanted to attend Ithaca. We got along fine, and we talked every day since we started talking up until orientation. We ended up going to the same orientation and hung out the entire first day. For the next two days, I didn't hear a word from her.
A few days after orientation, when there were about 4 days until housing selection, she told me she didn't want to be roommates anymore. I was heartbroken and didn't know what to do. I thought about it for a long time, and after realizing everyone else probably already had a roommate, I decided to try and get a single, which I did.
This is a big bump for me as I had never before considered the possibility of having a single freshman year before this point, but after a lot of time to think, I see the positivity of having privacy, my own space to study, and more room for my clothes rather than any negative thoughts of potential loneliness. In terms of what comes after you choose a school, my advice is to roll with the punches, and even if you're scared or nervous, just remember that thousands of other incoming freshmen across the country are probably also scared and nervous.
My overall advice for upcoming seniors: although this year might be one of the stressful years in your life, try to enjoy it. The year will fly by faster than you think, and although the future is unknown and scary, you're about to enter into the most educating and eye-opening four years of your life; have fun.