Hey, you! Calling all High School Juniors and Seniors! It's that time of your life when you're preparing for change. You're excited to escape the prison that is High School but you're also nervous about what's to come in the future. You're stressed and overwhelmed about all of your college visits and interviews and applications and you're not sure how to manage it all - and on top of all of that your teachers can't seem to understand that you have a lot on your plate! So, I've put together a little guide on how to survive the college application process. Take it from someone who's been through it. If you keep these points in mind, have no fear, you will make it through! So, without further ado, here is my guide to the college process:
1. Compile a list of schools that you are interested in looking at.
Put together a list of 10-15 schools that you're really interested in taking a look at! Consider your areas of interest, your major (if you know it), and your preferences. Are you interested in a business program, journalism, or arts? Would you rather pursue a liberal arts education to get a little taste of everything before you make a decision? Do you want to go to a big school, a medium school, or a small school? And don't worry - I know that this sounds overwhelming. The best part of the beginning of the application process is that you don't need to know the answer to all of these questions - they're just some things to think about! If you're not sure, give your list some variety. Once you visit a couple of schools you'll have a better sense of what you like and what you don't like!
2. Bring a notebook on your visits.
This is something that I'm sure you've heard a hundred times, but trust me, this is important. It's hard to remember everything about a school - especially when you're doing a big "college road trip." After a while, they all seem to blend together. Definitely bring a notebook to your college visits. In each information session, write down things that stand out to you. After you tour, write down pros/cons and likes/dislikes about each school - whether its about academics or the environment. It's critical that you keep track of these types of things to help you narrow down your list to schools that you want to apply to.
3. "Reaches," "Probablys," and "Likelys"
So, you're narrowing down your list of schools to the ones that you want to apply to. I would recommend having a maximum of 8 on this list, including two "reaches," four "probablys," and two "likelys." A "reach" school is a school that you may be at the lower end of the average qualifications of students who are accepted. This means that students like you have gotten into the school before, but it may be more competitive to get into. A "probably" school, commonly referred to as a "target" school, is a school where you fall into the average set of qualifications that students who are accepted typically have. Based on your grades and test scores, you should get into the school, but you must keep in mind that applications are much more than just your grades and scores. And finally, a "likely" school is a school where you fall on the higher end of the qualification spectrum of accepted students. These are also referred to as "safety" schools, meaning that it's pretty likely that you will be accepted to these.
And of course, these categories don't mean that you will or will not be accepted to a school - college applications are "iffy." You can never really know - so don't feel limited to what I have suggested. If you want to throw in a few more reaches, go for it! I definitely recommend having at least two likely schools on your list though, especially because college admissions can be so questionable. Also bear in mind that ranking isn't everything - you do not need to go to the #1 school in the country to get a great education and you don't need to base your picks on rankings. Pick schools that you feel at home at, because ultimately, you will be happier at one of them.
4. The Application
Of course, college applications all differ. Some colleges aren't Common App schools, and some are but have supplemental questions, etc. The best advice that I can give you with the application essays and short answer questions are to take your time - but not too much time. Don't wait until the last minute to begin your applications because it will be simply impossible to get it all done. Space out your applications and do a little bit every day. These essays are the best way for colleges to get to know who you are apart from your academic achievements. Make sure that you put your best foot forward in these essays - talk about what makes you you. Here is your opportunity to really differentiate yourself, so take advantage of it! When you're done with these questions, have someone proof read them. It can be a parent, a teacher, a counselor, a friend - just make sure you get a second pair of eyes to look at them because this is the most important part.
5. The "Optional" Interview
Ah, the "optional-but-not-really" interview! Let me give you a little piece of advice - if a college offers a personal interview as a part of their application process and you are able to do one, do it. This will really show your interest in a school as well as give the admissions counselors an even better opportunity to get to know you. And don't be too nervous - they just want to have a conversation with you! Keep calm, answer their questions, and don't be afraid to take a pause and think about what you want to say! They understand if you're a little nervous - most prospective students are! Also, bonus points if you bring your interviewer a copy of your resume.
6. Acceptance and Rejection
Finally, the most exciting and upsetting parts of the college process - acceptance and rejection. Getting into a school is the best feeling ever, but be sure to be sensitive to other students who may have applied to the same places and not gotten in. It's only natural to be excited about your acceptance, but don't throw it in other people's faces, because rejection can hurt. Odds are that you will experience rejection too. Just remember that it's not the end of the world - you will recover. If a school doesn't offer you admission, do not panic - it's just not the right place for you. It's all a part of the process, and just trust that you will end up where you belong.