Open Letter To Juniors on the College App Process
Applying to college is quite possibly the most difficult task we as students will encounter in our high school career. We work diligently all four years with the hopes of attending a respectable college and think we have it all figured out, but come senior year the college application process hits us like a truck. We begin to drown in SATs, ACTs, supplements, recommendations, fees, and, worst of all, deadlines. As seniors with an already rigorous course load, we often get overwhelmed and feel hopeless, prompting us to give up altogether and resort to a therapeutic Netflix session (this stems from personal experience – it’s quite common).
I watched my older sister go in blind and our entire family came out traumatized by the time she hit the “confirm” button on May 1st. I was lucky to have a family of college app veterans to help me out, and, combined with my obsessive tendency to plan ahead, I still felt the urge retreat back to my Netflix each time another college email popped up, reminding me of the due dates “coming up fast!” and “only 1 week away, apply now!” No matter how prepared you may be, the process will be tedious and stressful, but a total lack of preparation is a recipe for disaster. We can get through this together.
Before even starting to apply to college it is vital to know where you are applying. Don’t count your chickens before they hatch, don’t cross a busy street before looking, don’t jump into a swamp of starving alligators – that kind of thing.
It’s impossible to know what you’re getting into until you’ve narrowed down a list of schools. Start by doing some basic research about schools and the programs they offer. For example, if you’re looking for a more hands-on approach, schools such as Drexel University (Philadelphia, PA) and Northeastern University (Boston, MA) offer co-op programs where students go to a full time, paid job instead of attending normal classes for the semester.
If you don’t know what you’d like to major in just yet, look up schools with strong programs in areas you have an interest in. If you have no clue what you want to do with your career, research a school’s undecided/undeclared major curriculum. Some are engineered to get students feet wet and lead them to the major that’s right for them, and others just let you bang out your required classes and expect you to figure it out on your own. Most schools allow students to continue to be undecided or undeclared until the end of their sophomore year.
The Essay *Trembles in fear*
Every single one of your hearts began to beat faster the moment you laid eyes on that title. What do I write about? Will they think I’m dramatic? Stupid? Maybe, but that’s only if you are. The essay is, aside from supplementary essays, the only part of your application that shows the real you. It’s meant to give admissions counselors a look in your psyche and define your skills as a writer. Some people are natural writers, and a 650 word essay is nothing to worry about. Those of you who just laughed at that are the ones who struggle with writing and the fact that this essay that may decide which college you get into has you seriously worried. Don’t be.
Since this is your essay, I can only offer you so much advice. First of all, write what you know and know what you write. Don’t go on a tangent on a topic you’re only half educated on. Write from the heart about anything that you feel has helped you develop or speaks strongly to you. No matter how small or insignificant it may seem, it’s your job to make it significant.
Secondly, limit your editors. Too much feedback will overwhelm you and change your essay entirely until it’s just pieces of other people tied together with a bow labeled with your name. Keep a limit of 2-3 editors, and try to make one of those an english teacher. They know what they’re doing and can give you some great feedback. Ms. Ciccarelli read mine out loud to me in the tone and manner she, as the reader, she understood from my writing.
Finally, and this is the most important of all, check your spelling and grammar! Know the difference between your and you’re, their, there, and they’re! Spell correctly! You’re a prospective college student. Write like one.
The Common App
The Common App is an online application platform that can be submitted to multiple schools and provides the applicant with information about required materials such as amount of recommendations, writing supplements, and deadlines. The Common App makes the process bearable because you don’t have to write your date of birth twelve more times until you’re not really sure if you were born on Friday July 16th, 1999. Maybe you were never born at all. This is all just a hallucination induced by the inhalation of oxygen. We wish.
You will no doubt be using the Common App while applying to college, but you may have to use other application platforms depending on the school. The Coalition Application is gaining on the Common App and is used with a multitude of schools, but not nearly as many as the Common App. In a survey conducted of 71 DHS seniors, 97.2% reported having used the Common App while only 1.4% indicated they used the common app. Some schools don’t accept either and require applicants apply directly through the school with on their website. In the same pool of students, 45% reported having used an application directly through a school in addition to the Common App or Coalition App.
Granted, the Common App is no piece of cake. It’s a thorough and extensive profile of you, your parents, and your high school career. It’s not something to bang out in a caffeine induced frenzy on October 31st at 10:30pm. Absolutely not. Spread it out section by section over a few weeks the summer before your senior year. I did it the end of my junior year, but some of us are busier than others. Don’t procrastinate on this one.
Title Your Autobiography Here:
Is among the many possible supplementary essays you may be required to complete in addition to your essay. Supplementary essays are additional pieces of writing that allow admissions counselors to take a more holistic review of your application and gain some insight about you as a person. They aren’t too long, ranging from 100-500 words, and most are on the shorter side. The questions explore your sense of problem solving, morals, motivation for education, and whatever else admissions counselors would like to be privy to while deciding your fate.
Don’t skimp out on supplementary essays. Put some work into them. Admissions counselors want to hear what you have to say and you can never have too much on your college application. If you school offers optional supplementary essays and you’re worried about not getting in, write them. Schools are not only looking for academically motivated students, but well spoken and individual students who can handle adulthood and independence.
It’s great to have straight As and a 4.4 GPA, but if you can’t prove you’re more than a name on a page you’ll be a garden variety applicant – not even the pretty garden with flowers, each beautiful and unique in their own way. You’ll be that lopsided, discolored pepper with a bunny-sized bite taken out of it in the vegetable garden. Don’t be a pepper.
Advice from College App Veterans
A survey was conducted of 71 DHS seniors applying to college, and they were asked what advice they’d give the junior class. The first six responses were “Start early,” verbatim and many other said the same thing in different words. Self explanatory? I think so.
The seniors also recommended meeting with your guidance counselor anywhere from mid May – early June of junior year to discuss the process and potential schools. They also recommended asking teachers for recommendations around that same time. I strongly urge you to ask early because some of the more popular teachers have set a limit for themselves, and may turn you down if you’re too late. It’s not because they don’t like you, it’s because writing 30+ recommendations would fry anyone’s brain.
My Two Cents
I have a little advice for all of you. Here a few things I picked up while doing my own college research.
First is establishing safety, target, and reach schools. Safeties are schools you are almost certain you’ll get into – a backup. Targets are schools you’ll probably get into and match your academic standards. Reaches are schools you have a only a small chance of getting into, but you’re applying anyway. Make sure to have at least 1 safety and 2 targets on your list. Reaches are optional, but we can dream, right?
Second is the school’s yield: the percentage of admitted students who actually enroll. Before you give up on a school because your academics don’t meet their standards, look at the yield rate. If the yield rate is very low, then kids on the waitlist have an actual chance of getting.
Next up is freshman retention rate: percentage of freshman students who have decided to continue to attend that school their sophomore year. If this number is low, do some research as to why students aren’t sticking with this school. Is it a bad atmosphere? Are students being hazed or discriminated against?
Last is graduation rate: percentage of students who graduate. You are going to college to get a degree. You are paying upwards of $30,000 per year to get a degree. It’s important that you graduate and actually receive this degree. Look up the graduation rates of the schools you’re considering and think about why these students aren’t graduating. Are the classes too difficult? Are kids failing out?
A Motivating Conclusion
If you’re a bit frazzled after reading this then you’re in the clear. The contents of this article are meant to planned for and spread out over time. It’s easier than you think as long as you’re devoted and plan out your time. And once you’ve submitted your applications, don’t stress. It’ll be months before you hear from a school and you’re time will be better spent studying and hanging with friends. Good luck!
PSA: There is a green transcript release sheet in guidance that that has to be turned in one month before your first application deadline (I had no idea what this was and almost missed my deadline).