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The Beginning: Apps

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If you can survive the college application process, you can handle a lot more than you’d think. Between taking the SAT/ACT for the last time, maintaining a consistent GPA, looking into financial aid, and ultimately choosing a home for the next four years you’ll find yourself stressed out to say the least. These are just a few of the tips that come to mind when I look back on applying to college:

  1. Create a scale ranging from safety schools (back-ups, affordable choices, schools you’re sure to get into in case your first choices don’t pan out) to range schools (schools within your GPA/Test numbers), and lastly reach or dream schools (schools that are competitive whether or not your qualifications align with their expectations, be honest with yourself about what level you’re on.) 

Having this range of options is a great strategy to ensure you’re going to a college after high school. If you only apply to Ivy Leagues and no others before the deadlines (ranging anywhere from late November to early January), then you’re setting yourself up for failure. Even the most accomplished of students are often times rejected from Ivy League universities because the highest acceptance rate is Cornell at barely 13%. Look into similar schools such as private liberal arts institutions if you’re interested in that type of college. If you’re interested in the most prestigious public universities such as UC Berkeley or the University of Michigan, use state schools as your backups. Because while you do have a better shot at a public school than most competitive private institutions, their acceptance rates are decreasing as more people begin to apply. The UCLA acceptance rate is closer to an Ivy League acceptance rate than a typical public university’s.

    2.  Whatever you do: Don’t catch Senioritis!

It’s unbelievable how many kids in your senior class will have such a hard time staying on top of their assignments during this time. While it’s completely normal, what you have to remind yourself of is that you’ve worked too hard your whole academic career to slack off during your last year of grade school. People want to spend the majority of their time with their high school friends, or put too much on their plate (like working, extra curricular activities, sports, and too many higher level classes like honors, AP, or general ed college courses). Don’t overwork yourself, prioritize a few simple things. First, finish high school strong. If your weak class is math (thanks common core), don’t decide you’re going to take honors calculus. Colleges would rather see you passed statistics or pre-calc than see you failed an honors course, your admissions officer has every right to assume you bit off more than you could chew and that’s why you failed. Second, prioritize your test score if it’s not where you want it to be. Third, make sure your applications are turned in on time. And lastly, prioritize your mental health throughout the entire process. If you don’t feel like going out all night with friends and you rather catch the extra hours of sleep – do it! If you find yourself getting frustrated at your computer when you’ve run out of ideas for the essay you’re working on, go out with family or friends and come back to it over the weekend. Prioritize you during this time.

  3. Speaking of priorities – decide which colleges you          want to put the most time and effort into.

Remember how I mentioned the competitive universities? If those are places you really wanna strive for, then you have to be willing to put more time into perfecting that application. If you’re almost positive your grades and test scores will land you into SDSU, don’t stress over that application. Put the upmost effort into the places you’re serious about so that you’re not spreading yourself thin. Also, make a list out of your college list. Pick first, second, and third choices from each category (safety, range, and dream school). For example, my favorite safety school was San Francisco State, my favorite range school was Willamette University, and my dream school was NYU.

  4. Don’t waste your time or money on applying to a           university just because your best friend, partner, or         even relative really wants you to go there. 

If you’re going through it now, or already have, at least one person comes to mind. There’s always someone who thinks they should have a say in where you decide to embark on this incredible experience and begin becoming your own person. Maybe your friend is just really nervous about living alone, and would much prefer living with or near you so that they’re not completely by themselves. Maybe you’ve been with your significant other most of high school, and you’re both scared of what you would do without the other. Maybe your relative is an alumni of that university they’re advocating for, or they want you to go to the school that they wished they could have attended.

No matter what the reason is, take their advice and wishes with a grain of salt. Try to decide whether or not it’s something you could see yourself also really wanting, or if the only reason you’re considering said university is to appease this person who means a lot to you. If it’s only to include them on this choice and make them happy, consider scratching it off the list. When you think about this university and can’t picture yourself there, or they lack a department in your field of interest, then it shouldn’t be on your list. Have an honest conversation with this person in your life, let them know you appreciate their input so much but unfortunately it wouldn’t be the right fit for you. There’s no reason to stress yourself out with another application to a school you don’t even want to attend. On top of it, if you do get in, it’s going to be even more upsetting to explain to this person why you won’t be attending. They may take it the wrong way like you think your school is better – it’s not that your school is “better” or that theirs is “better”. It’s just that they are the best fits for you as individuals. 

  5. Know your deadlines.

Maybe you’ve known since you were a kid that one specific school was for you, maybe your parents or grandparents or sibling went there. And when you visited for the first time it was your ideal place to live and learn. If a school comes to mind when you hear this, consider applying under “Early Decision” – a binding agreement that states you will attend the university upon admission. The only way to back out of this agreement is if you are able to prove that you can’t afford the school because they aren’t offering you enough aid. My friend committed to Harvey Mudd, and ended up getting in and getting the financial aid she needed. Because the application process is competitive for that school in particular, she said she believed applying under early decision showed the school that she was serious about them, and willing to commit right off the bat. You also have to submit your application almost a month early in order to qualify for early decision. If you’d like to complete your applications early, and be free of them all of December through January (but don’t want to commit to a school just yet), there’s still an option. A less threatening choice, “Early Action” allows you to submit your application as if you were early decision, without committing you to the university shall you be accepted. Instead, you will be granted admissions and get the good news early, or if the admissions team isn’t quite sure they will give you a second chance in the regular decision pool. I highly recommend early action for all of your private schools (public institutions don’t offer it) because you get to finish your application process early and not stress out the rest of your first semester, and if you don’t get in on the first round you still have a second chance.

↓ Have any other survival tips for the college application season? Drop them in the comment section below! ↓