I don’t know how I got into college. I mean, I rationally, plausibly can come up with reasoning: all of those nights where social life became a laughing matter due to work, those times writings I slaved over weekly, my college essays and each idiosyncratic rounds of revisions, and the endless stream of stress. That’s deserving of the next stage of stress, right? I think I’m ready for it?
But I still don’t know how it happened. Last year at this time, I had just begun thinking about the college process, scanning my horizons in hope of grasping hold of my enigmatic future. I was excited, filled with the jovial notions of fresh new beginnings and facilitated lifestyles. But I was looking too far, much past the ocean in front of me. And now I’ve finally reached the horizon, barely able to make out the sand from which I’ve come. But it was that swim, that pilgrimage, that trek – however you wish to word it – that was, and forever will be, one of the most eye-opening and maturation-inciting experiences of my life. And now, horribly aged and, in a sense, newly reborn, I look back at it, hoping to impart my newly found wisdom upon the younger me’s, looking out at the horizon, yet gazing right over the expanse of water in front of them.
1) Start Looking at Colleges Now: If you are a junior in high school or younger and you’re reading this, start looking at colleges. If you are out of college, start looking at colleges (you might have kids one day too, you know). If you are in college, only look at your college. It’s acceptable to have tunnel vision in this situation.
One of my biggest regrets throughout the entire college process was my lack of knowledge about as many schools as possible. I just knew I wanted to be on the East or West Coast, knew I wanted a big name school, and zoned in on those. My serendipity saved me. I only applied for one school in the MidWest – a largely well-known afterthought of mine called the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. It wasn’t until after I applied (or for that matter, after I got accepted) that I slowly began to fall in love with my school. It had everything I wanted. I was a lucky case, in that I came this close to missing out completely on the school of my dreams. If you’re reading this, please don’t take that risk.
Get your computer out, put in time, and do your research. Figure out what you’re looking for in colleges, and delve into the thousands of options in search of those. Compile lists of college possibilities, narrowing out the reach schools, target school, and fallbacks. And know exactly what each school offers. That way, no matter what happens in the acceptance process, you will have a solid list of schools that you can feel very confident about. And having that is one of the greatest feelings in the world (assuming they don’t turn out to be all Ivys).
2) Get Involved/Create Involvement: Colleges aren’t just about academic reviews anymore – everything a high schooler has ever done throughout his/her life plays into the review process. So do stuff.
Yes, it might be nearly impossible to balance all of these tasks with academics, but keep in mind that unless you have a “Will Hunting”esque natural aptitude for a subject, it’s nearly impossible to get into a good college with only academics as well. So join a club; there are hundreds to choose from! I can say honestly and wholeheartedly that some of my best friends have come from me breaking out of my comfort zone and joining clubs, which has ended up benefiting me just as much socially as it did collegiately. But if nothing else, join them for colleges. They love that. Or do charity work, or feed the homeless, or build houses in Africa! Anything that shows a passion for doing something outside of the classroom is a huge plus. There is only one thing better than joining clubs: starting clubs. It’s twice the challenge, four times the work, and worth it. Happy clubbing, and sorry for sounding like your college counselor or parents.
3) Get to Know Your Counselors: Both college and guidance counselors. They were put on this Earth with the soul purpose of helping you succeed – use that. Get their email, their work number, their cell number, their postal address, their kik, anything. Just keep in contact with them.
This process gets confusing, and having someone to turn to (besides parents who think they know everything about anything) is a blessing. They will reason with you, help you find schools, look at and edit your personal statements, and guide you through the whole terrifyingly real entity of applying for college. They got their titles for good reasons – hold them to that.
4) Start Looking for Scholarships Now: Ah yes, the final part of the journey. That utterly heartbreaking moment that you realize that attending college costs a ridiculously absurd amount of money. So much so that you must sell your soul and then some to even dream of going to prestigious universities. Luckily, scholarships are a thing, and they can be found all over the place. You just have to know where to look.
Sites like fastweb.com and apps like “Scholly” are basically scholarships dating sites, which use compatibility tests to match you up with any scholarships you are eligible for. Sure, some have very slim chances for positive results, but since money is a necessity, you should apply to as many as possible. Create a brag sheet for yourself, build a scholarship notebook, and start sending your credentials in to anywhere you can. Your parents will be forever grateful.
Looking back at it all, I don’t know how things worked out for me, but they did. And they will work out for you too, one way or another. But these steps can so easily facilitate the process. Dont tread water until the application deadlines approach; set your sight on the horizon, begin your journey, and reach it with vigor. Hope this was helpful!