The college application process can feel daunting, but is feasible with organization and motivation. (Photo illustration by Reyna Yang)
Oak Park High School

Opinion: How to conquer the college application process

I clutch my throat, gasping for air as my skin erupts in splotches of red and white hives. The sink shudders as unforgiving fluorescent light bathes my skin. Splashing water onto my pallid face, I fight for control over my mind, imaginary bugs exuding out of my pores.

It’s the summer before senior year and I’ve bottled all my college application stress inside — uncertainty clinging to everything I touch. I was not alone.

The process of applying to college is not fun, to say the least. Whether you’re an incoming freshman or maybe a junior studying for the SAT, the pressure of writing about yourself and getting into the best college you can and paying for it, is different than anything you’ve done up until that point.

To those of you in the process of applying to college, hang in there. Make time to have fun, decompress, and remember to enjoy high school while it lasts.

In the midst of the disheartening college admissions scandals, remember to always put in your best effort and take pride in your work — these essays, done correctly, are gems that you’ll look back on with pride, regardless of what school you end up attending.

laptop screen Opinion: How to conquer the college application process
Organizing deadlines and information in spreadsheets can help streamline the college application process. (Photo illustration by Reyna Yang)

Besides wanting to see that you’re more than capable of taking on college coursework, college admissions look for your “passion” for something, and this is where students may feel frustrated.

High school is a wonderful time to try something new and grow in experiences beyond the classroom, so don’t let finding your “passion” hinder you from trying something new.

Keep in mind that you will work harder, try harder, and do better in what you enjoy.

In my opinion, the best timeline for college applications is on Khan Academy. Most college blogs do not discuss fly in programs or decode testing so keep reading for a student’s take on all of it.

Remember that you don’t need to take an AP/IB class just because everyone else is, and there might be a better alternative for you: community college classes.

Community college classes are free up to a certain amount of credits, and you 100% get the credits for the classes you take, unlike with AP/IB credits, where it’s dependent on the score(s) you get. Taking community college classes is also a great way to get ahead during summer!

Sleep is really important. Besides actually being able to stay awake in class and learn the material in class instead of playing catch up, your mind is still developing! Instead of bragging about who got the least amount of sleep, strive for a balance and prioritize sleep.

PSAT: Prepare for your junior year’s PSAT to qualify for National Merit scholarships. Look up score cutoffs from previous years and take practice tests.

Get to know your school counselors. They’ve seen so many students in your shoes before, so don’t be afraid to ask them for help. How could anyone expect their counselor to write a glowing letter of recommendation if you wait until senior year to reach out and start to get to know them?

Private college counselors are unnecessary. In my opinion, they are scamming students and parents out of their money. Students are given the generic advice which gets rehashed everywhere: get good grades, study for standardized testing and find your passion.

My high school emphasized “Do not sign a contract” and pay outside help by the hour if you feel the need to hire a private college counselor.

Search for and apply to scholarships early. Fastweb, Unigo and Scholarship Owl are wonderful resources that many students overlook and lose out on.

Narrowing down your college list: college tours and fly-in programs. Touring colleges may help eliminate them off your list or solidify a choice. Out of state schools? Check out free fly-in programs – just submit essays, transcript and letters of recommendation!

Use Google Calendar. Mark scholarship and fly-in deadlines, tests, and college tours. Color coding your calendar has never been so easy. You can share events with your family and friends too!

SAT Subject Tests Secret: Math II is essential. For engineering schools and science majors, plan on taking chemistry, biology and/or physics as a given.

Spreadsheet through college application season: My college app spreadsheet included name, deadline, state, transcript schedule, SAT/ACT, letter(s) of recommendation, alumni interview date (if at all), tuition, estimated yearly cost, result, scholarship(s), and out-of-pocket estimation.

Though the Common App lists requirements, this spreadsheet put everything I needed to do in one place. Make sure that amongst your reach/dream schools, you have targets and safeties that you’d be happy with as well.

Early Action vs. Early Decision: ED is binding! If you get in, you have to go to that school, so do your research on financial aid and if that school really is your #1 choice. Certain schools also may require that you cannot apply to other schools as ED so keep that in mind.

Accelerated Programs: If you know that medical school or law school is for you at this time, look into accelerated programs! Besides a guaranteed spot in either medical or law school, you may save up to a year or two of time (and tuition!).

Waitlists and Rejection: Remember that doing your personal best every day is the most important and we’re all bound to face rejection and failure — it’s part of the learning process. It’s disappointing for sure, but don’t quit and use rejection to keep pushing forward and working hard.

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute freshman Brendan Chan offered some advice.

“Being persistent and determined will always lead to success. It just might not be in the form that you expect,” Chan said.

2 Comments

  • Reply Justin T August 15, 2019 at 4:56 pm

    Great work! I recommend learning about University Honors Programs, which create the feeling of a small, private college within a big university! Benefits typically include priority registration, a personal advisor, and most importantly exclusive connections.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Reply Sarah Shiang August 16, 2019 at 3:14 pm

      Thanks Justin! Agreed, those are great perks! Thank you for taking the time to read this and add to it. Best of luck!

      Like

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