Applying to college is difficult, I get it; I’m applying as well. It’s easy to feel like you’re drowning in essays, deadlines and pressure, on top of school expectations. All of it can be difficult to manage.
First off, pat yourself on the back for finishing early applications! Now that November 1 is over, you can relax a little before getting back to the rest of your applications. Remember that above all, your mental health matters. Here are some tips from a fellow high schooler, to help manage the stress and understand the college application process a little better.
Set time aside for writing essays.
It’s incredibly stressful when you have multiple essays to write right before the deadline; trust me, I know. Spacing out your essay-writing is key. If you have five weeks until a deadline and six essays to write, maybe write two short essays in a week and the rest evenly spaced out across five weeks. It’s much easier to sleep on an essay and then review later, revising your essay with a fresh perspective.
Remember, great essays can take a while and it’s difficult to cram multiple essays right before a deadline. If you set time aside for your essay on days you’re free or have spare time, you won’t feel as overwhelmed by the deadline.
Once you submit, it’s out of your hands.
One of the most stressful parts about the college app process is waiting to hear back. The few months in between may seem grueling, but you’ll get through it. At this point, you’ve done everything you could have done, so stressing won’t benefit you. Take it easy and try to forget about it. Senior year, you really only have power over how good your essays are, so know that your stats won’t change. Do what you can and remember that there are many internal and external factors that can impact application decisions; stressing about it won’t change it.
Don’t always talk about college.
It’s easy to get caught up in the college discussion with family, friends, teachers and more. This can get overwhelming. One of the best pieces of advice that I received was to have a specific time set aside to discuss college applications, financial aid and anything college-related. This way, it doesn’t get too overwhelming constantly talking about it and doesn’t cause a strain on relationships either.
Whether it’s submitting test scores or requesting recommendations or transcripts, there’s a lot you can’t forget to submit in order to have a complete application. Create small (or large) checklists based on the requirements for each school and look at what needs to be submitted beyond your main application. For me, creating one master spreadsheet with all of the requirements for each college is helpful. Even a notes page or document that you can reference anywhere makes your life easier.
Optional isn’t really optional.
If colleges have an optional essay prompt, they usually want to see you taking the initiative and writing the essay. Of course this may not always be true, there are some supplements about racial, gender and sexual identity that are by no means required, just an option to share more about yourself. But if a “Why Us” essay or another supplement is optional, they will still expect you to write an essay to demonstrate that you’re willing to go the extra mile for that school.
Make sure you are being personal and showing different parts of yourself in your application.
Do not use your essay as a way to talk about your extracurricular activities or achievements. Colleges will see that information in other parts of your application, like your extracurricular and honors section, or even on a resume. You want to reflect different sides of yourself in your essays, giving colleges a rounded view of who you are. Instead of writing about an extracurricular, write about a meaningful experience, your passions or a family story.
Colleges have already seen so many similar essays, they want you to set yourself apart from the thousands of other applicants. You can’t do that unless your essay is incredibly personal. Personal doesn’t have to mean vulnerable, but rather on a topic that showcases who you are, best. In different essays, write about different interests, experiences and educational opportunities that display personal growth.
Do your research.
I cannot stress enough how important it is that you research colleges, financial aid, programs and student life before applying to college. You never want to go in without knowing that the major you like is offered or that a school lacks one of your main criteria. Admissions officers and interviewers will think you’re lazy if you state something that simply doesn’t exist within the school, like writing an essay about a professor who worked there 20 years ago or writing about football when the school doesn’t have a team. Avoid this error by doing thorough research on the college’s website and asking admissions counselors questions.
Everyone has different paths.
Do not feel pressured to follow the same path as everyone else. It is fine if you’re the only one in your friend group going into humanities while everyone else is interested in STEM. It’s okay if you are applying to a school that no one else is applying to. You know what path is best for you. If that means going to community college and transferring or going to a school that offers you a lot more money than a school of higher prestige, that is your decision to make. Do what’s best for your future and know that this is the most important part.
ASK FOR HELP!
There are a lot of things you won’t know going into this process. Asking questions is highly recommended. You can reach out to a college admissions counselor, your school counselor or even an older sibling in college. No one should feel like they’re alone in this process and everyone’s support system looks different. What’s most important is that you talk to someone about any lingering questions, feelings, thoughts or concerns you may have.
I hope this list helped you to gain a little more insight into the college application process, whether you’re going through it now or you’re a high school student trying to learn more. The process may seem daunting at first, but it’s all about setting realistic goals and managing your workload. Make sure to communicate and know that you are never alone.