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What I wish I Knew in High School about the College Application Process

September 19, 2012 / Posted by in Blog

Dear Alexa,

I know how overwhelmed, frustrated, and confused you feel at times. Senior year was supposed to be less stressful than junior year (so you had been told) and a lot more fun–once the college apps were finally sent out. After that, there was the wait, but that was out of your hands, and most people in your class expected favorable outcomes. But for you it seemed that was when the real stress began to build into something that took over every waking moment. In between senior thesis, senior year events, midterms, and multiple term papers, the question about where to go to college was constantly in the back of your mind. You realized after hearing others talk that maybe you were not as prepared as you should have been. You applied to several colleges but had no distinct favorite as many of your peers did. They seemed more informed about the choices they made. You had thought you had done all you could, but then you were not so sure. The nagging doubt you had became a reality when some schools did not accept you, and the ones that did, you were not sure you wanted to actually attend. You had to make a choice and it was a hard one because you believed that you should not have been in that situation at all. In fact, if you could go back to freshmen year of high school, this is what I would tell you:

1. Continue to take (as you have started to do) as many advanced, honors, and AP classes as you can. It matters.

2. Start practicing for your PSAT exams—get books from the library, seek help, and ask for a tutor, if possible. The SAT and ACT exams will be here before you know it. You have so much time to prepare—use it. Your score will only go up.

3. Take time to explore your interests in and out of school. This will help you better understand what you might want to study. (Even if you know what you want to study, involvement will help you say and show why.)

4. Participate fully in school clubs and community events. When you find something you like and are good at, expand on it. This is the time to discover what is unique in you.

5. Start researching colleges by early sophomore year. Go online to find out all you can. Get books from the library. Ask the guidance office for advice and help. Ask everyone who knows about the process to help you. It is that crucial.

6. Visit as many colleges as you can. If some are nearby, go for multiple visits. These need not all be formal ones or part of a structured tour. Sometimes just walking around campus with a friend will allow you to notice things you might not on a tour. Walking around will help you figure out what draws you to certain campuses. This will be your home for the next four years so it needs to feel right to you.

7. If you can interview as part of the application process, do it. This is your chance to make a connection and show what you’re made of.

8. If you have any doubts about what you want to major in, be wary about applying as undeclared. While this could be a great option in some schools, as it gives you time to figure out what you want, some colleges do not allow internal transfer. If they do, it can be very difficult. Know the policy for each college you are considering and get the transfer statistics too. Some schools within a college have different requirements that you might need to satisfy before you can apply.

9. Spend your time in high school learning about yourself. This will help you know what colleges would be a good fit for you.

10. Do all you can to show who you are in the essay. You worked summer jobs, participated in clubs and activities, had your own unique accomplishments. But, somehow much of this did not come through in your applications. Get help on this. Perspective can mean everything.

Yours Truly,

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