Let’s start out by saying this: I wouldn’t dare call myself an expert on the college admissions process. In fact, I barely know anything about it! I can only offer you my personal experiences and what I’ve learned from them.
As a junior in high school, I scoured the Internet for blogs written by someone already past the college admissions process and willing to spill the secrets. However, it’s just as mysterious to me now as it was last August. Every book I read on the subject says the same infuriating thing: there is no foolproof formula. Now, after hearing/reading about others’ experiences as well as my own, I’ve definitely realized that there really isn’t a 100%-success-rate method for getting into the school of your dreams. When it comes down to it, you never know how your application will be received. All I hope to do is share a few bits of advice that you may or may not find useful, but which I think will at least remind anxious high schoolers that soon you’ll be past the ridiculous, soul-crushing admissions process. I was just there. It sucks. It’ll end soon. Read on for 5 of my tips!
1. Slow and steady wins the race
While you certainly can spend a whole weekend (or the day before the deadline) churning out short answers for application supplements, you’ll probably be much less stressed out if you work on your applications piece by piece over the 4-5 months that they’re available. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with procrastinating, but if you’re going to do that, don’t complain about how stressful it is. I can genuinely say that I wasn’t truly overwhelmed while I was applying because every week or so, I would work on one more segment of an application and have it done. Eventually, everything came together and a few proofreads later, I was ready to submit!
2. Visit every school you can
It’s well worth it. During the spring of my junior year, I visited 8 east coast schools in about 6 days: Harvard, Northeastern, UPenn, Amherst, Bowdoin, Princeton, Brown, and Swarthmore. At the time, I thought I wanted a small liberal arts college. Upon touring each campus, I realized more and more that I’d been wrong. While visiting each school, I found that a school with under 2,000 undergraduates would feel too small for me (I come from a high school about that big and it already feels much too small). I also decided that I didn’t feel very comfortable at Princeton or Harvard, even though I never harbored serious intentions of applying anyway. In the end I only ended up applying to three of the schools I visited. Obviously, finances and schedules determine how many–if any–schools you can visit, and that’s okay. But having a look at a college can really help you determine what you’re looking for in a school, even if you think you already know. This might sound crazy-hippie-like, but the general feel you get from the school is very important!
3. Keep your plans as private as possible*
Self-explanatory. I applied somewhere early decision and made the mistake of telling more people than I’d have liked to. When people ask where your first choice is, they usually have good intentions, but it’s anxiety-inducing to namedrop a first-tier school that you’re not confident you’ll be admitted to. This creates an awkward situation down the line if you aren’t admitted, and it’d be much more preferable to avoid altogether. Trust me.
*Of course you’ll be excited about where you’re applying, but I regret that I wasn’t more vague about my intentions, at least with loose acquaintances. Here’s a good way to deal with interrogations: “I’m not 100% sure where I want to go, but it’s kind of a tie between [school 1], [school 2], and [school 3]. I’ll be thrilled if I get into any of them!”
4. Read as much as you can about admissions
I’m a bookworm, research is what I do best! I wanted to know everything I could about getting into college so I would know what to expect. I spent hours browsing collegeprowler.com, reading articles about what colleges look for, hanging out in the college prep shelves at Barnes and Noble, and analyzing statistics of admitted students. The Overachievers by Alexandra Robbins and The Gatekeepers by Jacques Steinberg made me feel a little less alone in those few months of toiling over resumes and essays and such. Specifically, it was The Gatekeepers that made me realize how crazy the admissions game has become (yes, it really feels like a game at times). It follows an admissions officer at Wesleyan University, and though it’s now very outdated, it really shows you how subjective and human and unexplainable everything can be.
5. Try not to compare yourself to others
It’s way too easy to look at other people and think, “Should I have taken AP Physics?” or “Why didn’t I go on a mission trip to Africa?” or “Could I have found the cure for cancer?” But don’t compare yourself. The truth is that you’ll never know what each college is looking for! I know several people who seemed like shoo-ins for certain schools: they had the grades, the extracurriculars, the test scores, and yet they were denied admission just the same. In the end, there probably isn’t anything more you could’ve done. Because ballet is extremely time consuming, it was essentially my only extracurricular. I didn’t take nearly as many AP classes as my top 10% peers because I wasn’t interested in the ones that my school offers. I didn’t take any standardized test courses. I barely had any leadership roles. For a while, I made myself miserable by thinking about all of the opportunities I missed, but everything ended up falling into place anyway. The bottom line is that you should do what makes you happy while still challenging yourself and if something doesn’t happen, it isn’t meant to be.
Obviously, I don’t know all there is to know about getting into college. All I can tell you is that I did. And I can tell you about my life in hopes of showing you that if I could do it, you can too. I’ll post all of my information (extracurriculars, test scores, etc.) and my admissions essay in the next few weeks because I want to be an open book–a case study, if you will. Until then, thanks for reading! Feel free to ask questions, offer your own advice, or merely comment on mine.