The college application process is without a doubt the most stressful time in all four years of high school. Here’s my advice on getting through it:
- First of all, if you’re reading this as a freshman or even a sophomore, calm down. You do not need to be worrying about college yet. So many things can change between now and your senior year, any plans you make now likely won’t be the same then. I didn’t even know what schools I was applying to until I applied to them. I thought I knew for sure what school I was attending until I was accepted into the school I actually ended up attending. Just focus on doing well in school and having fun, then cross that bridge when you get there.
- Begin researching schools after junior year ends. Junior year is notorious for being the worst one of the four in high school. The work is ridiculously difficult, the pressure is insane, and standardized testing is exhausting. After it’s over, you will have the taken the majority of the classes that will appear on your transcript, you’ll have your ACT/SAT results, and you should now have a good idea of what schools are within your range. Maybe your GPA tanked and you didn’t do as well on the SAT as you thought, so your former match schools are now reaches. Maybe you managed a 3.9 GPA and a 35 on the ACT, so your reaches are well within reason. Summer before my senior year, I (thought I) knew what I wanted to do and began looking for universities that offered me that.
- Be open-minded. I’ve seen lots of students get into the mindset of “these are the schools I want to go to, these are the ones I’m applying to, and that’s final”. Don’t be stubborn. If you find a school you’d never heard of before, but it has a really great program in your field of study and a beautiful campus, add it to your list. It can be scary to venture into the unknown when you’ve had your heart set on going to the same university for your whole life, but you never know what could happen. That school you just discovered could turn out to be your dream school. Your list of prospectives is live, meaning it can change. Welcome those changes with open arms.
- Apply to your dream school! Going into senior year, I planned to apply to one school. Yeah, that’s right. One single school. It was a state school with guaranteed admission and I thought that I would save myself the time, stress, and money of getting rejected from other universities. For some reason, I genuinely thought I had no chance of getting into any school with an acceptance rate of less than 50%. Thank god my parents made me apply to Vanderbilt University, which had always been my dream school. One day, completely expecting to get rejected, I got my acceptance email from Vandy, and now I’m starting my second year there in August. All of this to say, again, you literally never know what’s going to happen. “But my grades/extra-curriculars/test scores aren’t good enough!” There were plenty of people in my class with better stats than me in all of those categories that got rejected from Vanderbilt. There’s no rhyme or reason to college admissions. Apply to that reach school, and keep your expectations in check, but you could be pleasantly surprised.
- Have multiple safeties. At least two. My safeties were two state schools with guaranteed admission so I knew I’d have somewhere to go in the fall. If you can’t find somewhere with guaranteed admission, find a school with admission averages that you exceed by a lot. I know this seems like obvious advice, but I know of quite a few people, both at my high school and online, who got rejected from literally all the schools they applied to. Those who had a safety went to the safety. Those who didn’t have a safety went no where. Don’t be in that second group. Have safeties, and be prepared to attend them.
- Don’t procrastinate. Another piece of advice that might seem obvious, but trust me, you’re going to be tempted. Senioritis is real and you aren’t going to want to do anything, especially if it’s not for a grade. Luckily for me, my AP lit teacher required us to turn in our admissions essay as an assignment in September, so I had mine done way ahead of time. If you don’t have a teacher to hold you accountable, you have to do it yourself. Start your essays as early as possible and edit them over the weeks before the deadline. Ask for your rec letters at the end of junior year before summer break. Make sure you have all your deadlines written down and get all your paperwork in order early. There will be plenty of people spending their Christmas and New Years finishing college apps that are due the next day. Don’t be one of them. You’ll save yourself a lot of stress.
- Stay organized. I saw a studyblr post where someone made an excel sheet comparing all their prospective schools, with categories like size of campus, tuition, type of housing, etc. I did that and it was a great way to keep track of everything. I also put all the essays needed for the application as well as when they were due, so I could easily see what I had left to do. I highly recommend doing this: here is a template you can use to get started. Even if you don’t decide to do this, use your own method to keep on top of all your application work. It can easily get lost beneath your schoolwork or other things you have to do. Make sure it doesn’t!
- Keep yourself busy. The waiting to hear back from schools after submitting your apps is the worst. It’s torturous. I submitted my applications in October/November, and didn’t start getting decisions until March. That leaves all of winter to be nervous. The only way you’ll get through it is to not think about it. Focus on school, get a job, enjoy your last season of a school sport, just stay busy to keep yourself distracted or else it will be the longest few months of your life. Take a mental break from anything college-related until the good news starts rolling in.
- Prepare yourself for disappointment. Rejection is never fun, it’s never easy. You might think you’re going to be fine, but it hits you harder than you think. When I got my first rejection, from Georgia Tech, I cried. I didn’t even want to go to Georgia Tech. But I felt like I wasn’t good enough, and therefore I wouldn’t get into any other school. The whole reason I wanted to apply to just one school was to avoid that feeling. If only I had known that my dream school would accept me just a couple weeks later. It’s going to be tough seeing everyone around you get into their first choice school while you’re receiving rejections, deferrals, or waitlists. What you have to remember is that everything happens for a reason. That rejection means that wasn’t the school for you. You will end up where you are supposed to be.
The application process is grueling and stressful, but also very rewarding. Stick through it and it will all be worth it. Up next in the University Advice series: choosing/changing your major. If you have any other ideas for topics you want to see covered, please let me know!
Next post: Choosing/Changing Major Advice