Thanks for all of the incredible application advice, Circus Lullaby!—Sparkitors
As a new college freshman, I've been thinking a lot about the last two years of high school and, well.... cringing. Junior and senior year weren’t horrible all-around, but they were defined by one thing: applying for college. While you're jumping with joy to finally be a senior, remember that you still have to write that college essay you promised yourself you'd do over the summer, but never actually got around to. Here are a few helpful hints about the college application process—hopefully, you can learn from my mistakes, and my successes!
1. Your SATs (and ACTs/SAT IIs): Juniors, start looking at practice SAT and ACT books and begin reviewing those geometry proofs you locked away deep in your mind the last day of freshmen year. Also, don't be discouraged by the PSATs. My twin sister did horribly on them, and she's now at Yale! Additionally, be aware that most colleges will accept the ACT, which has four multiple choice sections (English, Math, Reading, and Science) and an essay. So if you find that the SAT isn't the test for you, try the ACT and see how you do (or vice versa).
Seniors, there's still time left to squeeze in a couple more SAT tests. I know you're not exactly thrilled at the prospect of waking up at 6am on a Saturday morning to re-take a grueling standardized test, but it really can't hurt your chances of getting a higher score. Also, make sure to double-check if the colleges you wish to apply to require SAT IIs. If you're an unlucky soul like me, you'll find that one or two do require a couple of them. Don't be disheartened, though; SAT IIs only last an hour each, and you're tested on a subject of your choosing. So if you just mastered AP Biology the year before, brush up on it and take it as one of your tests.
2. The College Essay: Juniors, it's is never too early to start on your college essay. PLEASE save yourself the agony of a last-minute breakdown! Brainstorm a few ideas and make sure to have other people read them over. The essay should help the admissions officers get an idea of who you really are, so avoid clichés like the death of a childhood pet or your deep personal connection to Holden Caulfield (trust me, he's been overdone).
Seniors, it's okay to scream. Go ahead. Then take a deep breath. Remember, you don't need to travel to a third world country and live with lepers or have one of your arms bitten off by a shark in order to have a good essay. You can talk about your favorite spot to sit and think, or how you embarrassingly didn't learn to ride a bike until you were sixteen—as long as the reader can hear a strong, positive voice, you're golden. Do not complain in your college essay—everything should have a "and this is what I learned" spin. So, you can write that having asthma crushed your childhood dream of becoming an astronaut, as long as you follow with the fact that asthma also opened your eyes to the wonders of medicine and made you want to pursue a career as a doctor.
Oh, and before I forget, many colleges require you to write a supplement essay (you may now scream again) explaining why you're interested in that particular university. Try to avoid talking about how pretty a school is or mentioning its prestige. Instead, talk about a unique program it offers or the fact that it makes an effort to be eco-friendly, or include an anecdote about your visit to the college. And yes, you have to do your research. Nothing is more embarrassing than talking about pursuing a certain major, only to later find out that that college doesn't offer it… except maybe learning how to ride a bike at sixteen. (I kid, I kid!)
3. Recommendations: Juniors, you might think you're off the hook for this one, but listen up: this year, make an effort to impress your teachers (or, at the very least, avoid driving them into mental rehabilitation facilities). Get to class on time and participate often so your teachers remember who you are when they are writing your recommendations. If you find out your amazing US History teacher is transferring to another school at the end of the year, ask him for his email and whether or not he would still be willing to write you a recommendation. Also, get to know your guidance counselor—if you put in the face-time, s/he'll be sure to give you a glowing recommendation.
Seniors, hopefully you asked your teachers about writing a recommendation before school let out at the end of the year. If you didn't, try to ask them (politely and graciously) as soon as possible. Please, do not wait until a week before your applications are due; it'll put a ton of stress on you and your teacher. Give them a couple months' notice, for their sanity. Oh, and a "Thank you!" gift never hurt anyone.
4. The Application: Juniors, while the seniors are bragging about their senior lounge and their senior-only events, ask them how their applications are going. Then run. When you're not sprinting from a hoard of angry upperclassmen, start researching the schools you're interested in. Figure out how far you want to travel and what type of majors you may want to pursue. You may not know exactly what you want to do yet, but that's all more the reason to look for colleges where you won't have limit yourself.
Seniors: Putting off your applications will not make them go away, and procrastination is definitely not good if you want to apply to state schools. If it's possible, apply to state schools on Early Admission. It'll feel great to have all of your applications done by November while the rest of your friends are spending their Christmas break rushing to finish their college essays.
I hope this information was helpful! If you get overwhelmed, check out commonapp.org, an awesome website that will keep all of your personal information, essays, and submitted recommendations organized. Now go forth and apply!
Whew, we're sure glad that our days of college apps are long gone. Anyone else got advice about the application process?
Related post: College Admissions Essays