Surviving the College Process 101

I started my college process in June 2017 with my first college tour. Now, one year and four months later it is halfway done. Today, October 21, 2018, I submitted my very last application, and I now begin the torturous waiting game for six long months to hear back on all of my admissions decisions. My college process was definitely stressful, and it lived up to everything I had heard about the anxiety of it all. Hindsight is definitely 20/20 though, and there are so many things I wish I had known from how much stats really mean all the way to how strongly you need to consider the personalities of the other students on campus.

For me (like many other students), the first step in my college process was taking standardized tests. This is a great starting point because otherwise it is difficult to see what types of school would be realistic for you. Start studying early too! Don’t wait until the summer before senior year to start studying and then realize you won’t get your test scores back until after Early Decision/Action deadlines have passed! If there’s one thing you’ll hear me say over and over again over this article it’s to start early!

I chose the SAT personally because math and science are my weakest points which the ACT focuses on. The choice between which standardized test to take is an entirely personal one and I would encourage people to take practice tests for both and pursue which one you do better on. One thing I learned over this process was that it’s more than okay to take these tests multiple times. Initially, I only wanted to take it once and be done because I struggled with the time commitment to studying, but I am so beyond happy that I chose to retake. I was lucky enough to have gotten above and beyond my goal score my second time taking the SAT which put me in a much more comfortable place for many of my target schools.

After getting back my final SAT scores in March 2018, I was able to really put together a cumulative list of schools I wanted to check out. Before making the actual list of schools though, I listed and ranked important qualities I sought in a school. I considered things like academic programs, student life, study abroad opportunities, and even dining hall versatility. This really helped me to realize what I really valued in a school.

From here, my family and I started planning trips to the different colleges. Going on campus really changes the game. You can’t feel the atmosphere of a school just by looking at their website. Walking around on campus, you can get an idea of what it would look like if you were to walk around on a typical Tuesday afternoon rather than looking at an idealistic version of a website. After about three tours, I realized just how important taking notes is. Tour guides often share unique details that are great to utilize in your future essays. If you tour somewhere in September your junior year, you’re not likely to remember specifics a whole year later when writing your essay. Overall in my process, I toured 14 schools, and after awhile they all start to blend together, but notes are a great way to differentiate between them.

In the summer before senior year, I then began writing all of my essays. My biggest advice again here is to start early! So many of my friends are currently drowning in their supplementals because they waited too long to start writing. First, make sure you take on your general Personal Statement on the Common App, and make it as specific as possible to you. A great piece of advice I once heard was that you should be able to take your name off your paper and a friend should be able to identify it as yours. Same goes for supplements! Over junior year, physically write down any ideas you have so that you don’t forget. Leave a lot of time to work on these essays because they are usually the most crucial part of your application. Personally, I worked about two months on these from August to October.

Overall, the college application process can be stressful, but it can also be manageable depending on how much time you leave to work on everything. Just go through all of the steps methodically in the proper order, and you should be able to complete everything with more than enough time.