Having been through the college admissions process a year ago, my heart goes out to any high school seniors that are currently freaking out about their applications. At the time, I thought college applications were the worst (don’t worry, they’re really not). However, there are seven things I definitely wish I’d thought about sooner when I was a senior and highly advise future college applicants to consider.
1. Brainstorm multiple potential majors.
Even if your heart is set on one major already, it’s not a bad idea to look into a few alternatives. For one thing, if your major isn’t offered at a school that you’re otherwise in love with, you shouldn’t necessarily cross that school off your list right away. Particularly if you plan on attending graduate school, there’s usually more than one major that can lead you towards your intended path. If you find a handful of majors that you’re passionate about, you’ll be able to approach your college search more freely.
2. Shortlist schools to apply to.
Don’t apply to thirty schools just for the sake of seeing whether you’ll get in or not. Chances are if you don’t see yourself going somewhere when you apply, you won’t want to go there if you’re accepted. Instead, spend the extra time enhancing your applications to schools that you’re more serious about. Make sure to have enough safety schools as backup options, but try to choose safety schools that you’re genuinely open to attending.
3. Write essays and request recommendations early.
This one is an obvious point for a few less than obvious reasons. For starters, it’s not only important to finish early so other people can look over your essays, but also because you might notice certain parts of your essay that you yourself will want to change. I can personally attest to how important this is—it took weeks for me to come to my senses and realize what a terrible mistake the early iterations of my Common Application essay were. Similarly, avoid asking for teacher recommendations last minute. Aside from the fact that some teachers limit the number of recommendations they’ll write, it’s better to leave them time to work on writing you a good letter.
4. Send all required test scores.
You probably won’t have trouble remembering to send your SAT or ACT scores, but be sure to send over everything that colleges expect to see in a timely fashion. Some majors (especially engineering) often require additional SAT subject tests, so read each school’s policies carefully. Also, keep an eye out for test-flexible colleges which don’t require SAT or ACT scores in case you want to strategize about what materials you send to those institutions.
If interviews are required at a school, this one is a no-brainer; however, if a school offers optional interviews, it still wouldn’t hurt to interview anyway. Interviews typically won’t be detrimental to your application unless you leave a really negative impression, and if that is the case, a different school might be a better fit for you anyway. Interviews are essentially an opportunity to stand out from other applicants with little to no risk.
6. Apply for outside scholarships.
As the year progresses, outside scholarship opportunities will dwindle down. Take advantage of these opportunities in high school because earning outside scholarships in college could be a lot more competitive. A nice part about outside scholarships is that most of them can be applied towards any college. School-specific scholarships have no value unless you attend that particular institution, while outside scholarships provide guaranteed money wherever you choose to attend.
7. Understand special requirements and deadlines.
Keep an eye out for special requirements and deadlines. Some colleges offer priority scholarship consideration if you submit your application before an earlier due date, but these deadlines may not be as clearly posted. Also, make sure you understand what materials need to be submitted; like with subject tests, sometimes your major may require additional writing supplements. If you’re ever unsure about any application requirements, contact the school’s admissions office to find the right answers.
To some extent, college decisions will ultimately come down to luck, so just make sure you turn everything in on time and use your application as a platform to show admissions officers the type of student you want to be in their community. At the end of the day, college is an amazing privilege, so try to embrace the admissions process and know that it will be well worth the stress.
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