By Jed Kaiser
No matter who you are, the college application process will be a messy, stressful, and anxiety-filled time of your life, and there is no way around that fact. Throughout the process, you are left almost entirely in the dark, wondering for months whether or not an institution, whose knowledge of you is limited exclusively to a ten to twelve-page Common Application file, will accept you, reject you, waitlist you, or my least favorite, defer you. But there is nothing to worry about, right? You have prepared for this ordeal for years. The annual College Information Night and meetings with your guidance counselor have provided you with all you have to know, right? Not entirely. The truth is that you can only understand so much about the process without experiencing it firsthand. That is why, in order to best prepare you for your senior year, I asked thirteen seniors, “If you could give the juniors one piece of advice before senior year, what would it be?” Some answers were expected, but some might surprise you.
One of the biggest nightmares for students applying to college is the exorbitant number of essays that have to be written, the worst of which is the personal Common App essay. Writing your Common App essay is difficult. It goes to just about every single college to which you apply and is basically the only truly personal aspect of your application. Furthermore, with the need to submit supplemental essays as part of many applications, the essay process can easily become overwhelming. Because of this, it should come as no surprise that many of our thirteen seniors decided to offer advice on this very topic. Some of the tips differ, but they all revolve around one central idea: start early! Kimia Khaledi, Ashley Duggan, and Ali Gagliardi emphasize this, Khaledi advising juniors to, “start your essay in the summer.” Courtney Kowalsky had a similar perspective, offering the juniors some strategies as well. Kowalsky stated, “Start early and don’t write more than you have to. Some essay questions are similar so you can reuse essays.” Personally, I wrote my Common App essay before the school year began. Having my most important essay completed in September made the application process exponentially easier for me, and allotted me more time to focus on the supplemental essays I had to complete.
Upon learning of college deadlines, most seniors do not feel stressed. Every college is different, but the typical deadlines, such as November 1st, November 15th, and January 1st, seem to offer seniors a comfortable time cushion in order to complete their applications. It is not until starting the application process that most seniors begin to recognize how deadlines can catch up with them. The only solution to this, yet again, is to start early!
This concept hit home with Jen Rebuth, who advised juniors to “make sure you’re aware of the deadlines” and “do everything in advance to avoid stress.” You can start almost every part of your college application early, beyond just your essays. Evan Mattel recognized this as well, suggesting that juniors “start writing down a list of all extracurricular activities so that when you fill out the Common App, you’re prepared.” Keeping track of extracurricular activities (along with leadership positions), honor societies, community service hours, work experience, and awards received not only aids in filling out parts of the Common App, but also makes creating your resume significantly easier, which is required by many colleges and is needed to complete OBHS’s “Essay Writing for College” course.
Early preparation is the key to recommendation letters as well. As one or two teacher recommendation letters are almost always required for a college application, the OBHS guidance department recommends that students ask the teachers early, usually around the end of junior year, so that when it comes time to apply, the recommendation is waiting.
Visiting colleges is a crucial factor in choosing both the colleges you wish to apply to and, ultimately, the college you wish to attend. We are lucky to go to a high school like OBHS that offers “College Trips” for eighth and tenth graders, but almost every student in OBHS will apply to a college that was not visited on one of the trips. Looking at pictures of colleges online and scouring a college’s website does not substitute for a campus visit. Several seniors share this belief, including Aaron Rudnet who suggests, “Don’t wait until the last minute to start visiting colleges. You should start visiting sporadically throughout the summer, and even before the summer.” Ashley Duggan concurs, advising juniors to “visit schools over the summer so that you know where you want to apply.” Sometimes you need a college visit to know a school is right for you.
For many students, a college’s financial aid package is one of the most significant factors in choosing whether or not they will attend. Bella Pace offers valuable advice on this topic, telling juniors to “only apply to schools you know you can afford or are willing to take out loans to attend.” By following this philosophy, you avoid the disappointment of potentially getting accepted to a college that you will not be able to attend. Similarly, Steven Keehner advises to, “keep up with your financial aid, and make sure you know how much each college is going to cost you.” It is imperative that students who are applying for financial aid make sure that they submit all required financial aid documents and receive a final financial statement from the college before making a decision.
As I am sure many seniors will tell you (along with senior teachers), senioritis is real. It is very common for seniors after deciding where they will attend college, or even after just submitting all of their applications, to begin to slack off in school, thinking they no longer need to focus on their academics. Unfortunately, this is completely false. All of your senior grades will be sent to your colleges eventually, and if you applied to colleges regular decision, your mid-year report, which is sent to all of your colleges at the conclusion of the second quarter, will likely factor into the admissions decision. Emma Ingoglia encourages students to not “burn out” too fast, and to “stay on task.” Lauren Orlowski agrees, advising, “Make sure you get your work done senior year and continue to work hard because it still counts, and colleges like to see that you challenged yourself during your last year in high school.”
Above all else, remember that it will all work out for the best. As Ellie Mylonas suggests, “Relax because even though it doesn’t seem like it makes sense, it will all fall into place. Don’t forget to be open to anything.” Like I said in the beginning, the college application process will be a messy, stressful, and anxiety-filled time of your life, but the moment you decide where you will be going to college will be priceless, and make it all worth it. And as Alex Gelabert says, “Relax, it’s not as bad as people say.”