College Applications: What You Really Need to Know

Sunday, November 30, 2014

First semester is coming to a close and college application season is in full swing. Seniors: I was in your shoes last year and I know it's tough. There are a lot of things I'm glad I did...and a couple things I wish I had done differently. Here they are:

Don't apply to too many schools. 
I only applied to two schools. I knew what school I wanted to go to after a fall break college tour and I was lined up not only to get in, but also to get a full ride scholarship. The other school was my parent's alma mater (which I had little interest in attending, and mostly applied to in order to make my mom happy.) I know everyone says you need safety, target and reach schools, but you really only need them if your intended school is your reach school. Unless an Ivy League is your top choice, there's really no need to apply. (A note about applying to schools just to prove you can get in: don't. It will stress you out and your time, and money, can be spent in much better ways, like getting ahead in your education by taking concurrent enrollment classes.)

Be realistic. 
Harvard sent me a letter asking me to apply early in September. I was tempted to oblige (because it's Harvard,) but there was a lot I would have to do in order to apply, like SAT Subject Tests and letters of recommendation. All of this would have to be done by the application deadline, which, if I remember correctly, was early in December. I already had a lot on my plate with school and extracurriculars and didn't really want to go to Harvard, so I opted out and it ended up being better for me. 

Take a tour. 
This is actually something I'd recommend doing way before your senior year, but if you haven't already, do it now. My best friend and I both changed our minds about where we wanted to go to college after we went on campus tours. Since we both fell in love with the same college, we were able to be roommates, which has been such a tremendous advantage in both of our lives. 

Have a financial aid plan. 
Make a rough plan of how you're going to pay for things in college. Have a lot in savings? Count that. Expecting to get a scholarship? Factor that in. Optimum results on the FAFSA4caster? Take those into consideration. Figure out how much you need to make up and plan accordingly, either by applying for scholarships or working extra hard. (A note on the FAFSA4caster: it's not as accurate as it should be. It told me I would get more than my expected school's tuition...then I got nothing. Be careful, and if you have a lot in savings, take that into consideration.) 

Take AP classes if you haven't already. 
You will not regret taking AP and concurrent enrollment classes in high school. In fact, my only regret concerning AP is that I didn't take the AP Physics exam my senior year. College is expensive and it's really a luxury to have classes you don't have to take because you already have the credit. Plus, AP tests are way cheaper than CLEP exams. 

Do the ACT right. 
There are two different aspects of the ACT: it's only a test, so you shouldn't spend copious amounts of time on it, but it can get you out of certain classes. Do your research and figure out what scores you need to get before you take the ACT (there are usually minimum scores you need to get just so you don't have to take remedial classes. Additionally, you can usually use a high ACT math score to get out of MATH 1010 and a high English score to get out of ENGL 1010.) Decide on a realistic ACT score based on what you find and study really hard. After you've taken the test, stop stressing out about it. (Another note: I found out after I got to college that there were ACT requirements for the teacher certification program I'm going into. Luckily, my scores meet the requirements, but I've heard of students having to take the ACT while they're in college to meet these expectations. Do yourself a favor and look into any programs you're interested in and make sure you meet any ACT requirements before you get to college.) 

Apply to honors. 
It can't hurt (it has nothing to do with your admission to the actual school) and it comes with tons of benefits. The honors program at my school gives me a lot more opportunities than I already had: I get extra prints every semester, I get to be in smaller classes, I am guaranteed the oppurtunity to do research and I have access to honors-only tutoring and advising. Plus, it looks really good on grad school applications and resumes. 

Don't stress out. 
My senior year of high school was by far busier than I've been in college so far (don't worry: it's not this way for 99% of people.) There were many times where I was literally expected to be in two places at once and my health definitely took a toll. Looking back, I don't regret being involved in 5+ extracurriculars, all while having multiple college and AP classes, but I've definitely learned my lesson and will never put that much on my plate again. Remember to take a break when you need one and take care of yourself. Those are skills you will definitely want later in life. 

This is a crazy time in your life, but before you know it, you'll be participating in campus move-in day at your school of choice. It really go by so fast, so enjoy it while you can!

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