College – ACTs, SATs, applications, essays, decisions, letters, accepted, wait-listed, denied… AUGH!!!!!!!!!!!
Ok, so it’s a lot of stress. No joke. I can remember sitting in my Dad’s office after hours one night, with the US News and World Report College Rankings pulled up on the computer, all of my college brochures on his desk, and a chart on his whiteboard, listing the pros and cons of each college I was considering. It was complete chaos in a disguise of organization.
The truth is that I still don’t know what college I want to go to. This is the case even though I am leaving for the University of Notre Dame in less than a month with a decent scholarship tucked under my arm. I suppose the problem is that I didn’t have a hunch. Most kids when where they want to go. Or at least, they know what kind of school they want to go to. They know if they want a big or a small school, a religious or a liberal school, a math/science oriented school or one that aims to the humanities. I had one friend who said she “walked onto the campus of Amherst, and knew it was the place for her.” I had no clue.
So I applied to a huge variety of them. In the end, I sent out 8 applications to 8 very different schools. The University of Notre Dame, Denison, St. Catherine’s, Hiram College, Case Western Reserve University, Lawrence University, MacAlester College, and Oberlin.
Yeah, I know that the list looks daunting, if for no other reason than sheer size. But, as long as you stay organizes, applying to colleges can be easier than it looks. Here are the steps of the process and the best way I found to go about them.
1. Looking: Pay attention to all those college brochures you get in the mail. You may get some mail from pretty obscure schools, but you never know what might catch your eye, even if the name of the college doesn’t ring a bell. I applied to several schools I had never heard of before the whole process. Check out the web, and the college rankings (but don’t rely primarily on the rankings — there’s more to a school than that!). Mostly, don’t be afraid of a school’s name. Looking back, I wish I had applied to an Ivy-league school, just for the challenge. It’s ok to reach, but make sure you always have a sure backup.
2. Applying: When you decide you’re interested enough in a school, make sure you let them know ASAP that you want an application (some will send an application with those pesky college mailings.) Make a simple calendar of deadlines for everything, because you don’t want to miss getting into a school just because you missed their date. If you want to apply early action, check to see whether the school offers a binding or non-binding option, and go from there. Otherwise, pick a weekend, probably in November or EARLY December, and fill out all of your applications at once. It will be so much easier once you get on a roll to do it at one time, than to spread it out over weeks and weeks. Brag on your application. Have no shame. This application is about you, and they want to know everything. Don’t hold any information back that may help you get in! Also, I found it easiest to write my essays before I actually tackled the boring parts of the app. You may want to work on your essays the weekend beforehand. When you’re done filling out your apps, collect all the material you need to get from school – teacher recommendations, guidance counselor recommendations, transcript forms, etc, etc, and make a list of who need to get you what. Take it all to school on one day, and pass out the various papers to whomever they go. Check back with your teachers and guidance counselor in one week to make sure everything got sent out.
3. Financial Aid: When you’re done with the applications, start checking out financial aid. First of all, fill out the FAFSA, and check your college’s deadlines for having the rest of the fin-aid stuff in. Just stay on top of things, and make yourself another deadlines calendar. You’ll have to have your parents help you out with most of this stuff, so make sure you set aside time for it. Start looking for third party scholarships as well. This is especially important if you’re going to a private school that is very expensive.
4. Waiting: All you have to do now is wait. And wait. And wait. But hey, at least you’ll have you Christmas vacation free because you got your applications in early! Some colleges will get back to you right away – they probably have a rolling admissions policy where they view applications as they get them. Others may wait to review all the applications together, and you may not find out until February, March or even April what they’ve decided about you. Take the rejections and acceptances as they come. And don’t take any decisions personally. Some of the smartest, greatest, nicest, most brilliant and colorful people I know got rejected from schools. Getting rejected does not make you a bad person, or a stupid person.
5. Choosing: It’s time to choose a school. Decisions have to be in by May 1. My decision came down to financial aid, and a lot of my friends’ did as well. Check out the pros and cons of each school but realize that unless you personally are funding your college education, your parents have a say. If you want to go to an ultra-expensive school, make sure you’ve applied for third-party scholarships, and pull your weight so that you’re parents don’t have to pay for everything. Choose the school that feels right, and choose a place where you think you’ll be happy for four years of your life (maybe more!)
Go for it: After you’ve chosen, send in your intent card and deposit, and have fun this summer! It was a hard process, but you got through it, and before you know it, you’ll be talking to your roommate on the phone and in e-mails, going to your freshman orientation, and having a great time in college!