Applying to college can be an exciting, stressful and anxious time as a high school student. I would say you really do not know what to expect until you begin the college application process.
Photo: Kaitlyn Baker on Unsplash
Here is what I wish I knew going into the college application process:
Do Your Research
I always knew I wanted to go into the field of journalism…how? Simply because I wanted to write. So I thought I had to go to a highly-rated journalism and communications school. With that, I did not take the time to research other majors and fields of study (hence, my two minors in very different fields). I did know I wanted to attend a four-year college, but I wish I also took the time to learn about other majors and industries. Once you are ready to apply to colleges in your senior year, I would try to understand the prerequisites and application requirements for the colleges you are interested in applying. Do you need a portfolio? How many letters of recommendation?
Determine what you want in a college through experience, not ideas of prestige
It took me a while to research and figure out what I wanted in a college. At first, I wanted to attend an Ivy League university – until I signed up for a campus tour and realized the huge lecture halls and large campus in the city were not for me. I had to seriously think about what I wanted to get out of my college experience, and I wish someone told me to consider these factors when searching for a college: geographic location, size, majors offered, student life, demographics, study abroad programs, financial aid, sports and career preparation resources.
Do not go overboard with subscribing to mailing lists
Stay in touch with the colleges that interest you by signing up for their mailing lists, but do not sign up for every single college you research. I made the mistake of subscribing to too many colleges and universities – just about every single one that I interacted with at college fairs or came through the mail as solicitation. By the time I started junior year, I had an overwhelming pile of college brochures and newsletters sitting in my room. This made it difficult to narrow down my choices. So do yourself a favor and only reach out to colleges you would like to call home for the next four years.
Take advantage of the free SAT score submissions
I would suggest choosing four colleges prior to sitting for the SAT so you know which ones will receive your scores. Before you begin the test, you will have the chance to mark down four colleges that the CollegeBoard will send your score to – for free. Utilize the opportunity. After that, you will have to pay a fee to have the CollegeBoard send them, which can quickly add up.
Read and proofread your essay multiple times
Follow the prompt and stick to it. The admissions essay can sometimes make or break an application, and it is best to stay within the guidelines for this portion. Choose your topic wisely if you are given the option to do so, and be sure to write within the approximate word count and/or page length. I wish I allowed more people to proofread and revise my essay, not just one other person. The more people who can read your essay, the better. I also wish I had read up on supplemental portions of applications, often specific to your intended major, so I could have thought about my short-answer responses more in-depth.
Consider alternative recommendations
Usually, people struggle with obtaining personal recommendations. Teachers are often the first ones to come to mind when it comes to recommendations – and I remember when I applied to college, I asked a couple of teachers. What I wish I had known is that there are other people who serve as great recommenders, and you need to think outside the box; for example, student club advisers, work managers, church youth group leaders, sports coaches and personal mentors can all provide recommendations for you to enhance your application.
Have a balanced top five
I would advise that having a top school is a priority, and I wish my top five schools had a better balance of “reach” schools and “safety” schools: four out of five of my schools were safety. I like to define “reach” schools as those that are highly competitive and where your application falls below the average 50% benchmark for all applicants. For me, my “reach” school was where I found my grades and GPA fell below the average applicant and I had less of a chance of being accepted - like taking a risk. On the other hand, I would consider “safety” schools ones where you are at least 80% sure you will get accepted; for example, I had confidence that I would be accepted to all of my “safety” schools with a mediocre application (and I did get accepted to all four).
Think holistically and not just about grades
I used to think grades were the most important factor in college applications. Sure, they play a large role, but I wish I understood that the college admissions process is based on a holistic scale that weighs other factors like extracurricular activities, weighted/unweighted GPA, course load, recommendations and sometimes in-person interviews with a college representative. Knowing how these factors in addition to grades play a role in admissions would have relieved some of the stress I experienced.
Understand the college admission timeline
Nowadays, applications are completed online through the Common Application, so physical paperwork is minimal, but I would recommend that you have paper copies of your applications just in case. If there are any other requirements, like a portfolio, then do not forget about those either. I wish I did my research early on about specific requirements for Early Decision and Early Action deadlines and how each impact financial aid ability.
Seek out scholarships
Thinking back on my experience applying to college, the biggest suggestion I would make would be to spend time learning about various financial aid options, which I think is often forgotten in the midst of taking the SAT and writing admissions essays. It is best to discuss with your parents the financial options for college, especially if you are considering student loans. The biggest suggestion I would make would be to spend time learning about various financial aid options. Scholarships and grants are options as well, and I wish I had sought out more scholarships early on in the application process. There are endless scholarships that you can find through websites and local organizations. Remember to also ask your parents if companies they work for provide scholarships too!
My name is Sara Kim, a recent graduate of the Roy H. Park School of Communications at Ithaca College. I majored in journalism with a double minor in Health Policy & Management and Asian American Studies. In my free time, I enjoy working out, reading books, watching movies, and cooking. Fun fact: I am a foodie and love to try out new places and recipes.