As a second-semester senior, I like to think that I’ve become somewhat of a pro when it comes to college admissions. They’ve consumed my life for the past year, and while I haven’t received all my decisions yet, I’ve learned a lot that I wish I knew beforehand. Here’s some of my best advice for any juniors that are gearing up for college application season, or even freshmen and sophomores that want to start preparing early.
If you’re just starting your high school career, try and experience as many things as possible. You will have to write countless essays about your life, and having an entire bank of experiences to draw from will make your life that much easier. Specifically, it was helpful for me to have leadership experience, volunteer time, and involvement in several clubs that are both related and unrelated to what I want to study. Enjoy your time in high school, but keep these things in the back of your mind.
Building off that second point, I highly suggest joining some extracurricular activities that you’re passionate about long-term. I applied as a biomedical engineer, so I was very involved in the robotics team. However, I also wrote about my experiences in Scratch Paper, FBLA, etc. Remain focused, but don’t limit yourself.
Getting into the actual process of applying, don’t apply to any more than around ten schools. From someone who applied to sixteen schools (yes, sixteen), I can tell you that it’s not worth it. For one, I had the small benefit of applying during the pandemic, so I didn’t have much schoolwork or many activities to focus on. Also, even if you can put in the work to apply, it’s expensive and overwhelming to keep track of everything, and in the end you’re only going to commit to a single school.
One of my tips to keeping your list short is to only apply to schools you could actually see yourself going to. I know that seems obvious, but I applied to some schools that I could never see myself at just because they are highly ranked or I thought I should apply there.
Do your research on all the schools you’re interested in beforehand. I created a document for all my schools over the summer, months before the Common App even opened. In there, I included information about my major, studying abroad, research, and anything else that caught my interest. I learned so much about those schools, and it made “why this college” essays infinitely easier down the road.
Apply early action. I know the November deadlines can seem daunting, but applying early action if your schools offer that option has several benefits. For one, many schools only consider early action applications for scholarships and other programs and benefits. Also, getting my applications out early saved me a lot of stress and has even allowed some of my friends to commit early and know what their futures look like.
Finally, make sure you have some way to keep everything organized. Especially if your parents have never applied to college in the US, there’s a million things to do and keep track of: important dates, documents to submit, events to attend. Find something that works for you and stick to it.
All of the tips I’ve given here are based on my personal experience and what I wish I knew before taking on the college application process. However, I hope my experiences are universal enough to help you as you take this daunting, but ultimately rewarding, journey.