By Brooke Shamon
The college application process is not easy. Approximately 66% of graduating seniors apply to college. Nowadays students have many options post-graduation such as apprenticeships, military service, and trades. In my case, college has been the dream and the goal for my future. However, I never realized that the process of applying is far from a dream – you have to put a lot of effort into applying while at the same time balancing senior year activities, keeping up your grades, and maintaining a social life.
Applying is not a one-and-done-hit-the-submit-button wonderful feeling. I began my journey in eighth grade because I was over-the-moon excited about achieving college acceptance. I picked through college catalogs and considered different majors before deciding that a degree in journalism is my end goal. I realize now my early interest was perhaps excessive and unnecessary. If I could tell my younger self anything it would be: enjoy middle school and high school and don’t miss out on the fun of that time of life. Sophomore year is the best time to begin thinking about where you might be interested in spending four years of your life after graduation.
The first step in the application process would be creating a list of schools you would want to tour. Location is huge. If you hate the cold weather the last thing you want to do is apply to a college whose mascot is a penguin! Parents can help their students by speaking with them about how far both the student and the parent would be willing to travel just to visit a school. This conversation must also include talking about coming home on breaks and summer vacation as airfare, for example, is expensive. It needs to be understood that students looking to study in California may not receive as many family visits or be able to come home as often as they might like.
Congratulations! You made it to junior year where all begins in earnest. Scholastic Assessment Tests (SAT) and the American College Testing (ACT) scores are going to be huge. You should consider whether or not you are a strong test taker; not every student is. If you are not a strong test taker, “test optional” schools would be a key factor in building your list of schools to apply to. Today it is possible to find test-optional schools as more and more colleges are starting to realize that standardized tests are not necessarily the best way to determine if an applicant is the best match for their school.
By the end of junior year, it would be helpful to have an organized chart of the colleges you are interested in that details cost, location, test options and other features such as whether or not the college has a study abroad program if that is important to you. Now is the time to do as many college tours as you can.
Junior year is also a good time to focus on building relationships with teachers who you may want to draw on to write recommendations on your behalf. Most colleges allow two teacher recommendations so teachers will be busy with your request and those of others in your class — contact them early. Teachers say it and students believe it: “Colleges love to see junior year teachers write strong recommendation letters. Junior year is known as one of the hardest years so it is important that those letters reflect positively on you.” Teachers, guidance counselors, students, and even many colleges agree that junior year is the most challenging. Seeing a strong report card and/or recommendation letter from your junior year teachers will bode well for students as they reflect perseverance and adaptability.
Senior year is finally here! In my opinion, senior year is the hardest year. First, you have to juggle so many different things at once. The stress of applying is combined with the fear of not getting in which is always there. There are many meetings set in place to help manage stress levels which quite honestly only stressed me out more! Usually, these meetings are information centers with PowerPoint presentations and papers to read. Each meeting is different. They can take place in and out of school and may or may not include both parents and students.
My best advice to maintain some level of sanity is to try and get your Common Application essay written during the summer between junior and senior year. This is one of the most important essays you will write in your life and it is all about you; you might draw on a challenge you overcame, or a moment that changed your life forever – you want to write about something that tells the college who you are as a person, not just a student.
The Common Application website is where you will apply to college. You will have to answer a million questions (okay, 40) but once everything is filled out it is available to every single school on your list. Naviance, another website tool well utilized at Bedford High School, has everything organized to guide you step-by-step through the application process. You list all the schools you are applying to and Naviance will provide information such as what dates applications are due, and how to direct your transcripts and letters of recommendation automatically. Naviance will give you a good understanding of where you fall in comparison to other applicants to the school you are interested in. This is done by using a graph which includes your test scores and grade point average so you can try to estimate your chances of getting into that school.
Senior year is all about coping with stress and anxiety. It is going to be hard and there are going to be nights where you just want to give up, but don’t. There will be some very long nights of staring at a computer screen and trying to organize everything. The best advice I can give to parents and students is to just say: BREATHE. Whenever I feel myself going down the dark path of panic (What if I don’t get my stuff in on time? What if I don’t get in anywhere?) I remind myself that everything will work out the way it is supposed to. Just keep going and before you know it, you’ll be moving into your dorm room.