Monday, 18 May 2015

The College Breakdown: A Senior’s Perspective

Matt is a 17-year-old from New York City, NY. He loves to be social and spend time with his friends, as well as being an active leader in his community. However, school also plays an important role in his life and he is motivated to achieve his dreams.
It’s that time of the year. That very stressful time that we like to call, “Application Time.” Every year, high school seniors have to apply to college between September and December. Some do their applications fast and get them out of the way. Others, wait until the last minute and literally get no sleep for weeks. Honestly, there are upsides and downsides to both scenarios. However, there is one thing in common: THEY MUST GET DONE. 
The application process can easily be broken down into many different categories, depending on how you want to organize. You can do ED vs. EA vs. Regular (these words will be explained soon). Or you can do test scores vs. recs vs. essays. But, no matter what, like I already said, they must get done!
Now, let’s explain some of these terms before we really dive into the whole admissions process. ED or Early Decision is an application that you can submit to some schools. Already described in the title, you find out your decision early from the school, and you also apply earlier to the school. If accepted ED, you MUST attend. To many ED is scary and nerve-wracking. To others, such as myself, it is a way to apply to college early, find out early and really show the school that you really want to attend. Most of the ED applications are due either on November 1st or 15th. This means that every item of your application must be postmarked or already at the school by the due date. Otherwise, the school will not consider you to be an early admission candidate. The decisions tend to come up around December 15th.
EA, or Early Action, is another type of early application however these are not binding. This means that if you get in, you do not have to go. Other than that key fact, everything else is the same as an ED application.
Rolling, or Rolling Decision, is a process that confuses a lot of people. I’ll try to explain in it a sentence: you can apply to the school whenever you want up until a certain date. An example is if a school’s deadline is February 1st, you can apply whenever until then. However, keep in mind that those who apply November 7th, find out sooner then those who applied January 17th.
Regular Decision is just what it sounds like. Most people tend to apply regular decision for a multitude of reasons. The deadline is usually January 1st and you find out around April 1st.
Okay, so now that we got most of the college jargon out of the way, let’s actually talk. I truly want to stress the fact that you should do your applications, early or not, as soon as possible. Yes, I know it’s senior year and you want to enjoy all of the fun things that come with being a senior. However, if you wait until the last few weeks to do all of your applications, you’re going to feel awful; it’s plain and simple. It is now almost November and I am happy to say that I have already applied to five schools and my other applications are almost completed. That is me. Most of my friends however, have barely started their CommonApp, let alone all of the essays.
On a side note, the CommonApplication is basically the “home” for most of the college applications. On one website,, most of your application can be completed from writing your supplemental essays to actually paying.
I know that the college process is a draining one, trust me, I’m there too. However, there are many things that can be done to ensure that the process is not as bad as everyone makes it out to be. The main piece of advice that I can give is talk to your guidance and/or college counselor. Honestly, whenever I stepped out of a meeting with my guidance counselor, who is also my college advisor, I felt amazing and prepared.
Now, let’s talk about actually picking schools to apply to. Though this is technically a step backwards in the process, it’s necessary to discuss at this location. Raise your hand if you’ve head of Harvard, Princeton and Yale. Yeah, just as I thought. These are schools that everyone has heard of and everyone wants to go to. Why do you want to go there? Because they have a name that can “take you places.” My friends who are applying to the big-named Ivy League schools are only applying for the name…not for the location, program or feel. I avoided those schools completely because I did not get the vibe that I wanted from a college there. Don’t get me wrong, they’re still fantastic institutions…they’re just not for me. I did my college search more specific. I found certain databases where you can pick and choose what you college should have: location, diversity, programs, Greek life, religious affiliation, your test scores and GPA and more. After I completed the entire survey, out came schools. Some I have heard of, and others I knew nothing about. This gave me a great sense of where I should be applying and thinking based on my personal answers. In fact, every school that I am applying to was a result from my survey. I think this way of college searching is more holistic and more beneficial than just looking at the name.
One last thing when discussing college picking: categorize your schools into “Reaches,” “Targets,” and “Safeties.” I use these words loosely because there is always something mysterious about the college application process. Reach schools are schools where you have test scores and a GPA a little under the average. Also, the acceptance percentage rate is low. Target schools are exactly what they sound like—they are schools where you are at its average, maybe a little above. Safeties are schools where you are pretty much “in”—your scores are above, your GPA is above and they accept most applicants. A key piece of advice though, is that ONLY APPLY TO SCHOOLS THAT YOU WOULD ACTUALLY ATTEND. Many of my friends are applying to “safeties” just to have them…but they would never attend.
Here are some key pieces of information from me that I hope you will enjoy and utilize.
  • Do not slack off your freshmen year. I know, I know. You’re finally in High School! So exciting! But at the same time, every single grade you receive in high school…colleges see.
  • Take the standardize test that suits you best. The SAT and ACT are very different. I could go on about the differences but I will leave you with one thing: kids really do better on one or the other. Me, I did A LOT better on the ACT than the SAT.
  • Pick schools that you would actually attend.
  • Talk to the people at your school. They help out SO MUCH.
  • Start your applications earlier than your friends. Though they might think you “don’t have a life,” they’re really impressed when you’re done way before them!
  • Try to enjoy the process as much as possible. Though it’s tough and stressful, in retrospect, it was actually very fun. I loved learning about new schools and cities and programs!
Now, parents, here is some advice from my very own counselor…my dad!
  • Let your child choose the colleges and have him/her explain hoe he/she came to those decisions. DON’T do it for them.
  • Keep tract of all of the deadlines for submission of documents for each college, separate from the child keeping track of his/her own dates.
  • If the parents have geographical of financial restrictions, make them clear and known as soon as possible.
  • Avoid phrases like, “When I was applying to college…”
One last thing, I did not discuss financial aid in this article for a main reason. There are so many ways to get money for college these days, from grants to scholarships, that I think the process should be money-free until the actually decision time of picking where to go.
I hope this helped out! Hopefully you won’t feel as stressed anymore. Remember, we’re all going through the same things!