College applications are harder than I remember them being. I don’t know, maybe grad school applications are harder, but this Fall I feel sympathy for all the high school seniors and those returning to school. This stuff is complicated!
Now that I’m doing it for a second time, I’ve got a bit of advice. Stuff that I wish I knew five years ago… or five months ago, because I’m off to a bit of a late start.
1. Choosing a back-up school may be the hardest part.
Pick a school that you’re almost guaranteed to get into. That’s easy enough. But finding one that still has a solid program and fits all of your requirements, that’s not so easy. Lower-ranked schools are ranked lower for a reason. They aren’t as good as the schools that are harder to get into. And not just in academics, but also probably in funding for all sorts of other programs and in the type of people they are going to attract. Sorry to sound like a snob, but I don’t want to waste my time at a university filled with slackers and stoners.
2. Don’t procrastinate… too much.
There are SO many requirements. Tests that must be taken, letters of recommendation that must be requested, essays that must be written, and exhaustive forms that must be filled out. Depending on where you’re applying, the requirements may not be impossible to complete in one month, but it might drive you crazy if you try. Be sure you leave enough time to study for tests.
When I was applying for college the first time around I ended up taking the last SAT exam available, meaning that I couldn’t re-take it after I did horribly. And I’m pretty sure that my horrible scores kept me from getting accepted into a university that I thought I would get into for sure. Be aware that circumstances beyond your control could get in the way too. For example, I had to cancel my SAT exam twice, once because of the unexpected death of a friend.
3. Make a list… or ten.
If you’re on a tight schedule (and who isn’t?) you’re going to have to prioritize. Test scores and transcripts might take a few weeks to process. And teachers and professors are going to want some time to write you a letter of recommendation, try to avoid asking them right before finals or midterms.
4. Seek some advice.
Even if your parents never went to college, or never had to deal with the online application process, they can probably still give you some valuable information (like your social security number) or help you stay on schedule. And if nothing else, they can just listen to you vent. Because this stuff can get stressful. You might feel like your entire future is riding on this application. And in a way it is, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t still have a great future if it doesn’t work out.