The Nightmare of Senior Year: College Applications
Oh, it’s the fall of senior year, when all-nighters are common and you are probably spending more time with Common App than with your family. Just like you, I’m reflecting and deciding on what aspects of my life to share with the total strangers who will decide where I spend the next four years of my life. I say a prayer and hope that I can give admission officers a sufficient glimpse to help them know that I am a perfect fit for their school. After writing humongous stacks of essays—which I read and edit, only to scrap and start all over again— I hold my head in both hands at the computer screen, cracking my brain, with droopy eyes and clenched teeth.
The process of college applications is probably one of the most stressful experiences you would ever encounter as a teenager. As a high school senior with admission deadlines looming, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and overworked. The process is likely to be more nerve wrecking if you left everything till the fall of senior year, when you are probably drowning in a sea of homework and activities.
If you are a Junior, the best tip I can share from my experience is that you should definitely start the college application process in the summer. Application prompts are released then to allow students more time to prepare, and avoid stressing over things at the last minute.
Start by making a list of safety, target and reach schools, as well as their scholarship opportunities. Make sure you know the requirements and deadlines for each school you are considering. If possible, visit the colleges that you are most interested in, and attend as many information sessions as possible; knowledge is power. Take advantage of opportunities to speak to students that are enrolled at the colleges on your list.
For seniors who waited till the fall to start the college application process, you are not alone, and, hope is not lost. I did just that. Here are some steps that I have taken to help me accomplish my goals while keeping my stress levels more manageable. I hope they help you too:
Start Each Day With a Clear Mind
It is often helpful to wake up in time to allow for some morning reflection. This may be different for each person. For some, it might involve a quiet 15-30 minute walk. For others, it could be stretches, a few yoga poses, or even prayer. I do a combination of these to set my day off to a calm and peaceful start. I often pray, read the bible, reflect and recite self-affirming statements to myself. It helps to remind yourself that you’ve got this! Whether or not you are applying to college, it is good practice to start each day with a clear mind.
Manage Your Expectations
One great source of stress in the college application process can be managing expectations. Create a college list based on your grades and standardized test (SAT/ACT) scores, as well as your personal preferences, such as, college location, student body size, scholarship opportunities, etc. There are several websites that provide detailed information about GPA and test score ranges for different schools. Do your research and apply with realistic expectations. Nevertheless, don't be discouraged by statistics. Because dreams can come true, it is okay to reach for the stars by applying to a few schools with typical admitted student statistics that are higher than yours. However, manage your expectations and understand that many schools simply have too few spaces to accommodate the number of highly qualified applicants. Remember that unless a school has auto-admit policies, there are no guarantees of acceptance, regardless of how strong your high school performance is. College admissions can be unpredictable; students have been admitted to schools where seemingly “more qualified” candidates were not accepted. Remember that there is a good fit school for every student, and in the end, you will attend a school that loves you and welcomes you with open arms!
Keep a Planner
Trying to mentally keep track of deadlines will most likely end in disaster. Stay organized by using an old fashioned planner. Make notes of requirements, cost, and deadlines for each college to which you are applying. You can also use calendars on your electronic devices to keep track of tasks and deadlines. Break tasks into smaller steps and set personal deadlines to complete each step. For example, pick dates by which you must decide on your chosen recommenders, request recommendations or transcripts, complete writing supplements, etc. You could also create a table in word or excel with colleges, requirements, to-do lists, and deadlines for every step of the process. As you complete items from the list, check them off, to help highlight what’s left to do. Set electronic alerts that go off two week, one week and 3 days to each deadline.
Plan to Submit Early
Plan to submit your applications at least a week before the deadline. If you wait until the last minute, unexpected situations could end up causing you a lot of anxiety. Sites have been known to crash when so many students log on close to the deadline. Use time wisely and do not procrastinate. Schedule designated times time in advance to work on your college applications. You may have to make some sacrifices in order to balance time needed for college applications and schoolwork. Contact your recommenders early. You want them to write your letters before they are overwhelmed with numerous recommendation requests.
Find Time to Relax & Connect with Others
You don’t have to go through this alone. Every senior across the nation is experiencing the same stress with you. Something that is currently helping me on my journey, is YouTube! There, I can hear advice from students that were accepted to my dream schools and be inspired.
Ignore the Nay-Sayers
Some people will try to discourage you because you’re simply competition. They will remind you of others whose college hopes were dashed. Ignore the negativity. DON’T. LET. IT. GET. TO. YOU. Trust me, confidence is key in this process. The only person that can decide the outcome of your applications is you. Well…and the admissions officer. ;)
It is important to keep a positive attitude through this process. The application cycle is only for a period of time and you will get through it. It may seem unending, but there will be light at the end of the tunnel. If you prepared a balanced college list with reach, target and safety schools that you love, you will end up being happy at any college you attend.