The ins and outs of applying to college

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Nothing in high school can quite compare to the first semester of senior year. College applications are tedious, stressful, repetitive, and can be confusing. How am I supposed to tell somebody about myself if I don’t even know who I am? As a senior waiting for decision letters, this is the best advice I can give to get the most out of applying to college.

1. To start, get all your testing out of the way. Don’t be the senior who has to sign up for the November SAT because you kept putting it off the previous spring. (Trust me, I did exactly this.) The SAT is offered 4 times between January and June: take advantage of those opportunities. If the SAT isn’t your cup of tea, the ACT is offered in February, April and June. Do yourself a favor and don’t sign up for the June ACT or SAT Reasoning test- your mind will have already given in to summer.

*Fun fact: if you sign up for the SAT and utilize the free score report option they provide, those score reports are automatically cancelled if you do not attend your SAT. Don’t sleep through it!

2. Tour. I cannot emphasize this enough. If you have a top choice school that is perfect for you on paper, go and look at it to make sure it’s perfect for you in person, too. If traveling just to look at one or two colleges isn’t possible, take advantage of what the Bay Area has to offer. Tour Stanford, tour Berkeley, tour UCSC, tour Foothill – tour all of the local campuses so that you can get a feel for what a college campus is like. Even if you didn’t apply, take a few hours one weekend to just walk around. If you have the chance, start touring during your junior year. At the very least, you’ll get an idea of what kind of schools you like and what kinds you despise.

3. Build a list of schools you could see yourself at. Try to have this done and somewhat finalized by the very beginning of senior year – don’t stress if you decide later on to add or drop a school or two. If you need a small, quiet campus with strong liberal arts programs, that’s perfectly okay. On the other hand, if you want the atmosphere of a big state school, that’s great, too. Want something in between? Great. There is no wrong college, only the school that best suits you.

4. Start your applications in the summer. I know it sounds terrible, but please just trust me on this. You don’t have to start in June or July, but at least by August be ready to get going. If you stick to this plan, you can have your apps done by early October.

5. FAFSA, Financial Aid, Scholarships — whatever you need to make those next four years possible, look into it. There are endless amounts of scholarships available as long as you’re willing to dig around. Hunt them down, apply, and see what you can get. Don’t be afraid to get aggressive, and don’t get down on yourself if you don’t receive a certain scholarship. Many colleges offer financial aid packages that can help you, and filing the FAFSA can do no harm. Be on alert for scholarships with application deadlines, or if a college won’t grant financial aid if you apply past a certain date.

6. You can apply to as many schools as you want to, but the lower the number the higher the risk of not getting into a college you love. There have been and will be kids who apply to three schools because they’re banking on getting into all of them, and end up getting rejected from all three. Don’t let that be you! Needless to say, if you apply ED to a school and get in then yes, you only have to apply to one school.

7. In contrast, don’t go overboard and apply to 30 schools. When the time comes to make online admission portals for each school, you will most likely struggle to remember your username and password every time.

8. Apply to safety schools. Apply early to safety schools. Nothing is better than hearing back within the first few months of the school year that you’re going to college. It doesn’t matter what college- just knowing you have at least some sort of plan after graduation will help with the stress of decision letters.

9. That being said, don’t apply to safety schools that you would never ever attend. From personal experience, it’s a waste of money and makes the whole application process a lot more tedious. On the other hand, don’t be embarrassed by the safety schools you apply to. Everybody has their own journey through high school, don’t worry about somebody else’s range of schools and they won’t worry about yours.

10. Know the difference between EA and ED. EA (Early Action) is a way to get your applications to college early in the year so that you can hear back sooner. It’s non-binding and you can apply to as many schools as you’d like. ED (Early Decision) is binding; you can apply to one school ED and if you are accepted, you’re required to attend. ED is awesome for people who know exactly what school they want to go to, but don’t feel pressured to apply ED if you’re not sure which school is right for you. Note: Some colleges offer both ED and EA, and some only offer one of the two. Likewise, some offer neither and you can only apply Regular Decision.

11. Be aware that when you apply EA or ED, it is possible to get deferred. It’s not a rejection or an acceptance, it just means that your application has been pushed back to the Regular Decision admission pool. If you apply ED to a school and they defer you, that is the green light to apply to other schools in case your original plan falls through.

12. Have a prepared answer when people ask you, “What are you planning on doing after graduation?” It’s okay if it’s vague, it’s okay if it’s specific, but I promise you will be asked that question at least a dozen times.

13. On the other hand, please do not post every single decision letter on every social networking site. You will lose friends. We are happy for you, and we will empathize with you if need be, but if you applied to 15 schools and post all 15 decision letters on Facebook, I will unfriend you. If you want to tweet or instagram pictures of your letter from a school you’re excited about, then by all means, go ahead. On a similar note, please don’t bash any schools on social media if you get rejected. Maybe that college wasn’t the one for you, but it might be somebody else’s dream school.

14. It’s okay to get rejected. It happens. Don’t stress, on to the next one.

Leah Kidd
Leah is a second semester senior at Mountain View High School and a guest writer for the Oracle.
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