Laura Catron ’17: It’s open season, college application season, that is. The time when colleges and universities officially open up their websites in search of next year’s students. (As if they haven’t been watching every test score since sophomores took the PSAT.) Among the thousands of colleges and universities in the country, picking the right one can be pretty daunting. The prospect of applying to the right one is even scarier. While drowning in glossy envelopes and promotional emails, remember that you are in charge of your future.
So seniors, fire up your chromebooks: it’s hunting time.
Step 1: Make a Spreadsheet
Creating spreadsheets keeps you organized, whether you’re applying to two colleges or twenty. When done correctly, a spreadsheet clears the mess of due dates and requirements each college wants. A couple of possible columns: Common App College? Due dates for early and regular acceptance? Any additional essays required?
If you cannot find the answers to these questions, due to awful school websites or personal laziness, don’t stress. Incredibly helpful websites such as CollegeData.com and makemeafreshman.com both give information about specific schools’ applications.
Also, be wary of trap apps (aka binding applications). Certain schools only want students to apply if the school is their top choice. Once accepted, those schools make students withdraw all other applications. Early Action and Regular Decision applications should be safe, but Early Decision and Early Decision II are usually binding.
Step 2: Time Equals Money
Entering senior year, students finally know how to harness the true power of procrastination, only to see its usefulness diminish.
It’s worth being on time in this case, though, because timeliness and dollars have a generous exchange rate. When an application requires a teacher recommendation letter, don’t rush to Mr. Lamb the day before. If you really want that letter to rock, give him enough time to adequately gush about you.
The same rule goes for those lovely standardized tests. If you’re planning to take the SAT/ACT again, do it as soon as possible. While many schools take updated test scores after you’ve already applied, some do not. A few extra points on the math section could mean a new scholarship opportunity.
Depending on how many schools you’re applying to, try to fill out one application a day. College apps are basically busywork; easy, but time consuming.
Step 3: Money Equals Money
Though at times it seems cheaper to pledge your first born child to the gods of higher education, remember that not every cent of your college fund needs to come from your family’s pocket. Scholarships save lives, no matter how much they’re worth. Use as many as you can. Stay on the lookout for random scholarship opportunities. For starting points, try Pinterest and Tumblr as resources to find odd scholarships. (You probably want to keep track of these in your spreadsheet, too). For instance, educating the public about beef can get you $1,000 and making a prom dress out of duct tape can earn $10,000. Yes, really.
Step 4: Essays
Since middle school, teachers preached that you can’t write an essay in a night. This almost certainly does not apply to class reports, but it definitely applies to college apps. Before writing, brainstorm answers to the different prompts. Try to pick the one that you relate the most to. For example, if the biggest hardship in your life involves your parents buying you a silver iPhone instead of a rose gold one, abandon the prompt about overcoming hardship. On the same note, don’t fabricate a different life story because you think the admissions counselors want to hear it. You are not that good of a liar and it’s obvious as hell.
Secondly, utilize your resources. Teachers and counselors would most likely be happy to help you. After all, their job is to better your education. Just make sure to ask politely.
Thirdly, reuse your essays! Colleges don’t compare your apps, so if the prompt is similar, go for it. No need to come up with something from scratch if you don’t have to. But make sure you proofread; it’d be embarrassing to conclude your essay to GVSU with, “And that’s why I want to
go to Central.”
Step 5: The Hail Mary
At the end of the day, review all the places you’ve applied to. Did you bother with your dream school? You know the one. It has insanely high average test scores and/or costs 60k a year. You probably didn’t, and no one blames you.
On the other hand, why not try? The answer might/probably will be no, but there’s only one way to find out. You never know; you might have that special je ne sais quoi that Harvard is looking for.
If you’re worried about the additional cost of applying to more schools, open up your inbox. Lots of those ignored emails have to do with waiving an application fee or two.
The hunt for the perfect college isn’t easy, but hopefully these tools help you track down the right one. Remember though, in the end, you cannot be reduced to a few paragraphs or a GPA. People are too complex for that. Whatever school recognizes the potential in your application gains a student worth having. Happy hunting!