With over 4,000 different options for colleges in the United States and over 25,000 options worldwide, high schoolers today have an overwhelming amount of choices to consider for their future. It may seem impossible to navigate, however, I am hoping that with some of my advice, I can impart at least a basic understanding of how to manage college applications for anyone who is feeling stressed.
To start, it is important to note that the negative feelings associated with applying to university are completely natural. I cannot even begin to cover the sheer amount of anxiety I had last fall when I was going through this myself. So, if you ever feel like the end of the world is approaching… I was there with you a year ago! Though I promise you, the world will not end - you just have to stay resilient and things will fall into place.
Tip #1: Teacher Recommendations
It is common knowledge that many colleges and universities nowadays require applicants to garner one or more letters of recommendation from important figures in their life. For me, I believe I ended up asking about three of my teachers and a couple of other important adults for letters, though this will vary for each person. Universities typically have their own requirements that they will stipulate once you open their application. However, before this opens, you can take a few preparatory actions to alleviate some stress for the fall. On average, most students will need around 2-3 teacher recommendations (as well as a counselor recommendation), and it never hurts to start asking for these over the summer as many teachers will require you to fill out a questionnaire prior to writing the letter.
Tip #2: The Writing
When applying to university, schools might require you to submit both your personal essay as well as potential supplemental essays that vary from school to school. Most U.S. universities require students to submit these (and other personal information) via the website Common App, and may request additional work through their school’s own portal post-submission. Don’t stress too much about it all, though- there are some ways to curb the stress! For crafting your essays, if you want to get a head start over the summer, Common App releases prompts from years past, so those are an option you can check out if you want some extra practice before writing your own Common App essay or personal statement. Common App will be opening on August 1, 2023, this year, so get a jump on your essay and supplementals before school starts up again if you can!
Tip #3: Deciding Where to Actually Apply
This may be one of the toughest parts of the entire college application process (hence the length of this section alone); choosing which places are right for you and your educational goals. With so many options to choose from, I have some tips for things to consider to narrow down your list so as to not feel overwhelmed with juggling too many applications along with potential schoolwork, sports, and other personal obligations. Things to consider can range from simply distance from home all the way to specific accommodations a school offers.
To assist with your ‘checklist’, here are some concepts I assessed before committing to applying to any school:
Educational desires- consider what you are looking to get out of going to school; do you want a certain level of degree? Are you looking to develop long-lasting relationships with professors/acquaintances? You can use these considerations to cross off some schools that don’t match your goals.
Graduation rate- this one is fairly self-explanatory; looking at a school’s acceptance-to-graduation ratio can help determine whether the school is worth applying to in the first place if it seems that students struggle to succeed in their classes.
Job placement rate- also fairly self-explanatory; many universities release the rates of how many of their graduates are placed into part-time and full-time jobs out of college. This may be a good indicator of whether a school is right for your aspirations.
Acceptance rate- tying back in with graduation rates, acceptance rates may give a good idea of how competitive a university is to be admitted to and potentially how difficult the coursework will be. This will be a very rough estimation, however, so be sure to base your decision on more than just this percentage; after all, it only tells a very small, numerically condensed fraction of the student body’s story.
*Also important to note- an acceptance rate does not guarantee anyone will or will not be admitted into a school; there are schools considered “safeties” that can waitlist/reject perfectly suitable candidates- admissions tend to be a bit of a dice roll, so try not to take non-acceptances to heart! You are more than just what universities you get into :)
Environment- pay attention to the makeup of the student body; does the school have a religious affiliation that you are comfortable with? Does the school have a good amount of diversity in various sectors? What is the academic environment like- all work, no play? Work hard, play hard? No matter the circumstances, you want to have a school that will feel like a home for this next stage of your life.
Location- this may not be a huge concern for my fellow nomadic milteens that are accustomed to (and may even like) moving, however, depending on out-of-state tuition, urban versus rural placement, weather, country, etc, many schools may not be suitable for each person’s unique preferences, and that’s okay!
Finances- one of the biggest factors of college: the cost. Not only do schools charge you to apply, but then there’s also the initial deposit once committing to the university, in tandem with the actual housing and tuition fees… it adds up quickly. Knowing which schools offer financial aid that suits your needs, applying for scholarships, and contemplating using a relative’s GI Bill (if applicable) are all good places to start when it comes to the price tag associated with the university.
*If you are able to use the GI Bill, I recommend utilizing the GI Bill Calculator website which informs you of which schools do and do not match GI Bill benefits!
*If you fall under a certain household income or have other extenuating circumstances, some schools may allow you to waive the application fee, so be sure to fill out the FAFSA on time and pay attention to financial aid opportunities that may come your way :)
Majors of interest- it’s very possible that your plans may change once beginning classes, however, it still might be wise to check and see what majors are offered at the schools you’re considering applying to.
Other programs- if Greek life, environmentalism, service groups, sports, or other programs are important to your college experience, then it may be wise to check and see what the schools you’re thinking of applying to offer in these realms.
*Another important note- make sure you diversify your application pool! Be sure to balance “reach” schools with both “target” and “safety” schools to ensure you will have a school to attend that you’ll be happy with!
All in all, I think it’s sufficient to say that the process of applying to college is at least a little complex. Maybe just a little bit. The tediousness of it all can hopefully be regulated a bit by some of these tips I’ve provided! Best of luck to all of you applying and stay strong!