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High school students, please take my advice. In applying for college, there were so many things I should have and could have done differently. It's too late for seniors now, but this is a great time for juniors and underclassmen to start thinking about these things, and to have some advice from someone who very recently went through the experience as they come up to this majorly stressful time in their lives. Many of these things I didn’t even know until after the process, but they would have really helped me to avoid many breakdowns.
1. Start applying for everything your junior year.
Not every college will allow juniors to apply. However, if a school or scholarship foundation does allow this, absolutely take the opportunity! Many people I know in my current class were already accepted by the start of senior year. Meanwhile, I was struggling to meet deadlines.
2. Prepare early.
Applying your junior means you’ll need to start preparing as early as the beginning of that year. You’ll need letters of recommendation, and don’t even ask for one unless you’ve already prepared a resume. You’ll need multiple letters, so ask at least all the teachers you’ve had for more than one course, or other teachers who have known you for more than one school year. Another thing I’ve come across, that I never thought I would, is a request for a peer letter of recommendation. Usually, teacher recommendations cut it, but I struggled to find a fellow student I trusted to write it well and on time. I was not the most social student in high school, and I didn’t feel close enough to anyone to ask them to write this recommendation for me. Start thinking about the possibility that you may come across this, and think about who you’d trust to write it. Get more than one, from different students, similar to multiple teacher letters. The variety of letters allow you to choose the most appropriate one for each college or scholarship you are applying for.
3. Get a second opinion on writing pieces.
Have your English teachers read your innumerable essays. Thankfully, some of those you’ve already written can be minimally adjusted to fit a new prompt, but you won’t be so lucky with others. Your English teachers should be willing to proofread and provide suggestions for your essays, as well as be an essay advisor for those applications that require it. I didn’t start having my teacher check until after I’d already applied for colleges, and I feel as though it really would have bettered my chances for getting into big-name schools. However, I had her check all of my scholarship essays, and they became more powerful and eloquent after her suggestions and corrections.
4. Know specifics.
After each college releases their admissions decisions, make sure you understand what does and does not constitute your acceptance of admission. Some colleges determine this to be your signing up for orientation, your enrollment deposit, or your acceptance of a scholarship. If you’re still waiting on other admissions decisions, you don’t want to accidentally accept admission at a school by applying for housing or financial aid, only to find out you also made it into a school you’d prefer to go to. You can always back out, but there’s still the possibility that you may have to pay a fee, or your scholarships may have already been sent to that school, leaving you penniless for your first year at the college you switch to. Make sure you know what constitutes acceptance at each school to avoid this, if this situation applies to you.
5. Apply for all the extras.
That said, apply for housing, meal plans, financial aid, and special programs as soon as possible. Many of these selections are first-come, first-served, and even if you decide not to go to a certain school, it is better to have applied early than applying late to the college you do choose, and then having to struggle to find a place to live, for example.
6. Balance college applications with scholarships.
During, and even after, the college application process, you’ll be simultaneously working on scholarships. Scholarships.com is one of the best websites to find scholarships you qualify for, and to sift through them to find ones you actually want to apply to, in my opinion and the opinion of many of my peers. Apply to any and every scholarship possible, and make sure to stock up on manila envelopes and stamps, as many of the scholarship packets will be sent via snail-mail. You can also continue applying for scholarships while you’re in college, so don’t stop after you’ve reached your first year tuition, and keep working on them.
7. Stay in the loop.
Talking to your peers and teachers may seem like second nature, especially for social butterflies. However, this social interaction gives you a hidden advantage. Staying in the loop with those around you can tip you off to scholarships, colleges, and special programs you may want to apply to.
8. Get a planner.
A planner will be your saving grace. They’re a great idea for students, regardless of the college application. You’ll still be doing homework for school in addition to all of the college and scholarship deadlines you’ll have to keep track of. If you want to stay sane, get a planner, or make your own in a bullet journal.
9. Take care of yourself.
Lastly, and most importantly, don’t get so wrapped up in the process that you forget to take care of yourself. Remember to make time for your friends and family. They will be the ones supporting you through the process, and through the years you are actually in college. Don’t become so engrossed in the work that you push them away. Don’t forget to make time for yourself, either. It may be tempting to stay up until the wee hours of the morning to finish that last essay, or a homework assignment. You’ll be much better off, more focused, and more productive if you go to bed at a decent time, eat a meal, and keep up with hygiene. It’s easy to be stressed out and neglect yourself, but in the end, it is you that you’re working for.