By Elyse Hwang
Photo courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org
Back by popular demand!* And now I’ve actually gotten into college (Fight On!, but to clarify, my parents did not pay for me to be recruited for rowing and I did not have a college counselor), so there is some proof that these tips work on their own if that means anything to you.
- START EARLY. I rarely capitalize anything unnecessarily, so hopefully, this encourages you to start writing your essays, and figuring out where you are going to apply, who you are going to ask for recommendations, and what you are going to major in as soon as possible. I received this advice numerous times from parents, teachers, friends, mentors, videos, and articles, but as a master procrastinator, I thought I had it all under control. I did not. Please take this advice seriously. If you procrastinate, you will live in regret. For a general timeline, try starting your essays after AP tests are over and make sure you have drafted multiple personal statements by the start of senior year. Senior year is a lot rougher than you may expect, especially if you are taking challenging AP classes. The months of first semester will fly by and you will soon find yourself sitting at your computer at the start of winter break having only applied to your early action or decision school(s) the day before the deadline with 20 supplemental essays left to complete.
- If you are applying to private schools, make sure to check if and when interviews are offered. Some schools only offer interviews prior to the application deadline to give you a chance to demonstrate your interest in a school. Other schools have priority deadlines (for example, Duke and Ric) for requesting an interview. While you may still receive an interview if you apply after this priority deadline, it is less likely and these interviews help add a more personal, relatable aspect to your application. It also shows you do not have good time management or applied last minute to the school – both characteristics that are not very appealing in the context of the college application process.
- When writing your descriptions for extracurriculars, be sure to quantify as much as possible. How many people were in your club? How much money did you raise? How many cans were donated to your food drive? You want to show that you made an impact in what you did.
- Discuss your financial situation with your parents. If your parents are generous enough to be paying for your tuition, ask them which schools they are willing to pay for so you don’t waste time and money applying to colleges you’ll need to take out huge loans for. College can cost up to $85,000 per year at private schools nowadays, and student debt is one of the few debts that cannot be canceled. If your parents will not help with paying for your tuition, you may also want to research and apply to a lot of safety schools that offer generous scholarships, or only apply to in-state public schools. Community college is another route to free up your general education requirements and avoid debt before finishing off your Bachelor’s degree at a four-year university. While a prestigious name may be nice, it’s much better to not be weighed down by debt for the majority of your 20s and 30s.
- Apply for financial aid, even if you don’t think you’ll need it. File the FAFSA. Fill out your CSS profile. It takes a miniscule amount of time compared to the amount of work you will be doing to pay off college debt. Some colleges offer fee waivers if you apply for need-based aid, and some school-specific scholarships are only available to those who have applied for financial aid even if they are merit-based and don’t consider demonstrated need for the scholarship itself.
- Check if colleges require official SAT or AP score reports. These take up to a few weeks to send, and it can be stressful to send SAT scores near the school deadline. While some schools may be lenient, there is no way of knowing which schools will or will not be, depending on the year. This is an easy step to take care of months before your regular decision deadlines, but it can easily be forgotten! Many schools don’t require official reports, but this is not always the case. Hopefully, you studied hard for the SAT. Do not put your application at a disadvantage because you forgot to send your SAT score in the first place.
- To underclassmen: Study for the PSATs and take them seriously. Many schools offer major scholarships (as in, half or even full-tuition) for National Merit Finalists and Scholars, which can only be acquired if you do well on the PSATs.
- Take your SATs early. I took my SATs during my junior year, and it significantly lightened my load during my senior year. It’s also helpful to organize your testing schedule so that you take the PSAT and SAT in quick succession since both tests are very similar and you’ll only have to study once.
*That is to say, my counselor said she liked part 1.