Monday, June 10, 2013

Advice For A Tyro: College Admissions

Get ready for some fun new series on my blog called Advice For a Tyro! The first one I thought I'd start with is...

With summer rolling in and my own golden ticket err... I mean seat in my college, I thought I'd discuss my advice for high school students who will be facing the challenge of college admissions this fall or in the near future. 
So, here is my advice for the college admission's tyro:

#1. My all time best piece of advice is to "be yourself". As cliche as this sounds, be yourself, don't be who you think you should be. When this op-ed ran in the WSJ, I honestly agreed with the article's general sentiments- in this day and age you have to be "unique" to be "accepted". 
By unique, I mean be the individual you are.

These days, it's not only about being a genius, legacy, or minority, you have to be well rounded. Colleges want students that will not only add intellectually to the campus, but characteristically as well. 

#2. Find activities you enjoy doing (and stick with it). Find a hobby, sport, or club you are passionate about and stay committed to it. Colleges would rather see you dedicated to less activities you dedicate large amounts of time to then double the activities you only dabble with. More is not always better.

#3. Make a list of things you like or don't like about a college campus. Do you like big cities or small cities? Big classes or small classes? Cold weather or warm weather? Finding out what you don't like about a college is as important as what you do like about a college campus. This makes it easier to pin point what type of school you think will best suit you individually. Personally, I pinpointed schools in New England that were in or close to a big city.

#4. While there is more to the admissions process than just test scores, the SAT, ACT, and AP tests are still an integral part to your admission. It can make or break you. I took the ACT the first time without studying and got an average score well below the number I needed to get into the colleges I wanted. I took it the second time without much studying again (it was a bad time with a lot going on personally). I scored a point less. I decided to buckle down and study and took it a third time. I got the exact score I wanted and increased it by 5 points. It is possible to get better results but only if you put the time and effort into it. The summer is the perfect time to start studying, even if your are taking the PSAT.

#5. Challenge yourself, but don't sabotage yourself. Take those challenging AP classes or that extra honors credit you don't technically need but have time for, colleges want to see you constantly push yourself intellectually; however, know your strengths and weaknesses. I am not good at math at all, but I challenged myself by taking Trigonometry and Calculus because I knew it would be good for me. With a lot of hard work I knew I could handle it, and I did. I squeaked out A minuses! But, I knew taking say AP Calculus was way out of my league. I knew that it wouldn't be pushing but forcing myself. 

#6. Get to know your teacher. I know your friends may tease you for being a teacher's pet, but you can silently laugh when your junior year math teacher writes you a glowing teacher recommendation. Bonding with your teacher can help you better understand the lessons and objectives of the class, but sometimes teachers are actually cool too. I kid you not. 

#7. Often the most difficult part of the college admission's process is finding a major that speaks to you. For some reason, I knew what I wanted to do since I was an eighth grader. But that doesn't mean I won't even fall victim to changing my major. About 80% of college students will change their major at least once! To find a major that best suits you, look at what interests and activities you are most passionate about and research jobs that would allow you to pursue them. Then, look at the majors necessary to reach that job position. If you really don't have an idea though, applying undecided is 100% okay. Try to apply to colleges with a large variety and assortment of majors that would let you explore yours interests though.

#8. Try visit different college campuses. The summer is always an excellent time to go on college tours, but also try to go during the school year to get a real feel for the campus life. Colleges are often a lot different than what you pictured in your mind whether good or bad. If you can't visit the colleges your interested in, try to find campus tours online through the college's website or youtube channel. Sometimes students will even post videos or pictures of the campus on Instagram, Tumbr, or Youtube. Also, sign up for mailing listings so you can receive various informational magazines, I kept some of mine since freshman year! Many colleges will also travel across the country for information sessions or college fairs which are often very informative and fun!

#9. Research student reviews of college campuses. Many students will give their honest opinion about their college whether good or bad. This can also give you a picture of the vibe on campus and the quality of student life that is equally as important as the academics. Great sites include college prowler and college confidential. Many applicants will also post their stats online so you can get a picture of what the college admissions officers look for in a future student. I also recommend the book, The Gatekeepersit gives a great insight into the admissions process and the students are very relatable.

#10. Keep finances in mind and "name brands" to the side. Chances are your parents will be paying for your school. Whether your family needs or doesn't need financial aid, college is an investment into your future. You have to make smart choices and compromises. Is it really worth it to graduate from an Ivy League in an impossible debt when you could graduate only $20,000 in debt from a top ranked state school? Chances are it will take you awhile to pay back any students loans after you graduate. Just like any piece of clothing, buy it because you like it, not because of the name itself. 

#11. When it comes to your college essays, let your spirit shine! As I said before, be unique, this is your time to sell yourself and let your voice be heard. College admission officers read dozens of essays a day, write about subjects that you are confident and interested in. Do not write about generic topics like your grandmother or your first dance competition, talk about what sets you apart from the rest of the pack. Talk about a quirky tradition of yours, a life changing event, or the impact of soccer in your life. Be creative, be unique, be YOU! (And, spell check and character count are your best friends)

#12. Do not procrastinate with your applications. I know its hard to add the applications on top of homework, SAT tests, your part time job, and band practice, but do not put it off until the last minute. It will only add extra pressure. I turned all of mine in early November and felt the world lift right off my shoulders. 

#13. Be realistic with your choices. This is perhaps the hardest piece of advice to give. You can dream big, but you also need to keep things in perspective. I applied to 10 colleges! Although it seems like a lot, I categorized it by 3 colleges that were "safety schools", 3 colleges I was on target with, and 4 schools that were a reach. I also applied to so many because I wanted to be left with more than one option. In the end, I got into the 6 safety and on target schools and wait listed by one reach school and denied by the others. I reached for the schools with the less than 10% acceptance rate and the impossible ACT scores I didn't have, but I also strategically reached for the schools I felt confident I had good chances of getting into. You never know if you could get into your "dream" school. Go for it, but have a plan.

And remember, a rejection does not define who you are. I confess I cried when I got my first one, but I lived to see another day and you will too. It's not the end of the world! Remember, whatever college that is lucky enough to have you is not responsible for your success or failure.
YOU are in control of your future.

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  1. Love this so much. I love the advice to "be yourself." It's so simple, yet so powerfully true. Fabulous post, love. If you get a second, I'd love to hear your thoughts on my latest post. xo

    1. Thank you for taking the time to read my post!! I have been following your blog from afar for awhile now and admire your style and your personal story. Your are such an inspiration to girls like me! -Tia


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