The Student’s Survival Guide to Applying to College: How to Stay Somewhat Sane During the College Process

Katherine Bruckmann

Katie Bruckmann

Class of 2010

As a senior at Walpole High start applying to college, you are probably getting extremely stressed out and do not know where to turn.  You need not fear, however. Why, you ask? The answer is simple: The Student’s Survival Guide to Applying to College is here to help you retain at least some sanity during the application process and to actually enjoy your last year of high school.  Here are some helpful tips you should consider:

1. Don’t Be Clueless- Everyone should at least have some idea of where they would like to apply to college going into their senior year.  Although it is not necessary to be definite about this, it is good to have some clue as to where you want to go.  At the very least, you should have ideas about what qualities you want in a school, and then do your best to find schools that fit these descriptions.  From there, you can compile a list of perfect schools.  Don’t be like Cher Horowitz, à la “Clueless”, and not have any idea about what you want or what is out there. Once you get a feel for where you want to apply, learning about your choice can also help during the college interview. Sounding informed impresses people. You can be smart, like Cher Horowitz, but sound unintelligent because of the way you speak or because of the impression you give.  Sounding smart while also sounding like yourself makes a big difference when getting into a college.  Your essays should also sound like yourself, not like  someone else.

2. Do NOT Get “Senioritis”- Or, if you already have it,  you MUST get rid of it! It is a complete myth that students can just slack off during their senior year, even if they have worked very hard and gotten good grades in their past years.  Doing so can have harrowing results on your college experience.  For example, you may be accepted into your top choice school, and think that once you are admitted, you are free to do what you want, which probably no longer includes working hard. Being lazy like this can cause the school that has already accepted you to take back your admission.  Or, if you have not done as well as you would have liked in your first three years of high school, senior year is the time to step it up.  It may not be too late for you to do well and get into the school of your choice.

3.  Being “Fashionably Late” is Not at All Fashionable-  Many students think that they  have all the time in the world to make decisions on colleges, visit them, fill out applications, write essays, and send those apps in.  They are wrong!  Although it is not mandatory to start the college process early, it definitely helps.  Starting early will lead to less stress in the long run.  This gets the entire stressful situation over and done with faster.  Sometimes, you can find out whether or not you got accepted or rejected earlier than if you sent your applications in later on.  Two other ways to get your college results faster are to either apply “Early Decision” or “Early Action”.   “Early Decision” is an actual commitment to a certain school, binding you to that school if you are accepted, and “Early Action” allows you to find out early whether or not you got into a certain school without committing you to that school.

4.  Make Friends With College Students-  Use the help and guidance of older siblings, friends, and family members who are already in college to get advice on what to do during the process.  Doing this can help you decide what to look for in a college, and it can also help you figure out how to use resources to help you get into a good college.

5.  Work, But Don’t “Over Work”-  There are many student who work very, very hard in school, to the point of becoming obsessive.  Although being able to work extremely hard is an excellent thing, it can also backfire.  If you work too hard and do not get enough sleep, or if you miss out on everything you love outside of school, then you can become exhausted, stressed out, and your grades can actually suffer despite the extra effort. Becoming overworked and potentially putting your grades in jeopardy may make you a less desirable candidate for colleges. Pacing yourself and doing the best you can will yield the best results.

6. Do Not Overschedule Yourself-  Although it may seem like colleges are looking only for students who are extremely involved in every activity and who get perfect grades and test scores, this is not the case.  It is good to have academic success and to be involved in your school and community, but there is a limit on how much you can do, and how much you can do successfully.  Doing less will relieve stress and give you more time to relax and enjoy your senior year.  Schools will still be impressed if you do only a few activities because you will be able to have more involvement and success in them.  These important extra-curriculars may even help you during your college career or in your life after college.  You should not bite off more than you can chew by doing too many activities.  You should only do the few things you enjoy most and at which you are best.

7. Variety is the Spice of Life- Even though it is not necessary to be involved in every sport, club, and activity in the world, it is still good to have a wide variety of interests and hobbies.  Schools like to see a well-rounded student; being  more involved a few unique things will impress them.  Less activities, but more unique activities, can sometimes be more.  Quality is better than quantity.  Doing less extracurriculars gives you more time to focus on the college process without going completely insane!  Also, you should apply to a variety of schools.  They should vary in difficulty: there should be a few “reach” schools as well as a few “safety” schools.  This ensures that you will at least get in somewhere!

8.  Use Your Resources-  If you are  having trouble in a certain class, or are worried about something such as taking the SAT’s, you should go to a teacher for extra help.  Taking something like an SAT class in preparation for the test will ease the stress of taking the test and possibly help you get higher test scores, which can help you get into a better college.  Seeing a teacher for extra help after school may also help because then you will not spend hours poring over information late at night, trying to understand something that is not clear to you.  In addition, getting extra help from teachers gives you more time to focus on your other work and also gives you a better grip on material that you may be struggling on.  By spending less time trying to teach yourself, you will also have more time to work on your college applications.  Teacher help is there for a reason and a purpose.  It is wise to take advantage of this extra guidance.

9.  Be Realistic-  Although it is good to look at a variety of schools, you also must be realistic about your grades, abilities, and financial situation.  Even though it is not too late to improve your grades during your senior year, a student with lower grades should probably not consider applying to Harvard.  In addition, you should not suddenly decide to be a doctor if your weakest subjects happen to be math and science.  Another thing to consider is cost.  You should look at expenses and your financial situation and decide whether or not you are eligible for financial aid.  If you are not, then you should still not give up hope of going to your top choice school.  Scholarships are available to all students.  Research everything before deciding it is going to be absolutely impossible to go to your top school.

10.  Be Able to See the Light at the End of the Tunnel-  It is well-known that once all the essays are finished and the applications are done and sent in, a mix of both relief and panic sets in. You’ll feel relieved to be finished, but you’ll also panic because you will be left in the dark about where you are going.  You need to relax and realize that you will eventually find out you results, and wherever you end up going, you’ll most likely love it, even if it may not have been your top choice school to begin with.  Be optimistic and relaxed, and the college process will be much easier.

Everyone knows that the college application process can be very stressful.  Although it may seem that this will be a never-ending, impossible endeavor, you can be assured that if you use these helpful tips, you will be successful and happy in the end.  All of your hard work and patience will pay off, and you will have the college future you have always imagined, or maybe even a better one.