Applying for college sucks. There’s no doubt about it. First you have to have some idea of what you want to do with your life when you’re seventeen years old, then you have to find schools you’re interested in going to, then you have to sweat and worry over your grades, which are never high enough, and your SAT scores, which also aren’t high enough, and your class rank, which isn’t high enough either, and that stupid essay, which, no matter how hard you want it to, won’t write itself. I know. I was there.
However, there are ways in which you, in 4 simple steps, can make this horrible process suck a little less and stay a little more hydrated by retaining your sweat and tears. These steps won’t get rid of all your problems, but they (hopefully) will make it a little bit easier to go through that “quickly-deciding-your-life-for-the-next-four-years” thing.
1. Start early
Start looking at schools you might be interested in the summer before your junior year of high school. Junior year is the year that’s going to have the biggest impact on your grades, and if you have a specific goal in mind, you can divert all your effort to fulfilling the requirements of that specific school you’re thinking about. It doesn’t have to be a definite interest, nor do you have to limit yourself to one school. But if you start the searching process early, you will have a much, much easier time both visiting on campus (which is crucial) and figuring out what you want to do. Even if you don’t have a career path in mind, sometimes looking at schools and doing research can help you learn about jobs and fields you didn’t even know existed.
2. Do your research
I cannot stress this one enough. Get your butt to a computer, go to Google, and start researching the hell out of colleges. It’s honestly as simple as that, but it is oh so important. You will discover things you didn’t even know were out there, schools you didn’t know existed, places you might want to live, programs that might be really good for you. Doing your research can also remove preconceptions you have about certain schools, be they negative or positive. Check out this list from Wikipedia and go through each state if you have to (Wikipedia has similar pages for non-US residents). Do your research, do your research, do your research.
3. Apply to the right number of schools
If you’re applying to 70 schools, you’re applying to WAY too many; if you’re applying to 2 schools, you’re applying to too few. 7-9 schools should be just around the right amount – going a little lower or a little higher is fine as well. I knew people who applied to a lot of schools and it didn’t help them at all, only made the college application process hell (or, more hellish than it already was). Similarly I knew people that applied to only 2 schools and didn’t get into either one of them. Only apply to schools that have something to offer that YOU ARE INTERESTED IN. Don’t just apply to a particular school just to say you applied to that school.
4. Ivy League isn’t where it’s at
I don’t care if you got a perfect score on the SAT, are the valedictorian of your school, have done thousands of community service hours and wrote an essay that could be published in the New York Times, have a backup, have a backup, have a backup.
I cannot tell you how many people I knew last year that applied to nothing but Ivy League – and were perfectly qualified – and didn’t get in just because the admissions standards were so high last year. Sometimes, it really is a matter of chance, and things don’t work out in your favor. It has nothing to do with how good of a student you are; the admissions process, especially in the Ivy League, is f*cked up. That’s just the way it is.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t apply to an Ivy League school at all, far from it. I’m just saying you need to think about why you’re applying to that school. Do you really want to go there, or are you applying just for the name? In any case, you should have a good balance of Ivy Leagues and non-Ivy Leagues on your list, as well as one public state university as your backup school. Public state universities are much cheaper for in-state residents and if you find you can’t afford any of the other schools you got into, those can be life savers.
There are great schools that aren’t necessarily in the Ivy League. For example, there’s a whole group of schools called the “Little Ivies” which are quickly growing reputations for being great schools that are also nice to their students.
For those about to apply to college, or about to send their kids to college, if you have any amount of respect for yourselves, read this article. It is so important.
Well, there you have it. These four steps may not get you into your dream school, but they sure as hell will make your life a little easier. Believe me, I wish I’d known these things when I was applying.
And remember, you’re more than a number. The end.