What I wish I knew before applying to college

Reflecting on the college application process


Most college applications can be done within the Common App.

As a second semester senior, I have just wrapped up college applications. Over the course of first semester, I applied to six different colleges and it felt like the longest four months of my life.

College applications are a lot of work. There is a bunch of information to fill out, multiple essays to write, and more. On top of that, we have to balance school work, extracurriculars, and sports all the while trying to meet the deadlines. Which can be extremely stressful. While the process felt never ending, I picked up on a couple of tips throughout my personal experience. As I look back, there are also things I wish I could have done to make the process a little easier. Here are some of my own recommendations for upcoming seniors tackling the application process.

Do your research

When you are looking for schools to apply to; do research early on. There is no set time to start, but it is better to go into the applications having some idea of where you would like to apply. I started looking for possible schools at the beginning of my junior year which made it easier for me to choose which ones to visit and apply to later on. Some platforms I found useful were Niche, which is a free website that gives an in depth ranking of different schools, and Naviance, a school-sponsored website that allows one to do specific research on each college. However, there are numerous websites that provide good information. 

It is important to take into consideration if the school offers your intended major, and if it fits what you are looking for in a university. Since I knew what I wanted to go into, I looked for colleges that had good programs for my major. Make sure to go onto the universities’ websites to do further research about the school, and take advantage of virtual tours.

Once you have researched some colleges, I recommend making a list of schools you plan on applying to. According to collegetransitions.com, a college guidance website run by former admissions counselors, “your college list should be somewhere between 8-10 schools including a healthy mix of safety, target, and reach institutions.”

Start applications early

The majority of applications open in early August, and I regret not getting a head start in the summer. I get it, no one wants to do work during their time off, but the more you can get done in the summer, the easier it will be to manage your time later on, so, here are small steps you can do to get the process started. 

First, create an account on Common App, the standard college application used by multiple colleges across the U.S., and add the schools you plan on applying to. There are general sections that each student has to fill out in order for the Common App to be completed and submitted to a college, so I recommend getting that out of the way. You will find that some schools require a letter of recommendation, and out of respect for your teachers’ and counselors’ time, try to request the letters way ahead of the deadline. 

Another huge part of the application is the personal essay, which is how each applicant makes an impression. Even though I love to write, I dreaded the personal essay because I had no idea what direction I wanted to go in. I wish that I had used my free time during the summer to start brainstorming and drafting my personal essay, instead of trying to do the whole thing during school. Trust me, once the essay is done, everything else is a lot easier. 

Have a place where you can organize all of your college information. I created a google document with the list of colleges, when each application was due, and then copy and pasted the supplementals under each college. Having a location where you can access all of your materials makes everything a lot more organized and easier overall. 

Other tips

Do not do everything all at once. Applications are a lot easier to get through when the work is spread out. Set goals for yourself, and do a little bit each day. Manage your time by setting aside a few hours on a Saturday or Sunday to focus on applications. 

Something my friends and I did on weekends was get a library room and work on our applications. Sometimes I would even go to the library by myself. Personally, it helped me to get out of my house and away from distractions, but honestly there is no right or wrong way to get the applications done. Finding what works for you, and sticking with it is the key.

Things to remember

Your counselors and teachers are there for you during this time. Carl Krause, college counselor, has a lot of helpful information and is willing to meet with students. The “All Things College” page under “High School Roadmap” in Canvas is also a great tool to utilize.

Remember, you are not alone in the process. Your peers are going through the same situation as you are, so if you want someone to edit your essays or to talk to, do not be afraid to reach out to your friends. It is okay to feel overwhelmed and a bit lost, I sure did. But at the end of the day, it sure is a relief when everything is submitted and done.