Sunday, January 22, 2012

College Prep in Your Step by E

Hi everyone! I'm Emily from The Wide World of E! I first want to thank dWa for the opportunity to be a guest blogger! I was so excited to find another blog written by a high schooler! This post will be regarding the college application process. 

As a senior, my fall semester was insane, between essays, college visits, taking a rigorous course load, running events and clubs, sailing regattas, and the list goes on. There are so many things I would do differently but there are so many things I'm happy I did do. Without further ado, here is my Top 5 Dos and Top 5 Don'ts to the college application process. (Just a side note, I have not heard back from every school and am only using examples of my experience because I know those best. I am not saying in any way I know everything, nor that my application was perfect. Just passing along some pointers!)

1. DO: Start constructing your perfect application early.
Start thinking as early as freshman year about what you want your application to say about you. For instance, I wanted mine to show that I was a well rounded, hard working student (my strongest point is not my standardized test scores). Therefore, I started a club in my school that helps kids in Third World countries with facial deformities (Operation Smile!), I showed I took challenging classes, and I lead many different areas of our school. The great thing is, this way, teachers also saw my passion and determination, which they then wrote about in their letters of recommendation. 

2. DON'T: Take the process lightly.
This really wasn't my mistake. Honestly, I was that 3rd grader who was worrying about my college application. Nevertheless, I saw this with my friends. They just figured, "Well, I have good grades, decent scores, and I am in a sport or two. I'll get in wherever I want." Unfortunately, that isn't the case. There are thousands and thousands of applicants to these schools and they want the best! Show them that you are the best! This takes some research, though. And this doesn't mean only ask your parents and friends. Even if they try, chances are, they are a little bias. Do your research. Take out a book or two, search the internet, anything! There is a plethora of information all over; all you have to do is look! 

3. DO: Find what makes yourself unique.
Like I just said, there are thousands of applicants. What makes you stand out? You have to think, the admissions board is trying to build a class. Think of it like an ice cream sundae. They want a little bit of sprinkles, some chocolate fudge, some gummy bears, and a cherry. They don't just want all cherries! Show them that you are original. For example, I emphasized that I live on an island and have a passion for children born with facial deformities and sailing. All three of those things are not exactly ordinary, but the thing is, anyone can do that! You may think your life is boring, but every person is unique. Sometimes, you just need to look. My friend thought she was the most boring person ever and wouldn't get in anywhere. She talked about how her love for astronomy started when she stopped looking down (she is almost 6 feet tall) and started looking up. It was adorable and it made her sound interesting.

4. DON'T: Write your essays last minute.
This is the biggest problem! Everyone writes their essays the week before they are due! This is college people! COLLEGE! I did the same thing, but in my own, OCD, anti-procrastinating way. I wrote an essay 3 weeks before they were due. That was detrimental to me. First of all, you are stressed and when you are under a time crunch, you don't articulate your thoughts in the same way. Make sure that you start early. These essays are crucial to an application! Each essay needs to tell something about you. Try and have it so that each essay says something different. For example, my Common App personal statement was on living on an island and how much of an impact sailing and Operation Smile had on me and for my extra curricular essay, I wrote about my job as a sailing instructor from the eyes of one of my students. Then, for an essay for Notre Dame (most colleges have supplemental essays!), you could write about anything. The title was "Take a Risk," so I wrote about how I can break dance (I was on a crew for a time...). See what I mean? Each told them a little more about me. By the end of all of my essays, they practically knew me.

5. DO: Ask for help.
You don't know you as well as you think you do sometimes. When you have to figure out what to write in an essay, run it by your loved ones. Ask them, "Does this explain who I am and who I want to be?" They know you well! Just make sure they are honest and not trying to boost your confidence. When it comes to the essays, get someone who is good at proofreading to check them over. In my school, everyone asks this one English teacher or this one student in my class who is the most brutally honest editor on the planet. Sometimes, you have to take criticism, but remember, that makes the application better which means you are more likely to get in!

6: DON'T: Just stop once you send out the applications.
Schools are sent your mid-year transcripts. If they see a decline in your grades, they will look at you negatively because they will see that clearly you were only working hard for the grade. Show them that you work hard to learn something and that you are a life long learner. That speaks to admission directors.

7. DO: Prep for the SATs/ACTs.
This was my downfall. First of all, I have problems focusing, so I was already at a disadvantage with these tests. Then, I didn't find time for a prep class. The thing is, though, if I scheduled it right, I could have! I mean, it may have been online, but still, it would have been something. I, instead, just studied from the book. I am super disciplined and I still had trouble accomplishing this. Granted, I went through 4 ACT books, so I did get something done. Another thing, take both the SAT and ACT cold, meaning that you just sign up and go in and take them without studying. See which one you naturally do better at and stick to studying for that one. Flip flopping is never good! Also, you may want to think about doing this at the end of sophomore year so that you can study during the summer following that year and then take the test early junior year. The faster you can finish these tests, the better. 

8. DON'T: Rely on your guidance councilor.
Every person I talk to says their guidance councilor is awful. Mine is one of the most adorable women I know, but I do the bulk of the work. Most councilors do the bare minimum that they have to or they just don't do as much as they should. Therefore, it is up to you to make sure you have a rigorous course list, that your transcripts are mailed out, that your resume is in the right format, that you have the financial aid forms taken care of (start these super early and talk with your parents!), etc. For these reasons, pick up a book on the college application process. It'll give you better guidance than your guidance councilor, generally.

9. DO: Send out thank you cards to everyone that helped you in the process.
This is so important! People loved you enough to take time out of their busy schedules to help you succeed. How nice is that! Make sure that you thank them. Whether it is a card or a gift, it doesn't matter; it is the thought that counts! Make sure these are sent out fairly soon following your due dates. 

10. DON'T: Visit your schools after you get accepted.
Visit them before! You need to see what you like and don't like. I, for instance, thought I loved Columbia University (which is a fabulous school!), but after I stayed there overnight, I realized it wasn't my type of school. If I waited until after I got in (if I got in), then my views may have been altered because I mean, hey, I was accepted. Make sure that you visit before hand because you may find a school that you like and realize why and then apply to schools like it. I did this! I loved the University of Notre Dame, so I began to look at other schools like it. Turns out, I loved Boston College and I just got accepted! Be open to all the possibilities of change but start early!

For tips on college interviews, check out this post

Thanks again to dWa for giving me the opportunity to be a guest blogger for this adorable site. I hope I put some college "Prep in Your Step!" 

Have a great day,


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  4. These are awesome tips! I would only add 3 things.
    1) DO NOT send the exact same essay to more than one college. By writing a general essay meant for more than one college, it can sound distant and fake. If you do this, you aren't actually writing to anyone specific and (unless you are an absolute writing pro) is really obvious you didn't tailor your essay specifically to this school. 4 out of the 6 schools I applied to had similar essay questions so I wrote one outline for the prompt and then wrote different essays with the same concept, but tailoring them to the specific school. (I got accepted to all 6 schools, so I guess it worked!)
    2) TourTourTour! I used my junior spring break to tour a bunch of colleges and highly recommend doing this. The major reason is that, since college and high school spring breaks are often different, this is one of the only times you will be able to see these colleges 'in action' without missing a bunch of school. You also are able to directly compare the schools because you are seeing them so close together. I saw 5 different colleges on my break and it definitely helped me figure out what kind of school I was more interested in attending.
    3.) While I think taking the school's official tour is a must, if you know any current students at a school you're interested in, get them to give you a tour too! School tours definitely focus on the positives and skim over any potential negatives (however minor they may be). You don't always get a fully accurate picture of student life. By getting a friend to give you a tour, you get an honest picture of the school and life as a student without any sugarcoating from the admissions department. Still do the official tour though because they will give you some valuable information you might not get from a student!

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