Common App, rec letters, personal statements, and APs galore! If any of that sounds familiar, chances are that you’re a rising senior in high school and you’re about to start or may have already started the college process.
Don’t you just hate that phrase? “College process.” It sounds so white-bread with just a hint of PC, and it’s one of those funny things to say that easily rolls off the tongue but doesn’t actually seem to mean anything of value.
Well, because I’m a recent high school graduate and I’m so incredibly wise, I’m going to give you guys from the class of 2016 some advice — advice that will include just what to do and how to feel about the whole college process thing and about the other ups and downs of senior year.
1. Love Thy Planner
Organization is a vital tool if you want to have a successful senior year. It cuts down on stress in a major way, and it helps you remember all the stuff you need to do. If you want to be a good, reliable student and have your Common App submitted before the deadline, get yourself a good planner or other organizational tool and use it every day.
2. Punch Procrastination in the Face
One of the things I got better at during my senior year was not procrastinating. Sounds crazy, right? But, in all seriousness, if you’ve got a heavy course load dotted with extracurriculars, and if you plan on writing some bomb-ass college essays, the only way to get actual sleep is to do all of your work quickly and efficiently. Set deadlines for yourself and stick to them.
3. Actually Do the Reading and Your Homework.
Now, I’m a little salty on this subject at the moment because of something that happened in two of my favorite courses the other day… Story time!
I’m currently enrolled in four courses, including a History course centered around the Early Middle Ages, which is a content-heavy course based in reading primary sources. Well, this past week was the first full week of school, and on Thursday in Early Middle Ages, I overheard this after class got out:
Dude 1: Man, I didn’t even know what the f**k he was talking about—
Dude 2: Man, I only read that long-ass PDF. I thought Tertullian was some kind of plant—
All right, so I’m exaggerating a little. But these two guys hadn’t even done half of our set reading. You know, I get it, we’d had nearly 100 pages of reading for homework. However: 1) it’s the first week of classes; 2) the syllabus makes it very clear how much work there is, so you could’ve dropped this class if you weren’t up for it; and 3) that’s disrespectful.
In my book, you should always respect your teachers (unless they give you a good reason not to), and you should always try your hardest to do what they ask you to do. Do you know how much time they spend putting together their courses? If you can’t do the whole reading, do at least half of it. If you have multiple readings, read half of each one so you at least have some understanding when you get to class.
Why is this relevant in high school? Because odds are, you’ll be in some advanced courses that will feature content you’ll probably come across again in college, and it’ll be much easier to read some Shakespeare now instead of in a year when you’re on an athletic team, a member of the Ballroom Dance Club, treasurer for the GSA, and about to start midterms.
And, no, senioritis is not a thing, so it’s not an excuse. For my full opinion of senioritis, click here.
4. Trust Yourself
No one writes a perfect personal statement or college essay on the first try. Write a draft, then write another draft, then write something completely different, and then try drafting again. Find a faculty member whom you trust to give you accurate and helpful feedback, and ask them if they’d be willing to read over your essay(s). I don’t recommend asking your parents to help you with your essays unless you think they can be removed enough from the situation to do so.
Let me be frank: Everyone on the planet has a singular, unique voice. That’s just how humans work. No one is going to write the same personal statement as you. Trust that your voice is real and that it’s yours alone. Write about something that inspires you, and don’t second-guess yourself or think that you can’t do it.
5. “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.” –Douglas Adams
If you ask anyone in college to give a senior in high school a piece of advice, ten times out of ten they’ll say, “Get started on your essays early. And finish them early, if possible.” And that, my friends, is completely true. Start on your essays while you have time, or you’re going to find yourself spending your entire winter break devoted to essay-writing. Additionally, the other way to avoid that is to have your college list completely finalized and locked in (as in, no adds/take-aways to be made) by the first week of December. I speak from experience. I made a last-minute change to my list in mid-December, and I spent my entire winter break drafting and editing essays — which is not a fun way to spend your vacation.
6. Obligations Schmobligations
Now, this isn’t me telling you to throw all of your obligations out the window and to go off and be a hermit in Tibet. This is me telling you that you are under no obligation whatsoever to tell people about your college results. You do not have to tell people whether you were accepted or rejected or waitlisted unless you want to, having good reason to trust in them and knowing how they’ll react. Stick to what you’re comfortable with, and don’t let people pressure you into telling them your results.
7. “Well, we may not have parted on the best of terms. I realize certain words were exchanged. Also, certain… bullets.” –Mal, Firefly
Prepare yourself. Everyone you know and their mother will be asking you about college. It’s great to have some strategies mapped out beforehand so that you know how to handle these confrontations without potentially being rude or sacrificing a bit of your integrity or privacy. It all depends on how much you feel comfortable sharing, and this varies from person to person. A wonderful way to avoid giving college names is to describe the places instead. An example:
Bat-like Great Aunt from Virginia: So, honey, where you thinkin’ of applyin’ to college?
You: Oh, most of the places I’m looking at are (insert school size here), kind of (describe topographical location here), (qualify topographical statement with vernacular addition), next to (describe nearest big city or other prominent geographical feature). A lot of them have strong programs in (insert your field of interest here, or if you have no idea what you want to do, highlight the finer points of the schools’ curriculum), and their (insert sport here) team is really good. Oh, and they have such cute traditions! One of the schools does (insert one odd, potentially made-up tradition here), and this other one does (insert other tradition here).
That usually shuts them up right away or gives them enough information to start asking specific questions about the programs or traditions (that’s where you’re all set — because at least they aren’t asking about you). If they continue to press you, do something like this:
Bat-like Great Aunt From Virginia: But where do you want to go? What do you want to do with your life? When are you going to have babies?!?
You: Actually, I’m still deciding whether or not I want to cut off all my hair and join this cult I heard about in New Mexico. They sacrifice goats and do spiritual cleansing with a combination of mud and bleach.
Bat-like Great Aunt From Virginia: ……
You: So nice seeing you again! (walk away)
In all seriousness, this is something you’ll have to plan for and actually think about (although please don’t be Mal and get comfy with the bullets). It all depends on how you feel about people knowing the details of your process. If you’re one of those people who feels like talking about their first choice will jinx their chances of getting in or will make it seem like a total embarrassment if you get rejected, then no judgment; I was totally one of those people. I didn’t tell anyone outside of my family the name of my first-choice school. The more you practice these types of conversations, the smoother you’ll get at it, and soon it’ll feel like second nature.
8. Frankie Says Relax. So Do I.
As I mentioned in my senioritis article, I think giving yourself a break sometimes is a 100% okay thing to do. It can actually improve your mental health and make you feel better about tackling your schoolwork or the tough time of January-February-March when you’re waiting for decisions to come out. Don’t forget to treat yourself to some celebratory chocolate or ice cream, maybe a bit of Netflix, and maybe have a fun night out at the movies with some friends or a slumber party with facial masks if you need a girls’ night in. You definitely deserve it. Do you know how hard senior year is?
9. This Is All About You
Don’t forget that your college process is exactly that — yours. You get to pick the way you want it to go, which colleges are on your list, what you write your essays about, and, of course, which college you want to attend. If you happen to have scary dragon-parents that think otherwise, then you have my deepest sympathies, and please go enlist a college counselor from your school to aid you in knocking some sense into your parents. But, if even that’s unachievable, find a way to tune it out. Maybe you have a rule with your parents that you don’t bring up college at the dinner table (an excellent rule to have during that January–March period I talked about above). Maybe you have a rule that you can only bring it up once a week at a certain meal, and that’s it. It’s okay for you to set boundaries. You’re the one calling the shots because it’s your future, and you get to make the decisions.
10. Chill Out. You’re Going to Be Fine.
Say the above to yourself whenever you start feeling unbelievably frazzled. Something that’s very important to know about college admissions is that you will be accepted by the colleges that are absolutely perfect for you. The people reading your application know their school inside and out; they know what a “perfect fit” means, and a personal statement can tell you a lot about a person. Plus, those decisions aren’t under your control. Is it worth getting so upset about something that’s out of your control?
So don’t freak out; there’s no reason to. Just breathe, and remember that there are plenty of things in your life that you can control; and, if you do those things well, you can only increase your chances of getting into your first choice. Sounds like a good deal, right?