Of my life so far, there are few things that I have hated more than applying to college. This past year has been filled with so many emotional breakdowns, sleepless nights, and angry outbursts that it has become the normal level on which I function. I am baffled that the process is so badly structured, and yet we still expect our youth to persevere with minimal support. As I told my parents recently, through frustrated tears, it’s only now that I’m almost finished with the process that I understand how I should have done it from the beginning.
One of the more confusing things about looking at colleges is the complete lack of information about what to do combined with way too many people who are way too willing to offer you their opinions and experiences. Not all of them are helpful. I remember feeling simultaneously starved for advice and hostile to anyone who tried to offer it. Still, I have advice to give, and this is a platform where you can navigate away at your heart’s content, so I would like to leave behind just a few things I wish I had known when I began. Take it or leave it.
It’s never too early to make a common app account and get your parents to fill in their educational backgrounds etc. and all the other busy work that takes time but little thought. Besides that, DON’T STRESS OUT. Stay strong in school when and if you can. Make relationships with teachers and administrators who will fight for you. Try and become a better writer, which will serve you for the rest of your life. Do the things that you love. This is particularly important—taking the time to discover your strengths, weaknesses, interests, and otherwise is what the first few years of high school should be all about. Then, when you’re thinking about what you might want to study in the future, you will hopefully have some idea of where to begin. If you don’t, try ruling out what you don’t want to do first. Forgive yourself when things go wrong, and take mental health days when you need them if your parents will allow it.
If you have upperclassmen friends, you’ll probably see them stressing out, but try to stay calm. Chances are, they just need someone to vent to. Take them seriously, but know that everyone’s college search is different. Mine was particularly painful, but I know others who were done and committed in February.
When it comes time to really begin, remind yourself that you are an asset any school. And remember that whatever happens, you will be okay. You will be okay.
Ahahahahahahahahahahahahaha this sucks doesn’t it? It won’t always be like this, I swear. All the pressure, all the questions from people who have no business asking, all the unknowns—I’m sorry we hadn’t figured out how to make this process better before you began.
Or maybe you haven’t even started yet. That’s okay too. I didn’t really kick into full gear until the summer after junior year. I wish I’d started earlier, though, since I got down to a time crunch at the end. Try and get at least one SAT done this year. Look at the essay prompt on the Common App and considering what to write about. Think about what makes you special as a human being—because as a human being, you are inherently special—and how you want to market yourself to schools. You can narrow down your choices through location, size, diversity, cost, whether they’re known for giving good financial aid, whether or not they give merit aid, and whether they have programs there you want to study. Try talking to people in college that you know (even if you don’t know them very well) about what they like and don’t like about where they go. Take all of their advice (and this advice) with a hefty grain of salt.
WORK WITH YOUR PARENTS. Truly, your parents may be your biggest allies here. Or they can be your biggest obstacles. Either way, you will probably be relying on them to fill out FAFSA, and, if you’re lucky, fund your education, and you’re really going to want them up to date and on your side.
If you have everything together in time, early action and early decision are great options to limit your stress over senior year. If you don’t have everything together in time, you will be okay. Really.
If you’re like me, and you find you need to regularly flush the tears out of your body during this period, don’t be ashamed. It’s not you, it’s the process. It’s the stress of making decisions about your future when your school hardly allows you to use the bathroom. Take whatever support system you have and lean on it as much as you need to. If there was ever a time to call in favors, that would be now.
And again, remember that any school would be lucky to have you. You are an asset. A blessing. And it won’t always be like this. And you will be okay.