Around junior year of high school, the college application process becomes a huge source of discussion – and stress. Suddenly, in addition to the pressures of maintaining good grades and participating extracurricular activities, students are expected to begin worrying about their futures. While the future may seem scary, with these tips, you’ll be able to stress less and focus your energy on what is most important.
The first misconception about the college process is that if colleges want you, they will reach out to you. Often, students, especially athletes, will become concerned if colleges do not reach out to them, or they feel limited to the colleges that have shown some interest. In reality, students and athletes need to advocate for themselves and basically sell themselves to the colleges. Athletes need to remember that only the very very top players (who have probably already committed to a school) are going to have schools fighting over them. Other players need to market themselves by reaching out to coaches. They should try to meet coaches, send them film, and attend their college camps. Similarly, students can visit college campuses and try to attend summer programs at colleges or visit campus and schedule a tour. It’s important to convey to schools that you are very interested in attending; colleges like students that go the extra mile to show their interest.
Another common misconception is that one aspect of an application can make or break the application entirely. Students often freak out when one grade drops their GPA, or they got cut from the basketball team. In these cases, it’s important to remember all the positive aspects you bring to the table and keep in mind that students are nervous in the reverse case as well. They may think it’s going be smooth sailing because they got a good score on the SAT, and did extremely well in their math final. In reality, colleges are looking for well-rounded students. Their decision to accept or reject a student is not based on one factor, but rather a comprehensive and holistic look at ALL factors on the application. Everyone has positive and negative traits; that’s just part of being human! No college expects a student to be perfect. Furthermore, often times, even the student with the best scores and extracurriculars may not be accepted into a certain school, due to factors beyond the student’s control. There are simply so many qualified students that a particular admissions officer on a particular day may be looking for a particular type of student. What many students don’t realize is that it’s all a numbers game. Therefore, students should not view an acceptance or rejection as a gauge of their value or worth. All they can do on a college application is try to put their best foot forward and hope for the best!
Students are often under the false impression that colleges want quantity over quality. They assume that colleges would rather a student belong to twenty clubs than be a president of two. This causes a lot of stress for high school students, who begin participating in a lot of extracurricular activities that they are not actually passionate about, spreading themselves thin. Colleges would rather you put the bulk of your time and energy into things you care about. They would rather see you dedicating your time to activities or organizations you truly care about. Staying committed to your passion(s) and following it through will look better on a college application than a laundry list of clubs that are meaningless to you.
Students also have a lot of misunderstanding regarding college essay questions. They think that the essays don’t matter, when in actuality, colleges use essays to get to know students in a way that test scores don’t show. Colleges, contrary to popular belief, are not looking for a specific answer when they ask students questions like “describe your role model and how they influence you”or “describe an interest or hobby and its importance to your identity.” Although it sounds cheesy, the best piece of advice when answering these questions is to BE YOURSELF. Colleges want to know if you will be a good fit for their school and are always looking for uniqueness. Chances are, you’re pretty unique. You know that secret talent you’re embarrassed to tell your friends about? That might be what sets you apart from your peers in a positive way. There are plenty of students with the same test scores as you, but no one is quite like you. Make sure you show it. Playing it safe on the college application is just not what is going to get you where you want to go.
Students are also quick to judge colleges based on their name. They assume that big name colleges are automatically better than all other colleges. While it is important to attend a school where you will feel comfortable entering the working world from, you need to look at many more factors than just the name during your college search. College is a very specific experience, and brand name does not determine whether or not a college is perfect for you. A name does not guarantee a specific experience. Finding the right fit for you requires that you go to the school and see if you can see yourself being happy there; there are a lot more aspects of a school that you should take into account, such as size, location, and cost, than just name.
Another major piece of advice to keeping stress levels down is to do your best to steer clear of the social hype surrounding the college application process. College will become a hot topic as more and more people begin their college search. You may notice that your peers (and some overbearing parents) will start ranting, complaining, and unloading their stress. It’s important to try your best to avoid and ignore their over-excitement and freakouts. Although you cannot control your environment, you can take what others say with a grain of salt. Remember to stay calm when they rant about how much they have done or how much they still need to do in the application process. With a positive attitude, you can keep your spirits up and stress levels down.
It’s also important to remember that the common misconception that you’re stuck in the college you choose is wrong. You do not need to stress too much about choosing which college you will will attend because you always have the option to transfer if you are unhappy. Once you choose a college, that is not the end-all be-all . Your fate is not sealed. You can still chose to transfer because you should be happy throughout your college experience. You don’t always find the right place on the first try!
So there you have it! This may be a stressful time in your high school career, but with these areas of focus and tips for avoiding stress, you should be able to navigate your way through the frustrations of the college process!