5 Things I Wish I’d Known Entering the College Process

When does the college process begin? With the Common App? The SAT? That sweatshirt you wore as a toddler?

Now that the process is over, I’m relieved to be done. I’ve found a community I’m excited to join. However, without some of the lessons I learned, I may not be satisfied. Here are five things I wish I’d known entering the college process.

1. Tour Campuses with Videos

Don’t get me wrong, it’s hard to replace the sights, scenes, and smells of a college campus. But if official visits become a burden, the Internet has you covered.

Countless tours and Q&A sessions can be found about any school in the country. Unlike guides with prepared answers and pre-approved talking points, a current student on YouTube is often off-the-cuff and honest, a refreshing perspective in an otherwise crazy process. These videos can curate that gut-feeling, if not to mine a school’s culture for specific tid-bits for essays.

Ever get lost in the spiral of suggested videos on YouTube? CampusReel compiles many student-produced videos together on one website. This is perfect for exploring a quad or following a Freshman through finals.

2. Demonstrate Your Interest, As Long as Schools Want It

Not every school tracks it, so do your research. In fact, you could even annoy them. But for those that do care, demonstrating interest is an important way to show an admissions staff you really want to be admitted.

Demonstrated interest can come in many forms. Sometimes, it means taking an official tour or filling out a contact card to get into the database before sending your application. Other times, schools may be impressed by the relationship you’ve established with your regional admissions representative.

Have you ever received a “personal link” to click on in an email? Colleges can track to see if you’ve clicked on it to interact with their website. In short, click on it. Don’t ignore an easy task and let a school question if you’d actually come.

3. Put Aside Time for Test Prep

It’s no secret junior year is busy. Filled with difficult classes, driving lessons, and momentous events, fitting in hours to prepare for standardized tests can seem impossible. But if you’re only going to study “whenever there’s time,” you might get squeezed out of preparation. When I formally scheduled time to dedicate to standardized tests, I found the trade-off of my time was worth it.

Personally, I focused on test prep for 90 minutes after school on Fridays. This normally is the time I’d like to plop down on the couch to start my weekend. Instead, I took out some practice problems and finished my review. In the end, this small sacrifice gave purpose to seemingly unproductive time. With whatever time works best with your schedule, a weekly routine can keep you accountable.

4. Final Deadlines Are Often Not Scholarship Deadlines

The price of college keeps growing exponentially. When looking to understand what options are affordable for your family, definitely consider public schools with subsidized rates. But don’t limit your search there. Many public and private colleges offer their own line of scholarships to reward merit among other traits. Sometimes, these scholarships only require your application for consideration. However, others may mandate an additional essay or earlier submission.

For example, USC’s final application deadline is in January. But for those applying for a scholarship, it’s December 1. In summary, do your research to prepare for whichever deadlines you’d like to meet. After all, these scholarships can go a long way to fight the ever-expanding cost of college.

5. Get Outside of the Box on Essays By Actually Being Yourself

To determine their Class of 2022, the University of Michigan sifted through over 65 thousand applications. Even with a large and robust admissions staff, the challenge to stand-out amongst this large crowd becomes clear.

Put yourself in the shoes of the admissions readers. Would you really want to read another cliché essay? Of course not! Write an essay you’d actually find interesting to read, not one to just meet a requirement. To achieve this, think about how to articulate your real passions instead of the interests you think an admissions staff wants to see.

How might you stand-out? Tell a story, whether serious or silly! Use parallel structures, or even dialogue! I can’t tell you how to best write your supplementals, but I can encourage you to stretch your understanding of what a college essay looks like. This message will help you to write and hopefully a few admissions counselors to get through the day.

The college process can seem never-ending. But remember, it’ll work out. Enjoy the time in your life when you’re forced to define yourself and to reflect. You will come out of it alive.

By Alex Wojcik, Recent High School Graduate & Education Station Intern