As a senior who is graduating from Seabury Hall in less than two weeks, there are several experiences from my high school career I will remember forever. That being said, there are also a lot of things I wish I knew as far back as freshman year, especially about applying to colleges. College applications can seem terrifying, but by considering this advice learned through experience, they can be surprisingly manageable.
1. Your grades as an underclassman DO matter.
Okay, I know that everybody from the freshmen to seniors has been told this statement so many times by now that it just sounds like a broken record. However, I cannot stress how important it is that you do your best to keep your grades up throughout high school. Even if you are eyeing a school that is not particularly selective, having a good cumulative grade point average by the time the first semester of your senior year comes around not only opens more options up as far as schools, but can make you eligible for both school specific and independent scholarships worth thousands of dollars. Some universities even give preference to students with better grades when assigning things like student housing. It may not seem worth it to work on that essay instead of going and seeing the latest movie with your friends on a Sunday night, but believe me, your hard work is going to pay off.
2. Apply to back-up schools.
Even if you have your sights set on a school like Harvard, Stanford, or one of the other Ivy Leagues, don’t put all your eggs in one basket and only apply to insanely selective schools. Even if your grades and SAT scores meet the requirements of these school, you never know what might happen. I would recommend applying to at least three schools that you are sure you can get into. Even if you have a 4.0 GPA and a SAT score of 2000+, apply to at least one university that have an acceptance rate of 70% or above, and a couple more that your individual academic record would allow you to easily get into. This way, if you get into one of your selective schools, fantastic! But if you don’t, you still have good options to choose from. Don’t just pick random schools with high acceptance rates either. Look for schools that you would realistically be interested in attending, as they are where you could potentially be spending the next four to eight years of your life.
3. Don’t Procrastinate on College Applications.
Just like any other assignment, your senior year will be a lot easier if you don’t leave your college applications until the last minute. While you could probably can get them done the night before they are due, this would only add unnecessary anxiety to an already stressful process. Also, living in Hawaii, a lot of people forget that the mainland is at least three hours ahead, so if you wait until ten o’clock at night on October 31st, you may have unknowingly missed your school’s deadline. There are a multitude of things that could go wrong if you wait until the last minute, so just don’t do it. Believe me, it feels good to get college applications finished as soon as possible.
4. Try and pick classes that won’t stress you out the first semester of Senior Year
It’s important to take challenging classes throughout high school, both to challenge your own capabilities and to boost your resume. However, during the first semester of senior year, I would recommend trying to build a schedule that’s relatively easy so that you’re not slammed with homework every single night, as college preparations and applications take a lot of time and energy. Doing this makes the college application process much less stressful, can help you keep your grades up in whatever classes you do choose to take, and can even improve the quality of your application essays, since you will have more time to devote solely to them.
5. Don’t feel like you have to go to the most selective school you get into.
This issue in particular is something that several of my classmates and I have faced this year. Chances are, if you have good grades and a decent SAT score, you are going to get into more than one of the colleges you apply too, and depending on your own individual academic records, these schools could have acceptance rates ranging from 9 to 90 percent. While it may be an ego boost to say that you are attending a very prestigious school, it is vital to look at every aspect of the school before making a final decision. Often times, students are pressured to attend the most selective school they get into, and end up having a negative college experience because that school was not the right fit for them. I would recommend making a pro and con list about each school you get accepted too, including both important and benign details, in order to make the decision easier. And no matter what, do not get caught up in a school’s acceptance rate.
6. If you’re not ready or college is not for you, that’s okay!
Contrary to popular belief, there is absolutely nothing wrong with taking a gap year or not going to college altogether. College should be a fun, educational, and generally positive experience, so if you do not feel like you are emotionally ready to leave home, there is nothing wrong or shameful about waiting for a little while to attend college. You can even take many general ed classes at a local community college (in our case, University of Hawaii Maui Campus) and transfer to another school as a sophomore. If you want to stay where you’re at but still want to attend a university, then there is no shame in going to a community college for four years. A degree is a degree no matter where it’s from. And if you decide that the whole college experience is not right for you, then you don’t have to go! While getting a degree does give an advantage in finding certain types of jobs, there are plenty of successful people who have never gotten a college degree. Steve Jobs, the creator of Apple Computers, never had a college degree. Bill Gates didn’t have one at the time he developed Microsoft, neither did Abraham Lincoln when he became president. The claim that you cannot be successful without a college degree is pure nonsense, so don’t feel pressured to spend thousands of dollars on something you don’t want or feel you need to do just to please the people around you.
Applying to college is scary; there is no getting around that fact. However, there are ways that you can make the entire process much more manageable and less stressful. Just keep calm, don’t procrastinate, and remember that you will get through it.