Since It’s Spooky Season: A Truthful Reflection (and Advice) On The College Process From The Perspective Of An Average NDA Senior

*Disclaimer: this article is simply a reflection on my personal experience and is in no way a prediction of what your experience will be like… in other words- please don’t get scared*

The moment high school starts, the next big thing your life begins to revolve around is acceptance to college. However, I don’t think I truly knew what college even was or how it worked until halfway through junior year. Before that, College was simply a big and scary monster that ate up my senior friends and provided motivation for me to aim to ace my classes. Now that I am nearing my very first college deadline, I believe I can provide at least a 75% complete explanation of what the college process has been like (check back with me in April for the other 25%). There are about 4 major categories I can split this experience up into, dating from Junior year to where I am now: 1) Junior year, 2) college tours, 3) the common app and your college essay, and 4) deadlines.

  1. Junior Year

Junior year has gained a notorious reputation in high schools across the nation for being the most difficult, strenuous, and impossible year of high school you will have to face. Alumni, family, friends, and seemingly all the ancestors of Junior year’s past wished me luck and sanity as I began my third year at NDA. However- and here is where my personal experience comes in- Junior year was not most stressful year at NDA. The so-called “stressful, scary, impossible” part of Junior year was not academic as I thought it was going to be, it was realizing I couldn’t pretend college didn’t exist anymore. I had to A) come to terms with the fact that colleges will receive a list of all my grades since freshman year and will use that list to judge my intelligence, work ethic, and commitment to school B) I had to start the college search and C) for the first time, the questions “well, what if I’m not good enough, or smart enough- what if they don’t accept me?” became what felt like 1000 times more real. Working through all of that was what made Junior year definitely…special. Not to mention the addition of IB or AP classes to your schedule. Sophomore year to Junior year was the biggest adjustment between years, but in my experience, so far senior year has been the most stressful. Yes, Junior year grades are a part of what colleges will look at, but it is only one part among many, many others. My advice for anyone who’s stressing about Junior year grades especially, is be smart with what classes you take (especially in regard to what you plan on taking senior year), work hard in those classes- but remember that you will get into college so don’t stress too bad, and start studying for the ACT or SAT sooner rather than later so that it doesn’t seem so overwhelming later in the year (I wish I had).

  1. College Tours

I’ve been on approximately a million college tours and I’m still not done touring. I started college tours about halfway through Junior year, with my most impressive run being 12 colleges in 6 days over February break. While college touring is more of a pain in the neck than a cause for stress, I have a couple big pieces of advice I wish I had known going into college tours. Take notes, or if not notes, take some pictures. I took some enthusiastic notes for my first few college tours, but after that I began to convince myself I would just remember what made every college unique and whether or not I liked it. Now, I can’t even remember the names of all the colleges I visited or if I even really liked them. My advice- start a notes tab in your phone for college tours, write down the name of every college you visit, attach one picture of that college under it, and then write down one thing you liked and one thing you disliked about that school. That way months later when you’re trying to remember all the colleges you liked or might want to revisit; you have some information to jog your memory about that school.

Another lesson I learned in my touring experience is do not view a school through the lens of a major. By this I mean don’t visit Smith and only give attention to their Psychology program. For the entirety of Junior year, I was convinced I was going to be a Psychology major in college. This informed what colleges I visited, what questions I asked, and what information I remembered about that school. Since then, I have switched my major to Biology/Marine Biology, and have learned this lesson the hard way. By now, I have learned that I can’t go to a school just because they have a good program for the major I’m interested in. About 80% of students in the US change their major at least once during their college career. Some criteria I should’ve been more heavily considering are: location, undergraduate population size, a wide range of majors, internship opportunities offered through the school, scholarships, and most importantly- do I like the vibe here? Take advantage of free time to visit colleges. The more you visit, the more you’ll develop your idea of what characteristics you want your “perfect college” to have. Yes, my 2019 February break wasn’t the most fun, but finding some colleges I liked was a huge relief.

  1. The Common App and Your College Essay

I don’t know if this section will be particularly relatable for most people, but to Junior year me- the Common App seemed like a complicated and mysterious website that would leave so many opportunities for me to mess up and anger the College Board and Admissions Gods. Since I never really received a clear definition of what the Common App was, and I was too busy ignoring its existence to research it, so I simply dreaded it until college bootcamp came around. Now, you’ll probably hear this about a hundred times but: do college bootcamp. College bootcamp was yes, time out of my summer, but it held me accountable for getting work done, gave me a ton of information I didn’t know, and provided me with the supportive commiseration of my friends which was extremely helpful. The Common App turned out not to be so intimidating, just a little bit confusing at first. Overall, it’s a website where you fill in general information that will go to all of your Common App schools (which will be most if not all of your schools), track your activities and honors, and eventually submit your completed college applications. There are some little, hidden tricks that you might not figure out right away (I’m still finding some), but as long as you listen to your guidance counselor (or have friends that do) and ask questions, everything will be totally fine. I suggest keeping a running word document or notes tab to write down random little questions you come across during your college process, so that when you list starts to get long you know it’s probably time to meet with your guidance counselor.

Another big, scary topic that has gained a notorious reputation- the college essay. Now, being completely transparent, my college essay was the hardest essay I ever had to write. I wrote my fair share of half-finished drafts on ideas I would sporadically have and never return to. Every idea I had seemed unexciting or incomplete, and honestly it was frustrating. Throughout the week of college bootcamp, you get the opportunity to meet with an assigned writing coach everyday to work on your essay. I worked on the same essay all week, until the last day when I decided I actually hated my topic and needed to change it immediately. I Google searched “college essays that worked” and read through a bunch of them until I had an idea of how I wanted to structure my new essay. I took a couple days to not think about it, then the next time I sat down to write- I wrote the whole essay in one go and haven’t changed it much since. I have friends who had a similar experience to mine with the essay, but I also have friends who found writing the essay fun. It truly varies from person to person, however the most important thing to remind yourself is that you will get it done. By the time your first deadline rolls around, you will have an essay that represents a part of you that isn’t conveyed through just the Common App, and it will be the best feeling ever (well, maybe second best to submitting your first college application). The college essay- similar to your junior year grades, and your standardized test, and your supplements- are all just parts of the whole picture. Very few people can have every part as perfect as they want; and it’s important to know that colleges do understand you’re a person, not just a record of grades or a singular essay.

  1. Deadlines

This singular category has been the reason senior year has been the most stressful year for me so far. The beginning of Senior year marks the beginning of you juggling about one thousand deadlines around in your head until seemingly forever. There were definitely more college deadlines than I originally anticipated, and on top of scholarship deadlines and classwork deadlines- you could say I’m struggling. My only advice for this time of year is to A) keep one folder on you at all times to put all of the college papers you will be receiving into and B) keep a master list of deadlines somewhere separate of your class deadlines so you won’t feel like there’s constantly a deadline you’re forgetting (me). The best way I’ve found to reduce stress so far is just staying on top of everything as best you can, so you don’t feel like you’re constantly playing catch-up (also me). Also, go into guidance a lot, they have just about every deadline you could want hanging somewhere up on the walls or on a sheet of paper lying around. Overall, yes, I am swimming in the impending doom of deadlines, but hopefully my experience will only help you in your experience with this time of year.

Wow, what a fun article that was, hopefully you got something out of it, but even if you didn’t I feel validated that you read my five page long college rant. If you want more advice or just want to talk about the college journey ahead of you, my email is wide open: