The college application process is intimidating. It is (at least at first) an overwhelming task that will most likely change the course of your life for the next few years. For most people, myself included, the process begins months, maybe even a whole year(!) before the deadline. With the first round of deadlines fast-approaching (Early November for those who don’t know), I would like to talk about the process and reflect on my own experiences so far.
The homepage for CommonApp. I honestly love this service because it is so easy to use, but it still haunts me because of what it stands for– THE FUTURE.
How Do You Get Started?
The first thing that we all have to do is to compile a college list, an organized document or piece of paper where you write down colleges that you are interested in. Over time, this list expands and contracts as you discover new interests and subjects that you want to focus on. My initial focus was general; throughout 11th grade, my preference was simply engineering or science-related majors, nothing more, nothing less. However, this soon changed into something more specific and well-defined: Aeronautical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, and Electrical Engineering. While I am not comfortable revealing my college list, I can confidently say that my finalized college list revolves around these three specific majors. What came next was actually completing the forms for the applications.
The prime example of an irresponsible student! I still don’t have half of the supplements for this school, but there is less than a week left until I have to press submit. Better get to work now.
What Does the Actual Work Look Like?
Thanks to resources such as the CommonApp and BridgeU, among other systems used by individual colleges and universities, filling out the application itself is not a difficult task at all. First comes basic information, contacts, academic experience, your achievements, and even some questions about your criminal history, but these are all straightforward questions; nothing more than basic paperwork. If I had to pick the single, most difficult portion of the application, writing the essay would probably take the cake. Not only are we limited by a 650 word limit, we need to craft an elegant, straightforward, yet unique text that reflects who we are. This was a difficult task for me, and I believe it is the same for most high school students out there. We may have spent years writing research papers, literary analysis essays, among other academic activities directly related to writing, but an essay with these kinds of requirements is most likely unprecedented.
I haven’t exactly kept track, but I have written at least five unique essays, four of which I scrapped. Lets hope that the one I decided to stick with turns out to be a good one!
However, according to my own experience, the difficulty of this task comes down to your planning and time management. If I had better managed my time and given myself space to explore my essay more thoroughly, I wouldn’t be rushing to get things done at the last minute. Furthermore, I believe that this is a great learning experience. By writing my college essay, I was able to explore my self-identity and see how my experiences shaped who I am today. While it is a pain to try and write out a good essay, it isn’t a bad experience in the least. If anything, I would recommend to start writing now, so you have a better grasp of yourself and have more experience and references for when you are writing your actual essay. It is never too early, but often too late. Not to mention, I still have supplements to write!
One huge misconception that I personally had about supplements was that they weren’t as important as the main essay in the CommonApp. Unfortunately for me, it turns out that they are just as important, and perhaps even more important than the main essay. The thing is, supplements are school-specific, meaning that colleges and universities get to ask their applicants questions that they want answered. The main, 650 word essay may show them who you are as a person, but many supplements ask you why you want to attend their school specifically, what you want to do at their school, and your ambitions and goals in life. It is a completely different playing field, and I deeply regret not taking them more seriously at an earlier stage of my applications process.
The CSS Profile is a service provided by the CollegeBoard so you can apply for scholarships to various schools and organizations without going through the trouble of filling out several sets of forms.
Apart from the writing portions there are also things such as applying for scholarships at different organizations and universities. Much like the application forms themselves, there are standardized systems for students in the United States, the FAFSA for US citizens, and the CSS Profile for international students. Of course, not all colleges accept these forms, and some schools have their proprietary systems, but these are all generally similar in format and function, which makes them just another pile of paperwork. I am deeply grateful to my parents for taking on the task of translating and filling out the form on their own.
All in all, the college application process is intimidating at first, but becomes easier as you spend more time completing the forms. If you keep a checklist at hand, the tasks disappear as quickly as they appear. Remember, complete your tasks step by step. Don’t be like me, don’t rush things in the last few weeks (not that us teenagers listen to this kind of advice anyways), and most importantly, enjoy your time exploring college options, and be confident in the choices you make!