My name is Rosanna Wang. I work here at Testive and I'm a current student at Boston College.
My college application process was a long and stressful one. Here are some things I learned that will hopefully help alleviate some of the stress for you (or your student).
1. Don't Panic
I was completely lost when I first started applying to colleges. So many questions, so little time. Fortunately, my Dad found a guy who did college application consulting. While some of his advice was helpful, you definitely don't need a consultant to help you get through this process. There are tons of resources out there in addition to consultants, such as the internet (like this blog!), your school, or family friends
2. Don’t Apply to Too Many Colleges
So, why did I apply to 14 schools? Good question! Probably the same reason I took five standardized tests. I wanted to make sure I covered all my bases to ensure a positive outcome. In other words...I panicked.
I was unrealistic and applied to too many Reach schools. Remember that each additional school usually requires a fee, and many also require a supplemental essay. Keep it to 5-10 schools with a mix of colleges you’re confident you’ll get into (and can afford) and a few reach schools for good measure. Remember, you really only need to get into one.
3. Don’t Stress About Choosing a Major
You don’t need to know what you’re going to major in when you apply to college. Sure, it might be nice to have an idea of what career path you want follow to make choosing a college a little easier, but if you’re really not sure, choose a solid liberal arts school to get a well-rounded education.
I decided to look into schools that had a strong business program when I was applying to colleges. My brother majored in business and it seemed interesting enough, so I just ran with it.
For schools that didn't have business programs, I put down psychology or sociology. Again, I was fairly undecided, but didn't want to actually put down undecided, so I just went with areas I found somewhat interesting. It’s not a big deal, because you can always change your major once you get to school and try out different classes.
4. Don’t Wait Too Long to Ask for Recommendations
As for teacher recommendations, fortunately I asked my two teachers fairly early in the school year. The first teacher was my AP Euro teacher junior year. I had struggled a bit in her class early on, but was able to improve my grade each semester. I thought that showed hard work and determination, which is why I asked her. I also asked my Chinese teacher, since I had taken Chinese with her every year since I got to high school.
Some friends of mine, however, waited too long to ask for recommendations and had to scramble to make sure they got them in time. If you think about it, depending on how big your senior class is, if they’re all hitting up the same teachers at the same time, the teachers are going to get overwhelmed and can only respond so fast.
5. Don’t Pick a Stereotypical Topic for Your Essay
Essays were, by far, the worst part of the process (aside from the interviews). I ended up writing my Common App essay about overcoming shyness; a topic I later found out was too common amongst Asian American applicants and should have avoided. Oops!
My most difficult (and worst) essay? The one I wrote for Boston College. Most schools ask students why they want to attend that school. Not BC. Their essay question options were long and included quotes or Latin words. I essentially ended up writing about how I wanted to help make the world a better place through small acts of good deeds. It must have worked because I got in.
One of the main reasons I applied to University of Chicago was because I was inspired by one of their essay prompts: "So where is Waldo, really?" I wrote about how Waldo had been bullied his entire life for having ugly glasses, so he was trying to gain revenge on his enemies by making their children squint to find him. It wasn't exactly a literary masterpiece, but it was fun to write.
The relief I felt when I finally sent in all of my applications was indescribable.
Until...I found out I had to interview at a some of the colleges.
6. Don’t Forget to Prepare for Your Interviews
I was terrified of being interviewed. Absolutely terrified.
My first interview was for Cornell. Luckily, it was more of an informational interview, so it was pretty casual and it wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be. I was thrilled when it was over until I got an email from Tufts saying they wanted to set up an interview. Great, just great!
My Tufts interview was at a nearby Panera restaurant. The interview before me ran long, so I awkwardly hung around a few feet away. The interview did not go so well. Somehow, we wound up talking about all the things I had quit: piano, gymnastics, ballet, soccer, violin. I have no idea how we got there, but we did, and it was bad. I knew immediately that it was bad.
My Harvard interview was held in a library. We whispered the whole time. It was quite odd.
My strangest one was for Dartmouth; it was held at the interviewer's house. Everybody I talked to thought that was weird. The interviewer had a cat that jumped onto the table and loomed near me. I had to awkwardly inform the interviewer that I was allergic to cats.
All in all, none of my interviews went great. But they were over. I had a month or two to relax before the decisions came in.
7. Don’t Despair When You Start Receiving Rejection Letters
My first rejection was from Northwestern. I wasn't too broken up about it; Illinois is pretty far away and plane tickets would get pricey.
I was waitlisted at Emory and Carnegie Mellon. Pretty sure CMU tried to get me to pay them to stay on the waitlist. No thank you. Emory's decision stung a bit though; I had alumni ties and I couldn't even get in.
Then Ivy day came. Realistically, I knew that I had next to no chance. But I still had some hope left. I was rejected from all four schools. That was not a fun day. The worst, though, was when I got rejected from Tufts. It was my top choice. That was rough, but alas, rejection is just a part of life.
Then the acceptance letters started rolling in. I got accepted at Northeastern, UMass Amherst, Boston University, Brandeis, and Boston College.
I narrowed down my choices to Brandeis and BC. The two schools are so opposite, not only in religious terms, but also in campus personality. I thought I was going to go to Brandeis because one of my best friends from high school was going to go there. I toured and liked it better than BC.
The problem? I didn't know what I would major in at Brandeis. At that point, I decided that I would probably go into business. Brandeis had a new business major, but BC had a whole undergraduate business school. Brandeis has great science programs, but I didn't want to go into science.
So, I picked academics over the social scene. Did I make the right decision? Honestly, I'm not sure. It's too soon to judge, and I'll never truly know. But I'm happy with my major and despite my rough freshman year, I’m fine with my current situation.
My Best Advice
If I could do it all over again, the main thing I would have done is not stressed over the whole situation as much as I did.
So to minimize your stress, here’s my advice:
- Focus on getting good grades in high school
- Study for the SAT/ACT 3-4 months prior to the test so you’re not cramming/stressing and take it no more than three times.
- Start thinking about what type of college you’d like to attend early in your junior year (size, location, academics, good athletic program, clubs, etc.).
- Before making your list of colleges to visit, have that “fun” discussion with your parents about what is realistic when it comes to what you can afford. You don’t want to get your hopes up about a school if there is no way you can afford the tuition. With that said, also keep in mind that most students don’t end up paying the full “sticker price” of a college as listed on their website. There are merit scholarships and financial aid that will defer some of this cost, but it can still be pretty pricey.
- Based on #3 and #4, start making your list of schools you would like to visit. Keep it to around 5 - 10. Again, to keep the stress at a minimum.
- Visit as many of these schools in your junior year as possible so you can free up the fall of your senior year to just start applying. Winter and spring break is a great time to visit.
- If you can, apply to some schools early action. It’s a great feeling when you get an acceptance letter in December and you know there’s at least one school you can attend in the fall.
- When you’re completing your essay and interviewing, just be yourself. If you try to say all the right things and act a certain way, chances are, the admissions counselor/interviewer will pick up on it and it will work against you.
- Remember, it only takes one!
- RELAX!!!! No matter what happens, everything will be OK!