The Brutally Honest Guide to College Applications

What I wish I’d known

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Yang Yu

Maybe you’ll find a school you’ve never heard of that fits all your needs. Chances are, you haven’t heard of some of your best options.

  1. College is EXPENSIVE: I know you’re thinking you know that. But until senior year, I’d never really understood what a barrier money was going to be. Before you get your heart set on a school, find out your price range. And if loans are something you’re considering, do your research and a cost-benefit analysis. Either way, it’s a good idea to decide on your budget before you decide on a school. 
  2. Quality over quantity: Sure, it’s great to have a lot of extracurriculars. But the curveball you weren’t expecting? You need to list how many hours you do them each week, how many weeks a year and all of your accomplishments. Regardless of your grade, now is an amazing time to start joining clubs and actually showing up. Run for positions and put in the time.
  3. Enter competitions: Art? Photos? Writing? Whatever you’re into, there are plenty of free competitions to enter. You have nothing to lose by trying. The more awards you have, the better your application looks. 
  4. ACT and SAT scores really matter: Again, seems obvious. But the difference between a 31 and a 34 ACT score is the difference between Harvard or not. At some schools it may be the difference between a large scholarship or having to pay full tuition. Trust me when I tell you it is worth it to start studying early and to retake the test. Your scores are going to matter.
  5. Leave everyone else out of it: Where your friends, significant others, or rivals are going doesn’t matter. You’re the one who has to face these next four years. If your parents are dead set on a school, look into it. But if it’s not for you, tell them. Make sure your decision is what’s best for you.

    Think of college like pants. You can’t just trade pants with the kid who’s as smart as you and expect them to fit, just because you have similar GPAs.”

  6. Do your research: Make sure to look into all your options. There are sooo many schools out there, and it can be overwhelming, but it’s worth it to look at them all. Maybe you’ll find a school you’ve never heard of but that fits all your needs. Chances are, you haven’t heard of some of your best options. Even more importantly, if you have a major in mind, look up schools with strong programs for that major.
  7. Apply Early Action: Best way to get money and scholarships. Enough said.
  8. College is not one size fits all: Think of college like pants. You can’t just trade pants with the kid who’s as smart as you and expect them to fit, just because you have similar GPAs. People love to drill home the message that Ivys are for the best of the best. But… that’s not true. Whether it’s a community college, state school, or a private college, every school is unique and offers different benefits. The selectivity of a school does not determine whether it’s the right school for you. Think about what’s important to YOU. Think of location, student body size and workload. If you found the amount of schoolwork in high school stressful, maybe Princeton isn’t the place to go. Every school has perks and drawbacks, and it’s up to you to decide which ones matter. Resources, teachers, money? Don’t go to a school because people say it’s the best. Go to a school that’s the best for you. Here’s one way to figure out where that is. (I got Duke).
  9. Don’t obsess over where the people around you are going: It’ll make you sad and stressed, and you’re not going to need any more of that. You’re going to be in the place that’s right for you. Use your energy to get excited for yourself, not to be jealous of someone else.
  10. It’s who you are and not where you go: I know it sounds cliche, but it’s true, and also incredibly important. The harder you work, the further you’ll go. It’s not about what school you go to, it’s about your mentality, personality and view of the world that will determine your success. And who you are will determine your experience in college way more than the college itself. Say it with me: It’s who you are, not where you go.

    In the end, college is a minor part of your life, whereas your friends and family will always be there for you. ”

What To Do If You’re Rejected

  1. Cry: It sucks. You can feel sorry for yourself. There’s no right way to feel. 
  2. Go on Reddit: Okay, this might sound dumb, but hear me out. Search “why x school sucks” on reddit. You will either come away feeling like you dodged a bullet or at least recognizing that the school wasn’t perfect.
  3. Weigh your options: If you really want to go to this school, you may want to consider transferring or taking a gap year. You can always take a year to travel or work and reapply next fall. Or you can go to a different school for a year, work super hard, and try to transfer. If anything, this is motivation. And who knows? Maybe you’ll love the school you end up choosing so much that you won’t want to transfer. 
  4. Do something smart: Go read a book or learn something new. Remind yourself that you are a smart, interesting, intelligent person and whatever college gets you will be lucky to have you. Go prove that college wrong.
  5. Spend time with people you love: In the end, college is a minor part of your life, whereas your friends and family will always be there for you. Be thankful for them and spend time with them, and remember that regardless of where you end up, the things that matter aren’t going anywhere.

    At the end of the day, it’s just a regular person sitting behind a desk trying to gage your worth off of one essay, your GPA, one random test and a couple of activities. After they’re done, they might even go grab Chipotle.”

  6. Don’t take it personally: Remind yourself that admissions is a crapshoot and the officers are human. Remember that time you got a bad grade on a paper and thought you deserved better? How you swore your teacher must have been in a bad mood? How it was unfair but there was still nothing you could do about it? That’s college admissions. At the end of the day, it’s just a regular person sitting behind a desk trying to gage your worth off of one essay, your GPA, one random test and a couple of activities. After they’re done, they might even go grab Chipotle. They don’t know you and it’s not that deep. So don’t allow yourself to make it that deep.
  7. Remember you will be happy anywhere: I mean it. I think my brother said it best. “In the end, every school is the same.” You will find your group anywhere and have the sports  games and late night adventures at every school. No matter where you go, the most important thing (you and your mindset) will be there every step of the way. 
  8. Find some pros: Look at your other choices and find at least one thing you love about each. Don’t obsessively google the school you were rejected from, instead obsessively google the ones you got into. There are so many exciting things on the horizon. Get pumped!
  9. Throw a party! You’ve done your best, you worked your hardest, and the rest is out of your hands.  Your ego might be a little bruised, but hey, at least you applied and tried. You did something brave. Now celebrate that and all your accomplishments, because even if this particular school isn’t one, you have so many. Gather your friends (safely of course), the best snacks, blast some music, and have a  freaking party. You deserve it!
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