What I Wish I Had Known During the College Admissions Process
by Jaye Elizabeth
My senior year of high school was the most fun I’d had in a long time, but it was a time filled with some of the hardest work I’ve ever done. In the end, it was worth it for me, and I’m on my way to amazing possibilities in New York City this fall. Your almost-unbelievable opportunities are waiting for you too. Good luck!
YOUR OPTIONS ARE ENDLESS. CHASE YOUR DREAMS…BUT BE REALISTIC.
I knew I really wanted to go to an art school like Parsons or a small-ish liberal arts college like Oberlin. I didn’t think a large, traditional school was my style, and so many of my high school classmates from my small hometown attended those big, state schools, like *The* Ohio State University and Miami University. I ended up applying to Indiana University and OSU, and received a full-tuition scholarship from OSU. My decision to attend Parsons over OSU was one of the hardest and most expensive decisions I’ve ever made. But I discovered in that process that I could actually have made a school of
70,000 a billion feel like home, and I never would have been given that opportunities and so many more had I not applied. In conclusion, go for your dream schools, but throw in some financially responsible universities and a safety school here and there.
APPLY FOR SCHOLARSHIPS. APPLY FOR SCHOLARSHIPS. APPLY FOR SCHOLARSHIPS.
You can start doing this even before the Common Application drops. (You can start doing this at age 1.) The bulk of scholarships, especially those coveted renewable scholarships, are available to high school seniors entering college, and you definitely qualify for at least one. It’s just a matter of finding them, and then it’s just a matter of actually applying. I let go of a lot of deadlines for other things I had to get done. In reality, I just wasted a lot of time, and in this case, I wasted a lot of (free) money too. If you are like most of the world’s population, that free money could help a lot. You may not win them all, but those you do receive add up, quick.
KNOW YOUR FINANCES.
That brings me to my next point: know your finances. Know your family’s income. Know how much you really, truly, practically can afford to pay annually, regardless of what your FAFSA results say. My parents are going to have a really hard time paying for my education at The New School regardless of the scholarship I was awarded through the school and despite the bracket our income falls into. The FAFSA doesn’t factor in debt or outgoing funds, it just counts what comes in. My parents didn’t think our financial history was something they should burden me with, and they didn’t think it mattered. However, had I known and rationalized our reality, I would have made different choices. I could have cut my spending down, applied for more scholarships, started working again, or even chosen a different school.
There’s a lot I didn’t know at the beginning of the admissions process, and one of those things is how much money is really worth. Start saving as soon as you can, and make smart, manageable financial decisions. And if you don’t understand something, find out. Financial literacy is invaluable.
LOOK AT THE BIG PICTURE.
Is a 45-minute packet worth 10 points for homework actually worth more than 45 minutes of work on an important essay? Sometimes it is, but sometimes it’s not. You need to maintain your grades and GPA for the transcripts you send to your schools, but high school will also be over sooner than you think (and not soon enough). College is your future now, so chase that, and dedicate some of those precious minutes to the things that really count in getting you ready for the next few years of your life. I’m not saying flunk calculus, but I am saying you’re allowed to take an L here and there.
YOUR MENTAL HEALTH MATTERS.
I dealt with a dangerous cocktail of existing and inflamed anxiety and depression. So what I have to say to you as someone who knows how hard it is to get things done and feel good about the work you actually get done: take care of yourself. The first semester of senior year can be one of the busiest, hardest, most stressful times of your academic career thus far. Implement a self-care plan, take breaks, hang out with friends, take yourself out for ice cream. Don’t lose focus and spiral into a different kind of inaction, but don’t work so hard that you can’t keep up with yourself and your spark fizzles out. And if you fall into a rut, or a dormant mental illness flares up, do your best not to be angry with yourself. You are doing your best, and recovery takes time. If you need help, just ask for it.
Create a new email account for your college-related information instead of using the “cutegirl16” account you got at age 8 and use for everything. Tag important, time sensitive mail and sort it. I started using Google Inbox; my life changed. And in the real world, make folders. File the forms you have to fill out, transcripts and test scores, acceptance letters, and information about programs. This will reduce the time and effort you’d otherwise put into finding those documents again and again.
Pro tip: If you have a scanner, scan in your most important papers. So many applications for schools and scholarships are online and require PDF files of those documents.
Do you have anything you wish you’d known while applying to college?