The first few months of your senior year can be quite busy, trying to juggle final assignments and the dreaded college applications. As an IB Diploma student, I felt like my head would explode at any moment, but with loads of patience, mini breakdowns, and planning, I did it and I now want to help you conquer this dragon. So that I could write my perfect applications, I did a lot of research and asking around. To minimize your process and save you some time, here’s everything I found out that saved my applications.
1. Now is not the time to try to extend your curriculum. Your senior year should be the year in which you focus on your applications and any important assignments your need to get done. All of your extra curriculars should already be part of your high school curriculum. You will not fully experience new clubs and services to their fullest so that they have any important impact on you and your application. “Well-rounded” students have a bit of it all, sports, academics, service, but now is not the time to add any of those to your activities. Focus on what you have already done! You don’t need to be both a star athlete and president of the debate club. Focus of what you’ve done and how that shaped you into the student and person you are.
2. You don’t need to report on all of your accomplishment. Most applications, including the Common App and UC Applications, will limit your extracurriculars. For that, you will need to pick your favorites. Go with your personal interests, not what you think colleges prefer. You will need to reflect on what you’ve done and how that reflects on your abilities. By choosing your favorites, you’ll easily prompt on their positives. Make sure to input your favorites first, going down the list of activities.
3. Be your first editor. You’ll want other people to read over everything you write for your applications (I really do mean everything, have your parents check your address, friends read your school’s details, and teachers to help with any essays or responses), but make sure you go over all of it first. We tend to fill in missing gaps and correct mistakes in our head since we know what we want to say, but reading over your own writing makes you think about it once again and even finding new things to add. Always make sure you’re within the word limit! But evaluate what you’ve said and what you can still say, judging what’s more important before you have someone correct your grammar and flow.
4. Be authentic. Try not to follow any patterns you’ve seen around school or online. Include every important information they’re asking for, but do it your way. Add your voice to your writing and let them know you for you, not only your accomplishments. The only way of expressing your personality on your application in through writing, so be formal, be politically correct, but be you.
5. Outline, outline, outline! It sounds annoying and like it’s a lot more to do, but outlining before you actually get to writing your essays and responses will help you a lot. Start by listing your activities and extracurriculars. Write down brief descriptions of what you’ve done, your roles, and how it shaped you. You might not end up using all of it, but it will get you thinking and reflecting and it will also help on deciding which activities are most important. Outline your essays before you write them! This way, you’ll have something to go back to while writing and editing so that your don’t forget to mention any important detail.
6. Pick the prompt that’s right for you. Applications will often give you a list of prompts to choose from. Read all of them a few times, make sure you understand every key word and what all of them are asking. If you’re stuck between two or three, make outlines for all of them and choose from that which one will be best for you. Writing essays to more than one prompt or even two essays for one prompt can also help you decide which is your best work that best showcases all you’ve got.
7. Don’t be too fixed on your dream school and major. It’s very important for you not to get your hopes up. Evaluate completely if your dream school and major are right for you. If possible, visit the school, get to know your possible future professors, and talk to current students. If not, explore their websites and every detail they provide. Take risks and do apply, but also apply to schools and majors that are similar to your dream, but in the safe zone. It’s very important to create a “Reach/Target/Safe” list of schools your want to apply, considering their academics and requirements. Don’t be too stuck to their admissions GPA and SAT/ACT scores. Do consider them as a priority, but check their clubs and student leadership to know where you fall as an applicant. You don’t need a 20+ college list (trust me, I did that, it was hell) to apply to, try a list of a maximum of 10 schools, or even five! Colleges have incredible, complete websites that will give you a pretty clear idea of their campus, classes, students, and philosophy, so research before you apply; what you’ve always dreamed of might not be right for you.
8. Check your application before submitting. Before you click on your final submission, applications will give you the option of reviewing your answers one final time. It’s boring and it takes time, but do it! You might have missed a silly mistake, such as your date of birth (don’t judge) that might later on be an inconvenience. It’s also always good to have a final look at your essays and prompts, one final editing could never hurt.
9. Take breaks. Don’t try getting your application done in a day, week, or even month. Plan ahead and take breaks from writing and editing. It’s important to sleep on it and reflect a bit more on what you’ve written so that you can recall details you might have missed at first. It’s also important to not overwhelm yourself, you don’t want to be annoyed while trying to convince colleges to accept you and all of your greatness.
10. Don’t freak out! This is the most important tip I could ever give. We all have expectation for college and wish to be at the best school, nicest city, coziest dorm, but we also have to understand that anywhere we do get in, will also be great for us. Admissions look at students that are right for their schools, they know their perfect fit better than we do, so not getting in simple means that that school did not see you as a perfect fit and they are probably right. Our dream college might not end up being the best fit and that might just save our lives. Not getting into college right after you graduate might introduce you to an entire new world of opportunities. And even not having plans for your post-high-school life is also just fine! Breathe in, breathe out, the best is still to come and whatever happens will be just right for you.
I gathered these tips as I was applying for over 20 different colleges and, in the end, they worked and saved me a ton of stress. However, don’t be confined to my system or any other, find what works for you and work around your own schedule. Explore different colleges and majors and do a lot of research before deciding what’s right for you. Never be afraid to ask questions. None of us knew about the entire process before we had to go through it ourselves, so ask around! Feel free to contact colleges. Their admissions e-mails tend to reply rather fast and they’ll answer your questions better than anyone else.
After years of hard work and dedication, I was able to get into my dream school, New York University, and finally breathe calmly. I was one of the lucky few, but that was because I knew all along what I wanted, knew the school like the palm of my hand, and was sure this was perfect for me. Do not be intimidated by students like me that do get what we want. Everyone has their qualities and areas they excel in and your second, third, or even fourth option can end up being what’s perfect for you.
My social media accounts are always open for any further questions or tips. As a Brazilian student, I am free to help any international student that need help with the extra paper work. Contact me any day, anywhere, and anytime and I’ll be more than happy to help with what I can! If you have any other tips that saved your college application process, feel free to leave it in the comments so that we can gather as many live-saving tips as possible.