College may not be for everyone. However, it’s something that everyone should have the opportunity to consider. For some people, it’s the expectation to go to college and get a degree. For others, it’s the expectation to take over the family business or to go to trade school. All of these options are completely valid, but only if it’s what you specifically want to be doing.

This article will focus on the more “traditional” (AKA four year university) college application route, as that is what I have personal experience with and have done the most research for. Additionally, I only have knowledge of the college application process in the United States. I am, however, trying to make this article as accessible and open to anyone interested in applying to college.

Is College What You Want?

Deciding whether or not you want to go to college is an extremely personal choice. You may have always dreamed of having that “classic college experience.” Good. Keep up with that dream. If you’re more on the fence about whether or not it’s feasible or necessary for you to go to college, take some time to think about what you want. Consider the careers that you think you may want to pursue, and research what sort of education is required to get a job in those fields.

If you have no idea what you want to do in the future, that’s completely fine. Being a teenager is hard enough without the whole ‘deciding what your entire future will be’ thing. However, even if you don’t want to or don’t think you can go to college, still do what you can so that you can still have the option of applying when the time comes. Do your best in school and get involved in what you love to do.

The Cost

College, in essence, is the pathway to the most expensive piece of paper that you’ll ever pay for. Your parents or caretakers may not have the financial means of sending you to college. Don’t give up, though. There are fee waivers that you can get to take the SAT or ACT and to apply to college, and there’s financial aid and scholarships to help you pay for your education.

Even if your parents can afford to send you to college, or are willing to take out loans for you, college is still extremely expensive. You can’t exactly pay for college with a summer job (depending on what school you’re going to). Look into scholarships or consider community college as an option to lower the cost of your tuition.

Rising Seniors

So you just finished junior year. Congratulations! Junior year is traditionally seen as the most academically challenging and stressful year, and you survived! The only problem is that now you have to start thinking about your future, if you haven’t already. Fall of senior year is typically when you’re supposed to be applying to colleges, but summer is a great time to get a head start so that you can reduce the stress of having to write college application essays on top of doing your actual school work.

These are some of the things you can do this summer to prepare yourself for college applications:

1. If you haven’t already, or want to improve your score, study for the SAT/ACT. Try to do at least one practice test each week. This will help you become more comfortable with the test’s format, as well as finding out what content you need to focus on so that you can get a good score. Some colleges also want you to take SAT Subject Tests. Find out if any of the schools you’re interested in require you to take them. Overall, remember to register and prepare for any standardized tests that you need to take to apply to college.

2. Make a college spreadsheet. Google Slides is a very good (and free!) online application that you can use to sort the colleges.

Step 1: Put all of the colleges that you’re interested in applying to onto the spreadsheet.

Step 2: Add categories that you want to use to compare the colleges. For example, some categories that you could use include acceptance rate, average financial aid, average debt at graduation, total enrollment, and possible majors/programs that you’re interested in.

Step 3: Decide what colleges you still want to apply to, and delete those that you’re no longer interested in.

3. Divide your colleges into Reach, Match, and Safety schools. The division of colleges into these categories is a personal matter that depends on your grades and test scores. Research the average GPA and standardized test scores of the schools you want to apply to (It’s helpful to look up the Freshman Profile of the college). If your grades are around the 50th percentile of the scores of people accepted to the college, this school is most likely a Match school for you. If the average scores are way below your scores, this could be considered a Safety school. If the average scores are above your scores, this is considered a Reach school. An important thing to note is that very elite schools (Ivy League, Stanford, MIT, etc.) are reaches for everyone, even people with perfect scores and GPAs. It’s very important that you have several schools of each category to ensure that you can be both realistic (Safety schools) and aim higher (Reach schools).

4. Decide how many schools you’re going to apply to. This number is different for everyone. Applying to colleges can be very expensive and time consuming, so it’s not the wisest to apply to twenty schools, but it’s also not wise to apply to just one. As long as you have schools that you would be happy going to in each category (Reach, Match, Safety), and you believe that you can apply to that number of schools without sacrificing the quality of each application, whatever number of schools you choose to apply to is good.

5. Start working on your college application essays. Most colleges don’t open their applications until the fall, but the Common Application has already released its prompts for the 2017-2018 school year. Additionally, some colleges also have their supplemental essay prompts on their websites. Essays are a very important part of your college application that allows you to show admissions committees aspects of your personality and character that aren’t simply listed in your application. At the very least, start brainstorming topics that you think you want to write about. It’s good to start your essays early, because writing 20 short essays about yourself can take longer than you may think.

6. Consider applying early. There are three possible methods of applying to college early, and certain schools have certain options.

Early Decision: This is a binding agreement. If you apply under Early Decision to a school, and you’re accepted, you have to go. Only consider this option if you know that you’ll be able to afford this college and also if it’s your absolute dream school.

Restricted Early Action: This is a non-binding agreement. This means that you can submit your application early and also find out if you’re accepted earlier than people who applied under Regular Decision. However, you’re not permitted to apply early to other schools if you choose this option.

Early Action: This is a non-binding agreement. You can apply early and receive your decision for the college early, as well as apply to other schools under Early Action.

7. On August 1, create a Common Application account. The majority of universities (although, not all of them) use the Common Application, which makes the application process a lot easier for you. For the Common Application, you write one essay that you send to every school you apply to. In addition to the Common Application essay, some colleges have additional Supplemental Essays that they ask you to complete. In addition to essays, all other aspects of the college applications are done in this portal.

8. Relax. College can be a very formative time of your life, and it’s important that you choose the school that’s right for you. That, however, doesn’t mean that you need to be in a constant state of panic all the way up until you get your college decision letters. This is your last summer as a high school student. Enjoy your life in the moment. Regardless of what your college decisions are, your life will turn out exactly how it’s supposed to. Don’t let the stress of college applications take away from you spending time with your friends and having fun. High school can suck, sometimes, and it’s more fun to dream about a fantastic future, but you should still find ways to enjoy your life right now.

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