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The College Crunch | 7 Tips For Seniors Going Through The Application Process

By Katherine Scott - Harvard University - NextGenVest College Fellow - Montclair, NJ

Make the college application process a breeze with these helpful tips.

The college application process is always a nerve-wracking time for seniors. Here are seven tips to help you successfully navigate the “crunch time” of the college application process.

Don't Play The Comparing Game.

There are several websites that offer scatter plot graphs to show how you measure up to previous applicants—rejected, waitlisted/deferred, and admitted. Do not look at them! These charts do not show the detailed circumstances of each application and could be completely different from yours; don’t fall into the trap of comparing your application to others.

These graphs simply add unnecessary stress. I have looked at these charts online and stressed about it for a week before realizing that every applicant is different and will be considered by admissions officers independently of each other.

Get A Second And Third Opinion.

Your essay is your chance to speak for yourself and is, in essence, your first impression. Have at least three people whose opinions you trust and value—parents, older siblings, teachers, guidance counselors, coaches, etc—read over your essay. With multiple opinions, your essay will be the strongest and best representation of you it can be.

I had four to five people look over my essay—my parents and sister, and two teachers. I had my parents and sister look over my essay from when I started drafting it and, in October, my school set up a time period where seniors could go to teachers and faculty to have their essays reviewed. I went to the two teachers who wrote my recommendations because they had helped me throughout high school and I knew would provide new ways to bolster my work.

Show Your Interest!

Visit the campus for a tour, see if you can meet with a current student for a one-on-one, or spend a night on campus.  If you live too far away to visit the school you’re interested in, look into informational events they hold in your area or participate in online groups and chats with other students applying. I made sure to visit the campuses of all the schools on my list (except for the couple in California), and even participated in an overnight stay at a few. It really helped to spend time with the students talking about classes and extracurriculars and the pros and cons of the school.

Talk To A Human. 

Correspond with a faculty member or someone in the admissions or administration offices for further information on the school, ensuring someone knows your name and is potentially looking out for your application.  Even though some colleges say they do not track interest, they certainly appreciate the effort prospective students display. Information sessions are a great way to meet someone face-to-face as it is easy and encouraged to talk to a representative from the school at the end of them. I am interested in math so I looked to get into contact with the head of the department or a professor to discuss the courses available to undergraduates.

Make Your Social Media Work For You.

Google can be a friend or foe in the modern college application process.  Schools can easily find you online and sift through your social media so be mindful that the Internet is forever and what you post online could be used against you.  Instead of treating social media with trepidation, however, approach it proactively and use your online platforms to your advantage: post positive items, photos of your volunteer work, or interesting articles to further illustrate the kind of person your application speaks to.

I, like every other contemporary, went through my social media accounts to make sure that everything was appropriate. Unlike many of my friends, though, I chose to stay on social media, using it to promote myself and create a positive image by posting about tutoring times or soup kitchen runs—things that confirmed what the admissions officers were reading on my application. 

Watch Your Tongue. 

Be mindful of how you describe your options to fellow students. Your safety school may be someone else’s top choice and a campus culture you couldn’t see yourself in may be perfect for a friend.  Don’t put down any schools as you may be speaking to someone hoping to go there.

My friends and I were discussing the colleges we were considering and one mentioned a school that she identified as her safety, saying how she thought it was not academically rigorous and couldn't imagine it being anything other than a safety. To her surprise and embarrassment, my other friend spoke up and said that the school was actually her top choice. Needless to say, the tension was palpable.

ALWAYS Send A Thank You.

Whether it is to your guide who took time out of the tour to explain a fact to you, your interviewer, or your host for a class visit, a thank you note should be in his/her hands as soon as possible. I sent a thank-you note to my interviewer the day after the interview, while everything we discussed was still fresh in my mind, so I could make reference to the particulars of our conversation. My interviewer later told me that I was the first person she interviewed that year and my prompt follow-up note made me stand out and set the bar for future interviewees.