As time draws near to filling out those exciting college applications, some high school students feel pressure to apply to as many colleges as they can. That may not necessarily be the best approach. When choosing a college that best fits you, keep in mind your own unique characteristics. Reflect on what you like to do in your free time, topics that interest you, and what you have always wanted to do; then look for these aspects in the colleges you research. As a college freshman, I went through the process myself not too long ago. Here are my tips for making the application process less stressful:
1. Be involved in your high school.
This is something that you should do from the start of your high school career; if you haven’t, start right now! If you’re not sure what you like, don’t be afraid to try out different clubs, sports, or community service groups. You’ll get a head start on discovering what interests and doesn’t interest you, you may even find a major passion you didn’t know about, and as a bonus you’ll get to meet a lot of new people. Of course, it will be good for your college applications: it will show admissions counselors what you’re interested in and what skills you can bring to the university.
2. Make a list of the colleges you are most interested in.
Don’t wait until the last minute: start your college research during your junior year of high school. That’s also when your school counselor and teachers will begin talking about getting started with the college search. Opinions vary, but I think the list should include about three to six schools; any more will make the decision too difficult. When I began my college search, I didn’t know which school was right for me. It can be very stressful to try to find the “perfect” school – because the perfect school doesn’t exist; it’s all about finding the right fit. There will always be some positive and some negative aspects to any university you choose; focusing on the positive ones will help you make your decision. Although John Cabot was far from home, the positive aspects outweighed that for me: the ability to interact with classmates and professors from many different cultures, and the possibility of being able to travel around Europe so easily.
3. Write important dates and information down.
Making sure you meet all of the deadlines for the different colleges you decide to apply to is very important. Don’t rely on your memory. First of all, you don’t want to realize the night before the deadline that you still have to write a thoughtful 3-page essay that will convince the college admissions counselor to accept you. Second, having to pay a late fee because you missed an application or payment deadline is no fun.
4. Make a list of questions you have about the university (and ask them!).
Sit down and think about what information you’d like to know that you haven’t been able to find on the university’s website. When applying to John Cabot, I was able to email the office or department relative to my question, and they always got back to me with helpful advice. The staff and faculty are there to help students, and they’ll also be very friendly with prospective students. JCU can even put you in direct touch with a student to help you get a student’s perspective and allow you to shadow a student or attend a class if you visit campus.
5. Follow the schools you’ve decided to apply for on social media.
A university’s brochures and website can give you tons of great information, but if you want an authentic look at what it’s really like to be a student at the school, take a look at the university’s social media accounts and blogs. Often, the content is provided by students themselves and will provide a more honest look at what student life is really like.
6. Take your AP exams and the SATs or ACTs.
In the spring, AP exams are offered to students taking AP classes. Be sure to take the AP tests because you can transfer those credits to some universities, including John Cabot. The ACTs or SATs are vital for American students applying to university. I’ll be honest: taking my ACT test was the most stressful aspect of applying to college for me. There are ways to get these standardized exams under control so you don’t feel so stressed – take a preparatory class, or use online practice exams.
7. Get a head start on your recommendation letters.
John Cabot requires 2-3 recommendation letters for the application process. My junior year, I spent some time thinking about which teachers I wanted to write my recommendation letters. At the end of the year, I asked them to write recommendations, so they would have plenty of time over the summer. Choose teachers that are more familiar with you so they can write about your positive attributes, skills, and potential. Make sure you remind the teachers you have chosen so you can meet your deadlines.
8. Start working on your application.
I chose to use only the Common Application. If other schools you are applying to also use the Common App, it will make it easier to apply to multiple schools, because you only need to fill out one application. Common App will then direct your application to your different schools of interest. John Cabot also provides its own application online, so you are not required to use the Common App.
9. Fill out your FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and apply for any institutional or outside scholarships or aid.
You must fill out the FAFSA form to be eligible for loans and grants from the government. John Cabot also offers many different scholarships that can help make attending the university less expensive. You might also want to look into options for outside scholarships.
10. Write your essay.
For me, writing an essay about myself was hard. I didn’t have experience writing about myself – but the college wants to get to know you. Leave yourself plenty of time to work on it so you don’t have to rush. Try to make your essay original and compelling, and highlight what you will bring to the university; don’t just list reasons why you’d like to attend. If you need help, don’t be shy about asking your school counselor, English teacher, or other students with experience.
International Business major
Class of 2020
Hometown: Dallas, Texas