With experience comes wisdom. With that in mind, I consulted with two high school graduates who have just ridden the highs and lows of the college admissions process.
Jessica graduated from Providence High and will attend Appalachian State University in the fall. Daniel graduated from Myers Park High and is a rising freshman at UNC Chapel Hill. I've changed names in the interest of privacy.
Here's some of their advice:
What's the one thing you know now that you wish you knew before applying to colleges?
DANIEL: The smartest thing to do is to begin the college admissions process the summer before senior year begins, if not earlier. Waiting until the last minute just increases stress, and depending on the college, it can reduce your chances. I applied early to all of the universities that offered it, and it was the best choice I made. If the application to the college is available in the summer, write the essays and complete the data input on the Common Application before 12th grade starts.
JESSICA: I wish I had been as motivated my freshman and sophomore year as I was during my junior year. I did not do very well my first two years, and it negatively impacted my overall GPA. I can not stress enough how important it is to always take your classes seriously. I know it's so easy to slack off, but it just makes everything harder in the long run. Slacking off prevented me from getting into certain schools that could have been a great fit. I lucked out because I got into Appalachian, my first choice. It was a perfect fit since they had the major that I am interested in, but you might not be as lucky.
Did essays take longer to write and edit than anticipated?
DANIEL: I thought I would simply have to write the essays and it would be fairly straightforward. But after doing the first one, I realized that it's crucial to factor in planning and editing. Revising can make or break your application. Another thing that I found helpful was to read the essays out loud to someone. This way you can make sure that your sentences are coherent and flow.
JESSICA: Yes and no. Writing is something that comes a lot easier to me than other academic subjects, so I knew that I had that advantage from the get-go, but editing it and making it perfect did take longer than anticipated.
Did you feel overwhelmed at times?
DANIEL: I felt overwhelmed finding the balance between focusing on current high school work and dealing with college applications and essays, especially with my parents always talking about admissions and them talking with all of their friends. It felt like I just couldn't escape thinking about college.
JESSICA: I did, because of the fact that I had to do everything in such a short period of time. Applying to colleges and just thinking about college in general can be overwhelming, but by managing your time efficiently, the process can be less stressful.
Did you have occasional tension with your parents?
DANIEL: My parents were very supportive, but there were times when college was the last thing I wanted to think about and they would almost always bring it up.
JESSICA: Not so much, just the usual nagging to get things done because I am a bit of a procrastinator. They pushed me to do a quality job. I would not have been able to do it without their involvement and input.
Lee Shulman Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte, N.C. Visit her website College Admissions Strategies.
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