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7 Frustrating Parts of the College Application Process & How to Deal with Them

Life is frustrating. It’s one of the first things we learn and is a fact that applies to almost everything we do, including applying for college. Her Campus highlighted some of the most frustrating aspects of applying to college and some easy, simple solutions to put your frustrations to rest!

There are so many schools, but so little time!

The frustration: With more brochures piling up in your mailbox day after day, it’s easy to get attracted to way more schools than you’ll ever be able to apply to. These shiny brochures make many a school look tempting, but it’s important to narrow your focus on and spend time creating a quality admissions package on universities and colleges you could actually see yourself at, and represent a good mix of reach, target, and safety schools.

The fix: Narrowing your focus can be hard, but luckily, there are several easy ways to get started. First, visit potential universities and colleges during junior and senior year, so you can get a sense of what campus life is like and know if it’s somewhere you could honestly see yourself enjoying and learning at. Sarah Wiszniak, a senior at Plainville High School describes, “I began compiling a list of schools that fit my criteria… As time went on, I took colleges off and then expanded my list again and then took more off and then added more… The summer before junior year I found my number one school.”

Think about where certain schools fit in terms of how easy or hard it will be to get in as well. You don’t want to apply to six or seven universities that are “reach” schools with no backups in place! Still need some initial help narrowing the field? HC has you covered.

Once you’ve started applying, keep in mind that you’ll typically have to pay anywhere from $20 – $80 or more to send in your application as well. Sending out apps to too many schools can quickly become a pricey endeavor! Talk it over with your family, and decide what a reasonable number is for you. Once you’ve set it, stick to it! Don’t let the glossy pictures of smiling students studying under trees across campus lure you into an app you didn’t plan on filling out in the first place.

Your recommendation letters still aren’t done.

The frustration: You asked your favorite teacher for a recommendation to complete the Common App weeks ago, and still haven’t gotten anything back! What gives?

The fix: Recommendation letters are a huge part of the application process. Don’t let them become a source of stress. Make sure you ask whomever you want to write a letter early in the semester way before the deadline. Take it from Sarah. “I had already asked my English teacher, math teacher, and principal to write me letters of recommendation before my junior year ended, so that was all set,” she said. Asking someone the week before you go on break for the semester won’t get you as good of a letter as you’re hoping for, and doesn’t show much responsibility on your part.

Be strategic about who you ask, as well. Chances are the more popular teachers are probably swamped with requests for recommendations every fall. If you really want a busy, well-liked teacher to write yours, get your request in early and beat the crowd. Consider setting an earlier deadline than the final application date for them to write your letter by to ensure you get it on time.

Otherwise, think about asking a teacher who isn’t sought out as frequently. Sometimes, a teacher with a tough reputation whose class you worked hard in can prove to be an even better source for a great recommendation. It doesn’t hurt to look outside the box and consider non-school sources either, like a coach, employer, or other people you work with in the community – although some schools have strict requirements about whom should write your letters, so check with each school’s website. The general guideline is one letter from a teacher, one from a guidance counselor, and an optional third letter.

No matter who writes your recommendation, be sure to check in every week or two on how the recommendation is progressing. Even something as simple as reminding the person writing it about the deadline you’ve both agreed to will help you stay on track and ensure letters aren’t forgotten or left to the last minute.

You don’t know what your application consists of.

The frustration: SAT subject test scores, a college resume, an additional letter of recommendation, a mid-year evaluation… what is all of this? Aren’t most applications just a matter of filling out basic information and writing an essay or two?

The fix: No one’s saying you should have filled out the Common App in August, but it doesn’t hurt to know when applications come out, and look them over to at least get a sense of what you’ll need to send in and complete. This doesn’t just apply for the actual college application either. Be sure to stay on top of scholarship and aid deadlines, and know when those forms are made available as well. Familiarizing yourself with the website and forms you’ll need can actually make the process much smoother. When you already know what you need, you won’t need to panic last-minute and scramble to find a last minute fix.

Know which schools the Common App covers as well, and which ones require a different application that could also mean a different essay and recommendation process. Sarah explains, “The most annoying thing about the college process was that my local state university and Fordham (which offered me an application fee waiver if I applied through their online application) weren’t part of the Common App… my local state university is my last choice school. So, it not being part of the Common App made everything even more annoying.”

Putting together everything required in an application is a long process, so stay on top of things the entire time, especially if you’re applying early action or early decision anywhere. “I’d have to say that my biggest college application frustration is the amount of time that goes into applying,” said Rebecca, a senior at Greater New Bedford Regional Vocational Technical High School. “I’m applying to five schools early action, and it is extremely time-consuming, and stressful.” So how did Rebecca deal? “My main strategy was to get applications all sent out at the same time, so I knew that everything was complete. I keep a list of everywhere I’ve applied, sent my ACT scores, etc. I also have a list of all the FAFSA and application due dates next to my desk, so there’s no excuse if I’m late for a deadline!”

 Your essay isn’t perfect yet.

The frustration: Finally! You finished your essay that shares the million reasons you want to attend X University. Too bad it’s twice the recommended word count! You love everything you’ve written though, and can’t bear to cut anything. The person reading it won’t mind too much, right…?

The fix: Step away from the essay. Right now. Regardless of whether you think you’ve written the most brilliant piece of writing since Plato, or you think what you’ve written is a crazy jumble of random sentences and stories, hand your essay to someone else. Have a trusted editor like your brilliant friend in AP English, a parent, your English teacher, and anyone else you can think of look over your essay for you. Ask them to not only look for basic typos and grammatical corrections, but to also consider what it is you’ve actually written down. Can they understand everything you’ve included? Does the order of everything make sense? Does your passion for the university or the subject of your essay come through as much as it should? Don’t be afraid to ask any and all questions you can think of, and take their feedback seriously.

Remember that whoever’s reading the essay is approaching it as an outsider reading about your experience or thoughts as someone that probably wasn’t experiencing whatever you wrote about along with you, just like someone in the admissions office will be once you submit it. Take what they say into account, and be prepared to make some changes to make your writing that much better! Keep in mind that this can sometimes be a lengthy process. This essay is one of the more important things you could write in your high school career, so give yourself lots of time to get multiple opinions and revise drafts several times before you arrive at a finished product. This also gives you time to get feedback from multiple people, and reconcile any differences in feedback you get.

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You’re lost and disorganized.

The frustration: You’ve decided where you’re going to apply, and have everything done that you need to submit. Now if only you could remember who has your SAT test scores, whether or not you sent those subject tests to schools, and knew if they got them or not…

The fix: Find a method that keeps you organized, and stick with it for the entire application process. Whether it’s a spreadsheet, an archive of emails you’ve sent containing supplementary materials, or a checklist, be consistent, and update it as soon as you send something or work on applications.

Be sure to send scores as soon as you take tests as well. Take advantage of the opportunity to send your scores to as many schools for free as you possibly can when you initially sign up for the SAT, ACT, or SAT subject tests. Most schools will toss out lower scores, so don’t worry about having to pick where they go before you see your results. No one will look at them seriously until they’ve received your full application, and have gotten all your various test results.

It helps to know how much time it will take to send these materials as well. Tia, a senior at Walter Payton College Prep explained one of her frustrations. “The difficult thing for me is waiting for my counselor to submit my transcripts,” she said. Tia said the wait was longer than she expected, “especially since some colleges will not process your application until they receive it, and the counselors at my school take a long time because there are so many students they have to accommodate.”

Being proactive and learning about deadlines well in advance is key to solving this frustration. Tia, for example, knew that the program her school uses to request transcripts requires at least four weeks to process requests on time. What if you need something like a transcript now, with deadlines fast approaching? “I’ve heard of a lot of students asking their counselor in person about the status of their transcripts and reminding them (nicely) that the deadlines are approaching. This usually speeds up the process,” Tia suggests. If you’re worried about the status of your application, talk to your guidance counselor.

Always follow up with your guidance counselor about any materials they may have sent, as well as any schools you’re applying to that don’t have a clear way of showing whether or not they’ve received these materials, like an email confirmation. It never hurts to play it safe and double-check to make sure anything you’ve sent got to its final destination. Just be sure to give things a reasonable amount of time to make it there and be processed, especially if you’re dealing with a large university. Don’t call three days after you’ve sent something to your dream school, as chances are, they probably haven’t added it to your file yet. Depending on how big the pool of other applicants is, how far away the school is located, how soon the deadline is approaching, and several other factors mean you could wait anywhere from a week or two to a month to confirm these items, so be patient, be consistent, and stay organized!

You’re sick of all the questions about the college app process.

The frustration: No matter where you go these days, it seems like everyone, from your nosy grandma, to the hot checkout guy at the grocery store is curious about where you’ve applied, and where you’ve been accepted so far. It’s getting a little tedious. Is there a nice way to respond without letting frustration seep through?

The fix: Yes, it’s annoying, but the best thing to do is give a polite response about where you’ve applied, and whether or not you’ve heard back. If you got rejected from a school and aren’t comfortable sharing, feel free to leave it out. No one needs to know about it if you’re not comfortable sharing the news just yet!

There are ways to shift the conversation away from the application itself too, especially if you don’t have many positive things to say about the process. Sara, a senior at William Fremd High School says she was frustrated when applying to schools because it made her feel as if her numbers were all that came through throughout the process, and that they weren’t necessarily an accurate measure of how smart or talented she was. “I have spent the past four years building up my resume while maintaining my academic standing. It seems crazy to me that a college might look at my application for a few minutes and I will be chosen just because I have a good enough GPA or ACT score,” she explains.

If you feel similar to Sara, shift the focus off of these numbers, and talk about why you like a certain school, or how cool their academic programs, extracurricular opportunities, dorms, food, students, or anything else on campus is. Take the focus off of whether or not you feel like a qualified applicant and the application process itself, and focus instead on general things you’re hoping to find in a college or get out of different schools.

You’re going crazy waiting to hear back from schools!

The frustration: Everything’s done – the decision is officially out of your hands at this point. So why are you still so worried?

The fix: Ashley, a senior at Harding University High School, says, “The part I’m most worried about is whether or not I will be accepted to the school because you never know if that school thinks you’re not the right fit for them.” Ashley’s not the only one dealing with decision anxiety. There are plenty of ways to deal with it though.

First of all, congratulations on making it through! Hopefully, you’ve sent in some of your best work, and can now enjoy the rest of senior year. Try getting involved to you’re your mind off things. “I’m trying to involve myself with as many clubs as possible so I don’t think about it too much. It’s scary thinking about not getting into the college of my dreams, so keeping busy, so far, has helped me put those thoughts on the back burner,” says Ashley. Continue to be productive while you wait for a decision, but make sure to find some time to celebrate one of the more challenging, stressful parts of senior year. Take a deep breath, and relax! You’ve earned it. 

Sydney is a junior double majoring in Media and Cultural Studies and Political Science at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn., a short trip away from Minneapolis, her hometown. When Sydney is not producing content for a variety of platforms, she enjoys hanging out with friends, watching movies, reading, and indulging in a smoothie or tea from Caribou Coffee, the MN-based version of Starbucks.
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