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High School

10 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Applied to College

It’s that time of year again when high school seniors everywhere are beginning to apply to college. The college process can be stressful, but also so exciting. I mean, take it from me; I’ve been through it twice now! I applied the “normal” way, during my senior year of high school, and then again to transfer during my freshman year of college. After going through both processes, there are a few (but important!) things I wish I had known before applying. Here’s a list of my top 10:

Get a head start.

Starting your applications as early as possible is one of the best things you can do for yourself. Doing so will give you more time to review your work and make edits as needed. And if you finish an application early, submitting before the deadline isn’t a bad idea! It’s one less thing for you to worry about down the line. The earlier you get your applications done, the more time you have to focus on your schoolwork, your extracurriculars, and just enjoying your last year of high school!

(Also, don’t pull a Senior-Year-Sansara and try to finish your application for a school an hour before it’s due only to have the Common App crash on you so you can’t submit in time. It was not fun. 0/10 would recommend).

Do your research.

Before you apply to a school, it is essential that you do your research. This goes beyond simply doing a quick Google search and taking note of the basics. It’s important to visit each school to which you want to apply, as there is no better way to get insight into what your life there may be like. This includes your safeties, as you don’t want to spend your time and your money applying to a safety that you wouldn’t even attend (if it came down to that). 

That being said, I do acknowledge the fact that visiting every school on your list is unrealistic. I know of very few people who actually accomplished this goal. If you can’t visit a school, you can always reach out to the admissions office for general information and also ask to be put in touch with students who share your interests, both academic and extracurricular. This just helps to show that although you cannot visit in person, you are still interested in the school. 

If you do get a chance to visit, it’s good to talk to admissions counselors, speak to students at the school (both those that work for admissions and those that don’t), and just spend some time on campus. My college counselor told me that when visiting, I should be able to find at least 5 people I think I could be friends with and at least 5 people I think that I could see myself dating. If I could spot these people on campus, then I would know that, at least socially, I would be able to find my place at the school.

Don’t worry about attending a “big name” school.

The name and the ranking of a school are only so important. Do not apply to a college solely because of its name and its status. There are so many other factors that are much more important, so try not to let a school’s “brand” influence where you apply or ultimately decide to go. You should choose a school at which you can see yourself being genuinely happy. 

Don’t have your heart set on one school.

There is no harm in having a “dream school” or one you would want to go to above all of the others, but don’t let this one school be the only school at which you can see yourself. You don’t want to close yourself off to other options when the “perfect” school for you may not even be one that you are currently aware of. 

In my opinion, it’s best to have a few top choice schools rather than just one. That way, if you aren’t accepted to your number one choice, you still have other schools you would be just as excited about attending.

After I had submitted all of my applications, for both first-year and transfer, I sat down and made a list, ranking each school I applied to from first to last choice, under the assumption that I would get into all of them (wishful thinking, I know).  Some of my friends had done the same and it definitely helped when deciding which school to attend later on!

It’s OK if you don’t get “that feeling” at a school.

You know that moment at the end of a college tour when your tour guide begins to explain why they chose their school? At every school I toured, each of my tour guides said that they got “that feeling.” That feeling of “this is where I belong” or “this feels like home.” When I was looking at colleges, I never really got “that feeling.” And that stressed me out. A lot. I was worried that I had gone through my entire college process wrong and that I hadn’t been looking into the right schools for myself. This was not true at all. There are so many other, more important factors that can determine if a school will be a good fit for you beyond just “that feeling.” 

Don’t make your decision based on someone else.

College is a time for you to focus on yourself and your aspirations. It’s a time in which you can learn more about who you are and what you want. You can grow as an individual and find what it is that you are passionate about. That being said, attending a school because your best friend or significant other is planning on going there is not the best decision. You need to do what is best for you; you didn’t work so hard on your applications just to let your college choice be determined by someone else.

I promise you that you will find ways to stay in touch and visit each other, despite the miles in between you. I still talk to my friends from high school every day! You will find a way to make it work, too.

Don’t let rejection get you down.

Rejection in the college process is inevitable. Unless you are a supergenius with a 4.0 GPA who was simultaneously a tri-season athlete, president of their high school, and editor-in-chief of the school paper, then you most likely will receive at least one rejection. 

Admissions offices are only getting a glimpse into the lovely person you are. They’re relying on statistics and your short supplements to paint a picture of who you are and who you could become by attending their school. Remember that they’re doing this without actually meeting you or even having a conversation with you. In reality, they don’t know more than what your application can tell them (which isn’t a lot), so don’t take rejection too personally.

There’s no shame in transferring.

When I was applying to college during my senior year of high school, the thought of not liking the school I chose and the idea of having to transfer were two of the most terrifying outcomes to me. I didn’t want to admit that, in some sense, I had failed by putting myself in a situation where I felt unhappy. 

Having transferred, I can say that there is absolutely nothing wrong with doing so. In fact, it is more common now than ever before as more than a third of all college students in America apply to transfer each year. It is a stressful process, having to apply to schools while balancing a college workload, but in the end it can be so rewarding. I mean, I’ve only been at Barnard for about three weeks now, but I can already say that it has been a more positive experience than the one that I had last year.

Trust yourself.

At the end of the day, only you know what is best for you. Even if you don’t believe it, you have all the tools within you to make the right decision for yourself. Trust your gut and trust your intuition.

Everything will work out the way it’s supposed to.

I know it’s cheesy, but it’s true. If you told me senior year of high school that I was going to go to a college I never thought I would get into, and that I would apply to transfer a year later, I honestly wouldn’t believe you. Sometimes life works in mysterious ways, but I promise that you will end up where you are supposed to.

Whether you go to a school that is a perfect fit for you from your first year, or it takes a little longer for you to get there, I promise that you will find a school that has almost everything you want (and things you didn’t even know you needed!). 

Sansara Mahtani

Columbia Barnard '22

Sansara is a junior at Barnard College majoring in Psychology. Instagram: @sansaramahtani.
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