Student-to-Student: 17 College Application Tips

It’s hard to believe it has been a year since I was applying to college. I’m now almost three months into my freshman year of college and reminiscing on the stressful time when college applications were all I could think about. Don’t get me wrong, it was an intense relief to click that submit button and finally be done with the applications, but there was a beautiful sense of the unknown and an excitement that made the entire experience worthwhile.

As I look back and think of those back home who are in the process now, I compiled 17 tips that I learned from my experience. Pre-collegiettes, this one's for you!

1. Make a list of things you are looking for in a school

Do you prefer an urban setting? What size school are you comfortable with? What majors are you interested in? Are you interested in checking out schools out-of-state, in-state or both? Picture yourself in your ideal school and use that to determine what you are truly looking for in an institution.

2. Actually research the school you are applying to

This one may seem self-explanatory, but you’d be surprised. (Take it from someone who didn’t take this advice.) It’s not enough to just Google the school and read the quick facts on the side. Take the time to click through the school’s website, find what majors or specialties they are known for, check out the course log and read about things going around campus.

3. Talk to your counselor or someone you consider an expert on the process

Everyone is busy. If you feel like your counselor or college advisor isn’t doing enough to help you out, go seek them out. Make an appointment and go in there with questions ready and any concerns you have. If they still don’t help you out enough, try to find others who have experience.

4. Ask for recommendation letters early on

This is no joke. Every senior needs recommendation letters to apply to college. Get on the waitlist for you favorite teachers who know you best. If you decide to wait a bit, notify your teachers  a month in advance at the least.

5. Choose a moment to write about for the essay

My beloved Writing and Literature teacher, Mr. Garcia, taught me this one. For the personal statement (another word for college essay), choose one moment that changed you and write about that. I wrote about flying to see my dad one year and witnessing the most spectacular sunset which led me to start thinking about our potential as a society. It is the small moments that grab attention and have the most meaning.

6. Get advice on your essay

Mr. Garcia became my editor. Whenever there was extra time in class or after school, I would bring in a revised version of my paper. We went through several drafts. I don’t even remember how many.

7. Treat the short answers as important as the essay

Many schools have additional questions aside from the essay. Take the same time and care with these as you did to perfect your essay. These questions are what truly allow you to shine, especially since they are specific to the school.

8. Try to narrow down your school list

Ok, so I was the person who applied to about 17 schools. Some of you are probably scoffing at my ridiculousness or judging my inability to narrow down my list. Others are probably feeling relief that they aren’t the only ones who have a whole page of schools. Although it worked out for my in the end, try to stay focused and only apply to schools you really love.

9. If possible, visit campus

This one isn’t always possible. If you can, try to choose your top schools and go visit them. Check out the coffee shops, the libraries and study spots that could potentially be in your future to get a feel for the school.

10. Tally up the costs of applying

Now this is extremely scary. I will not divulge the total sum of money my parents graciously spent on my college applications. Although many had waived fees, there were plenty others where I still had to pay. My advice: don’t pay for everything at once, spread out the fees by planning ahead.

11. Be aware of the deadlines to send standardized tests and financial aid info

Super important! Write down every important deadline and date.

12. Reach out to friends already in college and ask questions

Shoot a text to an old friends and ask some questions. I’m sure they would love to help you! Friends and peers who had already applied and been accepted to college became one of my best resources.

Related: 5 Common App Essay Tips That Will Actually Help You

13. Highlight your best activities and achievements

The Common App and your resume are where you should highlight your activities, hobbies and achievements. Take advantage and brag a little. Be sure to list everything you think best represents you!

14. Email the admissions officer assigned to you from the schools

Reach out to the admissions officer in charge of your area. This shows your interest and establishes communication with those who will review your application. I did this one for my #1 school and the officer thanked me for being one of the few who reached out.

15. Dream big, but don’t let rejection cripple you

I definitely did not follow this advice. I went through several rejections and each one left me discouraged. I am not ashamed to admit I cried my heart out for many nights during decision time. However, after my mourning periods I knew that my dreams were only stronger in my mind.

16. Please don’t give up on your dreams

Applying to college is literally trying to sell yourself. This is also the first step to embarking on a new stage of your life. Don’t let your dreams slip away in the face of small acceptance rates, expensive tuition or even rejections. Your dreams are your best assets.

17. Let your true self flow through onto your application

When you sit down to write up your essay, short answers, or any other info, take a deep breath and let go of the pressure to write the best you have ever written. Just write as your thoughts flow. Let your authentic self shine.

So, there you have it! My college application tips. I’m sure I can come up with a thousand more, but these are what I consider most important from my experience. Remember: believe in your capability to succeed anywhere and don’t ever throw away your dreams.