Hello fellow parents, and welcome!
I’m excited to introduce you to Amy, a current freshman at Williams College and my guest writer for today’s newsletter. As a first-generation college student from a large public high school in Columbia, Missouri, Amy had to navigate the entire college admissions process on her own. Doing so, she learned a lot and made mistakes that she hopes the tips below will help your child avoid.
Seven Tips I Wish I Knew Before Applying to College
By Amy Lemuz-Guerra
Applying to college is already a stressful process in any given year, but I know this year, it will be particularly challenging. Despite making all the mistakes below, I was accepted at an extraordinary college. I hope keeping these tips in mind will make the college application process a bit more manageable and stress-free for you. If you are a parent reading this, please share with your child because I will be speaking directly to them.
1. Do not burn yourself out with too much course rigor in the final stretch.
I know that you want to impress colleges in any way possible, and one way is to continue to take rigorous courses during your senior year of high school. One of the biggest mistakes that I made was taking all AP classes my senior year. If I could rewind time, I would. There was absolutely no need for me to take such a heavy course load. If you’ve been working hard throughout your high school career, there is no need to take it to an extreme your senior year. It will definitely not impress colleges if your grades dip because you’ve overextended yourself.
2. Narrow down your college list instead of applying to tons of colleges.
When you actually sit down to review potential college options, it can be very overwhelming. It’s hard to fully understand the magnitude of choices available to you until it’s time to apply. I know that the easy way out may seem to be to apply to as many colleges as possible and let chance decide where you will be attending. Ultimately, this is a recipe for unhappiness. You’ll end up unnecessarily working on (and paying for) extra applications. You’ll also receive rejections from colleges that weren’t a right fit for you in the first place. Conduct as much research as possible to find college options that you are genuinely enthusiastic about. Don’t waste time and money applying to schools where you can’t see yourself studying. In the long run, you’ll thank yourself for taking the time to self-reflect.
3. Make a game plan.
Before your senior year of high school even begins, you should prioritize going over the application process for each college you are planning to apply to. Most colleges have their own deadlines for financial aid, essays, supplements, and other required materials. In order to preempt a few headaches, sit down and record important dates in your calendar. The sooner, the better, so I recommend beginning this process the summer before your senior year. Having to deal with colleges may seem like a problem for a very future you, but give your future you a break and provide some direction.
4. Beware the secret additional class senior year that’s as time-consuming as an AP.
Many students underestimate the large amount of work completing college applications demands. You’ll have to keep track of deadlines, supplemental essays in addition to the personal essay, financial aid applications, finding and applying for scholarships, and soliciting letters of recommendation. All this work will accumulate to be equivalent to an additional extremely rigorous high school course. You also may be a leader of extracurricular activities while juggling a full course load. Instead of stretching yourself too thin, make sure to acknowledge your limits and plan ahead for the extra time and effort you will need to invest in your college applications. Complete most of the application over the summer, if you can, before senior year overwhelm sets in.
5. Don’t be afraid to ask for teacher recommendations.
It may be intimidating to ask for a favor from your teachers, or it can feel like you’re burdening them. Just remember that your teachers have written numerous letters of recommendation throughout the years, so they know what to expect during the college application season. They want you to succeed as much as your predecessors. Now, there is also a possibility that your teacher will reject your request. Although it may seem like a blow to your ego, do not take it personally. Your teacher is most likely too busy with other applications, and it may be a blessing in disguise. It is best to receive a letter of recommendation from a teacher who is happy to write it.
6. Please prioritize sleep over coffee.
Junior and Senior years are undoubtedly very stressful. There will be (multiple) nights when you won’t get adequate sleep. You’ll want to stay up really late or get up early. This may be due to homework, extracurriculars (when the world opens up again), or scrolling through Tik Tok, but ultimately you might not be getting the recommended eight hours of sleep. Coffee (or even Adderall) will appear to be your best friend, but don’t let it trick you. If you are already feeling anxious, all coffee will do is heighten your anxiety and sabotage your goal of maximizing productivity. The only way you’ll achieve your best work is to get enough sleep! Prioritize your eight hours above anything else because only your well-being will allow you to truly succeed and enjoy your accomplishments.
7. Most importantly, do not compare yourself to others.
I know it’s easier said than done. When you are trying to concentrate on your own college application process, you will inevitably be distracted by other people’s success. For example, you could still be writing college applications when you hear that your friends have already submitted theirs, or you may be waitlisted from a college where others were admitted. It can be easy to put yourself down even when you know that you’re giving it your all if you’re always comparing yourself with your classmates. In the end, all you can do is your best. While you may feel like you’re not in control, remember that almost everyone around you is feeling the same way. Do not view your classmates as competition. Instead, study for a test together or keep each other accountable for due dates. You are all in it together, so why create animosity where solidarity can help everyone flourish?