OPINION: How The College Process “Ruined” My Life

 

By Haby Sondo

I know, the title seems a bit dramatic. But it is, in fact, my reality. Although I know which college I’m going to now, and I’m really proud of it, I think back to the beginning of the process and can see how much it has changed my life, and ruined a great portion of my senior year. So this article is going to chronicle my journey throughout senior year, my false expectations, and my difficulty with properly balancing both college and school work together.

In September, I was really convinced that great things were going to come out of this process. I am a part of Sponsors for Educational Opportunity (SEO) and received a massive amount of help with my Personal Essay, Supplements, and Scholarship Essays. Although this help made the process easier, I still found myself stressed nearly every day. My first piece of advice would be to get a planner! Since there are so many things you will have to do on a daily basis this year, having a day-to-day list of what you need to be completed in order to reach your goals will make senior year less stressful. I can honestly say that my planner has become my best friend and has held me together when I felt like I was drowning (which was nearly the entire year).

 

One thing people tend to forget about college is that it is not only about your numbers and your stats, but what you are able to show about yourself on paper through writing. Since I know writing is my strong suit, I never missed an opportunity to improve my written pieces. I went to SEO nearly twice a week to perfect all of my college application writing, which must include a Personal Statement and a Supplement.

You can find the personal essay prompt on the CommonApp. I advise Juniors to start working on perfecting their personal statements during the summer (if you have not already started) then to send it to a teacher to look over. There are three prompts, one of which you must choose to write an essay (maximum of 650 words) to send to your colleges.

This essay can be what makes or breaks your college acceptance. Make sure that whatever you write about is true to YOURSELF. Don’t look to other personal statements to define what you already know about your life. Tell something about yourself that makes you different. This can be difficult (because we are more alike as people in more ways than we believe), but you can do this by talking about something that not many people can duplicate, such as your family circumstances, and how they have shaped you.

Another thing I learned about the essay this year is that you do not have to write about a life-changing event to make your story stand out more. The best essays I have read were about the simplest of topics but were able to connect to ideas in or about the world in a very unique way. Don’t feel forced to talk about something extremely sad or extremely happy because the topic of the essay is not what matters. What matters is its authenticity, the story it tells, and the message it sends about you to the admissions board.

Supplements, on the other hand, are additional pieces of writing which work to add another facet to your application, so the colleges can get a sense of what you know about them, and why you chose that school. Some supplements are as simple as “Why Syracuse?” while others as odd as “What is Orange?”

Make sure you don’t talk too much about the school in your supplement (the admissions staff already know how great the school is, and how it works). Your essay needs to describe yourself at that school as a new student in a way that helps them imagine why you should be there! You always want to make sure that your supplement is unique, and that no other student has used it before. That is because the originality of your supplement is ultimately what will make you stand out from everyone else.

Also, get people to take a second look at all of your work so that you can turn in your best EFFORT! This can be a teacher, a writing coach, and a friend too. Read your work aloud so you can see how it sounds to someone else. Use grammarly.com for grammar checks because no one wants to not get accepted into their dream college because of simple misspellings or poor sentence structure.

Another fundamental part of this college process is teacher recommendations. BEGIN GATHERING RECOMMENDATIONS AS EARLY AS THE END OF YOUR JUNIOR YEAR!!! Teachers have a lot of recommendations to write during Senior year since everyone waits to do things at the last minute. To make sure that this is not you, talk to the teachers you want recommendations from, and get their emails when school ends (after Junior year of course). This way, you can write them an email in August asking them to write you a recommendation, and since yours will be the first request, they will put a great deal of time, energy, and thought into writing you the best letter possible.

One tip I tried to use was to get recommendation letters from a diverse range of teachers – AP Literature and Composition, Physics, and AP Calculus. I also got a recommendation from a program manager at SEO who knew me on a personal level and could talk to the admissions staff about my leadership qualities outside of the classroom. This way, the admissions staff could see how I was performing in two different settings. I found that providing teachers with my full resume so that they knew of other activities I engaged in outside of the school setting was also helpful. This might include any special research or volunteer projects you have done, and will give your teachers more great things to write about for your recommendation.

In conjunction with completing all of these different components of the application process, you must remember your schoolwork as well (hence my title). I decided to take two AP Classes–BC Calculus and AP Literature–so my schoolwork never stopped. For AP Lit, I had to read loads of books and attempt to analyze and understand them within short periods of time. Meanwhile, BC Calculus involved me going to tutoring nearly every Wednesday in order for me to understand the concept material in class.

 

I was also participating in four extra-curricular activities while continuing my SAT Prep during the first half of the semester. Work was piling on top of work. Nearly every day I was awake until 2 am completing school work and getting my college stuff perfected because I was not playing any games! NO MATTER WHAT, I knew I wanted to get into a great college (although the description “great” can mean something different to everyone).

In order to figure out what a great college means to you, you need to evaluate your own “fit” factors. Fit factors are basically what makes a college right for you, and what can help you break down choosing between the hundreds of colleges in the United States. Here is a breakdown of some fit factors from one of my classmates:

EAST COAST 
Closed Campus – the campus is in a gated community, meaning people can not randomly walk in or around it.  A closed campus is the opposite of NYU’s campus which is spread around throughout the city.
Suburban or Urban – Suburban schools can have closed campuses which are near a major city. Other schools (Like NYU) have an Urban Campus, meaning the campus is spread around throughout the whole city and are not put together in one specific area.

MEDIUM OR LARGE?

The size of a campus and the student enrollment can matter no matter where go. Decide if you study better in a smaller, less congested environment or if you will thrive in a large, diverse, and densely populated college.

Based on these factors, a guidance counselor can find it easier to suggest schools for you.

I ended up applying to 6 CUNY’s, 4 SUNY’s, and 13 Private Colleges. Each category of school was further divided into SAFETY, TARGETS, and REACHES.

“SAFETY”

–A school you are MOST LIKELY going to get into because your stats are higher than their average.
“TARGETS”

–A school you are PROBABLY going to get into because your stats are in the range of what they are looking for.

“REACHES”

— Schools which you really like, but your stats are not necessarily at their average levels. You are always taking a chance by applying to reaches.
I applied for my SUNY and Private Colleges through the CommonApp, but you can also apply to SUNY through their designated portal. CUNY must be applied to through their online portal, and for some Privates–like Georgetown–you need to apply through their website.

After you select your schools, there are other things that you will have to work on such as financial aid, waitlist letters, and SCHOLARSHIPS (because no one is honestly trying to pay for college).
1. –If you get a financial aid letter which you do not feel your family can afford, you have the right to appeal this letter! This appeal letter should talk about your current financial aid package, and then it should SELL to the admissions boards a reason why the college should invest in your education. (This is why it is important to keep your grades up for the ENTIRETY of Senior YEAR and not let Senioritis get to you). You should talk about how you have maintained your grades, the AP Classes you are taking to continue to challenge yourself, and extracurriculars you are continuing to take. Tell them why that specific school is your DREAM school and how you cannot see yourself anywhere else but that school. This email will usually be emailed to the financial aid office of your college.

2. –If you get put on a waitlist for your top choice, write a letter of appeal (if they allow it). This letter is like the financial aid letter, but it is just one that should function to actually get you into the school. Talk about special programs the school has, what makes it different, and what you can specifically contribute to their campus!

Help with the Financial Side

1.– Apply for at least one scholarship each month. If you can handle it, go for more. I say this because college and books can be REALLY expensive! You want to make sure you are getting the most money possible and staying away from loans (especially if you want to go to grad school). If you take your chances, you may win at least one scholarship which can make a huge difference to your financial aid package!

2.–Keep your grades UP! Colleges continue to look at your grades when you get into college and they look at your first semester grades of Senior year as well. It is important to put your best foot forward and show them that you are not falling victim to senioritis and that you have the ability to end the year strong. A lot of students forget that college is like a contract, and the admissions board has the right to revoke your acceptance if you are not performing as highly as you were when you first applied. Grades still matter, so make sure you continue to do well. It will all pay off in the long run. If you get put on a waitlist but you had phenomenal grades for your senior year, this looks REALLY GREAT! Colleges will see that you are taking initiative and that you are committed to attending their school by bettering yourself.

3.– This last tip is more school related.  Senioritis is a real thing, and honestly difficult to avoid. I, as well as many of my friends, fell victim to it because after the first semester, school honestly just feels useless and hopeless. You feel overwhelmed and are just waiting for the results from all the hard work you put in at the beginning of the semester. Teachers will seem to go as far as to give you unnecessary amounts of homework, plus busy-work during class time, which can get annoying. But remember, that there is an END to everything! As long as you remind yourself of your end goal–which is to do well in life and get into college–senioritis will not follow you.

Large Scholarships:
Questbridge
Ron Brown Scholarship
New York Times Scholarship
Horatio Alger Scholarship
Coca-Cola Scholarship
Burger King Scholarship
Dell Scholarship
POSSE Scholarship

 

Below are different scholarship sites which can give you a list of scholarships based on your interests.
Scholly.com – Scholarship Site
Fastweb.com – Scholarship Site

These two websites below are good for comparing different colleges (cost, size, student body). They also include opinions from current students which can give you an honest perspective on those colleges you are looking to attend.
Niche.com
Collegegreenlight.com

 

 

So now that I’ve finished giving you general tips and advice, you’re probably thinking: “So. . . how exactly  did the College Process ruin your life?”  What I didn’t talk about in the midst of all of this was the emotional impact that this process has on you, and the toll that it can have on your mental health. Some people may read this and say: “If she’s complaining about this, wait ’till she gets to college!” I know college is a whole different ballgame with much more work, and I feel like this process prepares you for that in some way. So many different things are thrown at you, left and right, while you’re trying to figure out what you may want to do in the future, who you are and what you’re passionate about, that it seems like it never ends.  First, there’s the rush to perfect your essay, then there’s the rush to complete your actual application, and then the urgent need to complete your financial aid package. Then finally there’s the need to evaluate each college decision you’ve received so you can make a final choice and BE CONTENT with that choice. In doing all of this, you may forget to actually live and enjoy your remaining year of high school, as I did. So, yeah, that’s how the college process “ruined me.”

Another last tip – getting into college itself is a phenomenal accomplishment. Remember that it’s not about what school you go to, but what you do in the school you go to. I found that many of my peers were a bit embarrassed to say where they were going because it did not compare to the more selective colleges/universities they saw everyone else getting into. Do not compare yourself to ANYONE ELSE. Your accomplishments are your own. Wherever you go, CUNY, SUNY, PRIVATE, or COMMUNITY COLLEGE, own your decision, and make it for yourself and no one else.

 

Each person has their own individual circumstances, and that is why they choose a particular school.  Recognize this and be proud of your choice.

I wish you nothing but the best of luck! Stay positive, stay bold, and remember your end goal. There is nothing left for you to do but succeed.