A Complete Guide to College Applications: My Experience

Every college has it’s arch.

April 13 2012

UPDATE below

Read part 1 and part 2 before this if you have not already.

Now, I will give my overall experience. This was a stressful process. Combined with 6 AP classes, sports, and clubs, I was ridiculously stressed at points.

I remember being up till 1-2 in the morning consistently. However, when I was done, I felt great about myself. I knew that how I completed this process would affect the rest of my life so I made sure that I made my applications the best that they could be. In hindsight, I wish I was much more organized. I realize that I was very lucky to have an older and wise sister (Love you!) to guide me through this process. It’s hard to remember all the details and emotions of how I felt since I’m doing this in hindsight. But, at the time, I had so much to do that I couldn’t update this series. So, I apologize.

My first admissions decision came on December 9th. It was from my dream school, Columbia University. I kept trying to prepare myself for rejection so I wouldn’t be devastated by it if it occurred. I came home from wrestling practice and immediately did my homework while I still had motivation. Then, after eating dinner, I sat down with my parents and logged into my account on Columbia’s website.

I opened my decision. I kind of had this feeling that I would get accepted and be completely surprised. I felt like I was due for something great to happen. Unfortunately, I read a rejection a letter. The words “We had many talented applicants, and we’re sorry to inform you that we cannot offer you a spot” were devastating.

20 minutes from Chicago? #Bucketz

You could say I was depressed for a little while after. It killed me to realize that I did not achieve what I had worked so hard for in high school. I had experienced failure before, but this was something new. My family tried to console me, but it, initially, did not work. I had no motivation for awhile. My self-esteem was at a low point. It didn’t help that I was hearing about other people getting accepted into colleges.

Now, I realize that this self-pity was a complete waste of time. After about 3 days, I realized that I did the best that I could, and that was all that I could ask for. I looked at the websites of other colleges I was interested in to take my mind off Columbia. This experience probably made me a stronger person. I had never had a rejection as big as this (unless you count Homecoming of Sophomore year). Moral of the story: DON’T LET REJECTION GET YOU DOWN. LIFE GOES ON, AND IT’S NOT THE END OF THE WORLD.

A few weeks later, I received my first acceptance letter from the University of Michigan. I don’t know why it felt so great. I kept thinking, “I’m going to college!”, and that is a great feeling.

I hope you’ve learned from my experiences. It’s been one stressful hell of a ride. The college admissions process is important and will affect the rest of your life. So, don’t half-ass it.

If you have any questions or want to hear more, please leave some comments or reach me at amody33@gmail.com. I’ll update you on the colleges that accepted me when I hear back in April from them.

In the past two weeks, I heard back from all the colleges to which I applied. Sadly, little good news followed. Out of the 7 schools I was waiting to hear back from, I only got into 1. However, this time, rejection from Ivies and top schools didn’t phase me. Having experience rejection before, I emerged from this experience more content with the outcome.

After thinking about different options for a little bit, I committed to Northwestern University the other day, and I’m extremely excited. It’s close to home, the alma mater of my sister, and has the number one party dorm in the nation ;). The future looks bright. Go Wildcats!

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A Complete Guide to College Applications

7 march 2012

Hey internet! It’s been a LONG time since my last update. I’m done with all of my applications, and let me tell you, it was hell!

I ended up applying to 11 schools, including 4 Ivy League schools as well as other top universities. I’m going to break up this article to talk about every aspect of my college applications before I tell you some of my early decision results. If you want some more details or have a question, leave a comment.

Teacher Recommendations:

Do this early! When picking teachers to ask, make sure you pick teachers that you’ve had during your junior or senior year. No college admission officer is going to care about how you successfully transferred from middle school to freshmen English. Also, don’t pick the teacher of the class that you consistently are late to or fall asleep in (Sorry, Mrs. Brand).

This is what my workspace would look like while
working on college applications at midnight.
 Learn from me, and stay organized!

Your teacher should think well of you and know you well as a student and as a person. You may even want to tell your teacher more about yourself so they know what is important to you. Give your teachers enough time so they can write your recommendation letters well. Expect at least two-three weeks for a complete letter.

Some teachers will allow you to read the letter when they are done, but some will prefer that you don’t read them. Don’t worry if your teacher doesn’t want you to read their letters. No good teacher would agree to write a recommendation if they did not particularly like you. Some teachers just prefer their letters to be confidential.

When your teachers are done with your letters, make sure that you thank them. They didn’t have to write your letter. Nothing shows gratefulness like a nice card and some chocolate.

I asked my AP US History, English, and AP Chemistry teacher for letters of recommendation. Although most schools only required two recommendations, I got three because some schools allowed for an optional third letter. My awesome AP US History teacher even wrote me specific, tailor-made, letters for each school. Honestly, I think I kind of pissed her off because of the amount of schools that I was applying to and my unclear communication about applying to some schools.

So, let that be a lesson to you: Communicate with your teachers.

You want them to think very highly of you when they write your letters. Also, my AP Chemistry teacher decided to interview me before writing the letter. It was a simple, comfortable interview where he asked about my future goals and extracurriculars. He allowed me to see the letter that he wrote, and it was very well done. Generally, all of my teachers were more than happy to help me.

Transcript and Counselor Report:

Do this early too! (A pretty common theme if you haven’t noticed) Make sure to talk to your counselor as soon as possible because many of your classmates will be trying to get your counselor’s attention as well.

Make sure your counselor knows your goals. If you’re applying to top universities, make sure your counselor knows so he or she knows to put a good amount of effort into your report. The counselor probably has hundreds of reports to work on, so make sure you let her know where you’re applying to and what you’re thinking about majoring in. You also might want to ask your counselor for a modified report for scholarships at this time as well.

If you’re using the Common App, the transcript is easy to send. Your counselor will just upload it to the Common App site, and it will be sent to your school. If you’re not using the Common App, make sure that you mail official transcripts (ones with the little indented seals in them) to your schools. Your school may make you pay for each hard copy sent.

I have a pretty good relationship with my guidance counselor. I sent everything in well before the due date. Luckily, all of the schools except for two used the Common Application, so I didn’t need to spend that much money on sending transcripts. But, when first semester ended, I kind of forgot about telling my counselor to send my semester grades to colleges.

So, they ended up being late. Also, I think my counselor also got annoyed because she had to send in my semester grades at the last minute. Oops.

Test Scores:

Test scores are a crucial part of your application, and they are another easy thing that you can send quickly. You don’t want to have to scramble to figure out which test scores to send. The important thing is to make sure that your test scores meet the requirements for the schools that you are applying to.

If you got a 28 on your ACT, you may want to retake it before applying to Ivy League schools. Most schools have no preference between the SAT and ACT. Also, some of the top universities require SAT Subject Tests, which are 1 hour tests on specific subjects such as Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Spanish, English and more.

Note that if you choose to send the ACT, you may be forced to pay more money than if you sent the SAT.

UW-Madison sent me a letter. Michigan sent
me a shirt. The ball is in your court, Madison.

That’s because the cheap ACT people charge a separate price for each score sent. In contrast, the SAT will only charge you one price for sending all the test scores you wish to send to one university. If money is tight, consider this.

If you try to take tests during your senior year, make sure you know the last date that your school will accept scores from. Also, follow directions! If a college says on its website that it requires you to send all of your test scores, than send all of your test scores! Although they’re a pain in the ass, test results are one of the most important parts of your application, but they don’t make an application by itself.

There are countless examples of kids with mediocre test scores getting into top colleges. Note that AP scores are not required to be sent in an official score report. When you decide on a college, then you can send official AP score reports. But, for now, just self-report them.

My test scores were where they needed to be. Well, kind of. My ACT was where it needed to be, but my SAT was a bit below average for the Ivy League applicant. I also decided to retake some SAT subject tests because one of my subject test scores was low. I ended up sending my ACT along with SAT subject tests in Chemistry, US History, and Math Level II. Using the ACT and CollegeBoard website, I sent them to all of my schools.

Nothing too complicated compared to the tests themselves.

In my next post on my college apps process, I’ll talk about my experience with essay writing and financial aid, and I’ll summarized how I felt at the end of the process when faced with acceptance and rejection. Til then!

For more honest insight, check out this post:
Where to Begin Your College Search

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One thought on “A Complete Guide to College Applications

  1. As an independent college counselor, I think this is a great way to help high school students who are just starting the college admissions process or at least thinking about college. It is always better to hear this information from another student than it is to hear it from your Mom or Dad or a high school counselor. You've been there and that helps a lot. I love to pass posts like this onto the students with whom I am working. You've given some good pointers.

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