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I don’t think anyone is ever really ready to do college applications. It’s a ridiculously lengthy and stressful process that no amount of AP classes will ever prepare you for. Looking back well over a year later, I realize that there were many things I definitely would have benefited from knowing as I got ready to submit my application.

1. What I actually wanted in a school

I was so incredibly all over the place with my college list. I applied to huge schools and tiny schools, schools in the city and in the middle of nowhere Virginia. Liberal arts and research. Greek life and no Greek life. As a seventeen-year-old, I wanted a school that was pretty, had good financial aid, and that was far away. Those aren’t very stringent criteria and, as a result, my college list lacked a thesis and supporting evidence. I wish I had been more in tune with myself. It’s super important to take a really close look at what you really want out of your college experience and look for schools that will actually give you that.

2. Some schools take demonstrated interest REALLY seriously

I wasn’t able to visit many schools until after decisions came out for financial reasons and had I known how important it was to visit some schools, I wouldn’t have bothered applying. For other schools, if I had known this earlier, I could have requested more information or gone to an extra event in my area, or even sent an email to an admissions officer (see number #3). But by November of my senior year, it was a little too late.

3. How the heck to send a quality email to an admissions officer

I never figured out how to do this. I always heard it was a good thing to do, because it creates a more “personal relationship” with the admissions office, but all of my questions were answered on school websites and I didn’t want to be annoying. I worried about sending emails like this a lot and once I had 35 drafts to the same college saved in my inbox, so I gave up.

4. I wish I had known about rankings other than US News

I thought that that was the end all be all for ranking lists and was obsessed with going to a top 28 school (the number was arbitrary, but it felt important at the time). After a while, I found Princeton Review lists which have a little more personality and are more of a gauge for fit than anything. More recently I found Forbes rankings, which make a lot more sense to me than any others. The return on investment list has some pretty valuable information, especially in comparison to US News’ “This school is the best because we say so.”

5. It would have been helpful to know that you kind of can’t put a price on happiness

Of course, student loans are terrifying and you don’t want your parents to go bankrupt, but within the realm of reason, it can make sense to choose the school that makes you feel the most like yourself and the most comfortable. When I was applying, I believed that I could be content and happy anywhere, but it’s true that you will only really thrive when you are confident in your surroundings. Don’t sell your soul to go to college, but don’t blindly pick the highest ranked college or the one that costs 2k less a year.

6. Most depressing of all, I wish I had known how much college application season was going to suck

I wish I had been prepared for how disappointed I would be (the success stories of student’s who’s stats were similar to mine on College Confidential did not help with this). I wasn’t expecting to get in everywhere, but I was expecting to have more than two feasible options. I thought that everything would work out–I was realistic in my choices, done well in school, and given the supplements my all.

I knew a lot when I was applying to college. I was painfully well researched and felt very confident in my knowledge going into it. Retrospectively, I was missing a lot. I saw small details more than the big picture. There were also some things that I just did not get. Learn from my mistakes. When you think you’ve figured it all out, think again.

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the author

Kathleen is a Northern California native and incoming freshman at Washington & Lee University. She spends much of her free time obsessing over the future (not in a crystal ball way) and making plans to visit as many countries as humanly possible throughout her four years of college. She loves her dog Morton, Grey's Anatomy, and money. One day she hopes to become the perfect mix of Cristina Yang, Mindy Kaling, April Kepner, and Amy Poehler. Until then you can find her crying over how exciting life is and retaking the Myer's Briggs Test to make sure she really is ENTJ.

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