It’s been over a year since I applied to college and looking back on the process, there’s so much I wish I would have done differently. Since I can’t go back in time and fix my mistakes, I figured I’d take time to share them with all of you today, in the hopes that you will learn from my mistakes and instead make your own. Without further ado, here are some lessons I learned.
1. Ignore the name and look at what the school has that you are interested in.
This one might seem kind of odd to those of you who are going through this process now but I assure you, it’s one of my biggest regrets. Throughout the entirety of your high school career, all you hear about is how important it is to get into a “good” school but no one really goes into detail about what makes a school “good”.
I applied to so many schools just for their name and their name’s “prestige”, completely neglecting what the school has to offer. I didn’t even think about sports teams or clubs and I completely ignored night life and the social scene. All I thought about was how many people were going to “know” the school I chose to attend. I’m realizing now that this was one of the biggest mistakes I made. Luckily, I got into an amazing school that had everything I wanted and although it’s not as well known yet (it’s considered an “up and coming” school), I couldn’t see myself anywhere else. In hindsight, I wish I had applied to more schools like the one I’m going to just so I could have had my options open.
2. Don’t apply to schools that your friends are applying to; don’t not apply to a school because no one else is.
I cannot stress how important this one is. Just because all of your friends are applying to a school does not mean that you need to. If you think that you can see yourself at that school, apply to it.
However, if you know in your heart that you would never go there, don’t apply just because everyone is. Application fees are expensive and there’s literally no reason to pay $75 to apply to a school you already know you would never go to. In the same sense, just because none of your friends are applying to a school doesn’t mean you can’t. Don’t be afraid of being the only one at your school from your hometown; it’s actually become the biggest blessing in disguise and I wish I had applied to more of my ideal schools even though no one else did.
3. Don’t apply for any specific program or major; apply for the experience as a whole.
I’m beginning to realize more and more how true this one is. I went into the application process looking for schools that were amazing for Political Science because that’s always been what I want to major in. I ended up knocking schools off my list that weren’t necessarily the best for PoliSci and in retrospect, this was probably one of the worst things I could have done. So many people end up changing their major as they go on to college and realize that they’re not studying what they’re passionate about and if this ends up happening to you, if you chose a program just based on the program, you may find yourself at a loss when you decide to switch your major and realize that the school isn’t good for your newly decided major.
In addition to this, you may be at the best school for your major and be loving it academically but end up hating it socially because you can’t find anything on campus that you’re interested in. Instead, I’d recommend applying to schools that have a broad range of topics to study, all of which are filled with great faculty and can provide you a superb education regardless of what field of study you choose as well as looking on the school’s website and making sure there are a few clubs or sports that you would like to be involved in/with.
4. Proximity is important. Only go away from home if you truly feel that it is the right thing to do for yourself, not just because you want the “full experience.”
This is something I think a lot of people struggle with. For so many high schoolers, the prospect of getting out of their hometown and “seeing the world” is one that’s the driving force behind their college decisions. So many people, myself included, can’t wait to get out of their hometown and explore with new people. While I’m incredibly lucky to go to a school that is close enough to home for me to come home, not all of you will be.
If coming home frequently is something you’d like to do, whether it’s to see your family or just to get a break from campus, you may want to apply to schools that make it possible for you to come home frequently. I have so many friends from high school who literally went to California, Texas or Illinois (I’m from Central NJ) and find themselves longing for a visit home in the middle of the semester. They were excited to leave and they love their schools but they still want to be able to come home. This is such a common feeling and although everyone feels homesick at some point, if you’re the type to actually want to come home, make sure you’re close enough to do so. Just because everyone else is going to these faraway places doesn’t mean that you have to if you know in your heart that it isn’t the right thing for you.
5. You don’t have to tell everyone where you ended up applying to. In fact, tell as few as possible.
This is something that many don’t realize until they’re completely removed from the subject, however, telling a bunch of people where you’re applying actually does more harm than good. Nearly everyone is passionate about where they went to school and they want to get as many people as possible to go there too. This includes teachers, family friends, older cousins, etc. They will try to influence you to apply to their Alma and all of a sudden, your entire list will change.
In addition to this, asking friends where they applied and then telling them where you did might lead to you being tempted to apply somewhere just because a friend did (see number 3). These people all mean well, but there’s no reason to tell everyone everything about your final list. Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with modifying your list as time goes on and you do a little more research. However, there’s also no need to modify it on a daily basis simply based on recommendations from others. Find people who you know have your best interest at heart and whose opinions you truly trust and go over your list with them. In terms of the others, just say you applied to a lot and don’t want to list them all or tell them and be strong enough to stick with your initial gut instinct when it came to making your list.
6. Before you stress about test scores, check and see how much weight they actually carry.
Now that so many are growing to be opposed to standardized testing, many universities and colleges are straying away from holding the SAT or ACT as the deciding factor. In fact, at Quinnipiac, the SAT isn’t even worth half of your acceptance. I know I was having full on breakdowns over my SAT score about a year and a half ago and I wish I would have done my research and learned that most of the schools I applied to do not even hold the SAT or ACT or any other form of testing to such a high standard.
Obviously, you should aim to get good scores on these exams but if you don’t make sure you know that it’s not the end of the world and that getting your apps in on time and all the other stuff on your resume will be able to save you room a poor score.
7. One person’s experience at a school may not end up being your experience too. If it’s your dream, apply no matter what.
This is a very personal one for me as right before I ended up applying to QU, I talked to a girl from my hometown who transferred out because she didn’t like it as a school. I remember being so scared about this because I didn’t want to apply to my dream school and then be disappointed if I ended up there. I’m so glad I ended up applying anyway because now that I go here, I’m more in love with it than I thought possible. I couldn’t see myself anywhere else. Don’t give up (or even come close to giving up) on your dream school. It’s your dream for a reason and it’s yours, not anyone else’s.
I hope that my mistakes helped you out a little bit. Good luck to everyone who is currently wrapping up application season. You’re in the home stretch now guys, don’t give up just yet!