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Feeling alone as you swim through the terrifying waters known as the college admission process? Have no fear! We have several seniors blogging about ups, downs, and random in-betweens of their college process for the next 12 months (from June 2015 to June 2016!). Sit back, relax, and get that “OMG I totally get you, bro” feeling. Information for how to contact a blogger will be at the bottom of his/her posts.

Hello TP readers! Greetings from the Water Tribe, aka the 3rd floor of the Rutgers University BEST dormitory. BEST stands for Busch, Engineering, Science and Technology, but the acronym is well-deserved considering how incredibly nice the rooms are. I am living in them this month in order to attend the NJ Governor’s School of Engineering and Technology. GSET is a summer camp for science nerds such as myself who relish the idea of spending their time taking classes in Modern Physics, Robotics, topics in various engineering disciplines such as Materials Science, Civil, and Biomedical, and conducting research projects with Rutgers University faculty members.

Anyway, one of the perks of GSET is being able to spend time with RTAs (Residential Teaching Assistants). RTAs are college students who act as both camp counselors and research mentors to the GSET scholars. I’ve only been at GSET for a week but I’ve already gotten a TON of advice on the subject of “college.” I also came to a realization that I had been unsure about at the time of my last post.

For the sake of communicating a lot of information in a short amount of time, I’ve made a list:

1. Don’t give too much weight to college rankings. They’re often skewed by notions of prestige and post-undergrad academics/research, and so may not accurately communicate the best colleges to attend. Instead, go to college websites and speak with current students to get an idea of what undergraduate life is like.

2. Try to find colleges that harbor a collaborative learning environment. One of the RTAs stated that, coming out of high school, he was pretty introverted. He said this was fine, but in addition to his reserved manner he also believed that he could accomplish his goals strictly by himself. This was wrong, and he realized that in order to succeed in college he had to work with his peers to understand material, and to secure a network of connections for future opportunities.

3. Look for colleges that are flexible. Even though I believe I want to have a career in STEM when I grow up, I may change my mind during my undergraduate years. Therefore it is a good idea to apply to colleges that don’t require you to declare your major before you are accepted, and those in which transferring between schools is fairly uncomplicated.

4. Play the college game. This advice is the courtesy of my sister’s friend from Carnegie Mellon. The RTA I was speaking to warned us against becoming attached to one specific college, especially a selective one. However, if you do have a particular college or small number of colleges that you would really like to attend, it is prudent to show your interest as enthusiastically as possible. This means signing up for information sessions, college tours, Shadow a Student programs, and more. Doing this will demonstrate to the college that you are ready to commit yourself to achieving success should you be accepted.

5. Don’t visit colleges over the summer. It’s important to get a feel for the college atmosphere beyond academics, and if you visit in the summer it’s hard to track down students who can share their experiences and anecdotes to help you characterize the college. It’s interesting because this advice also comes from my sister and her friends, who are rising sophomores at CMU.

However, the RTA whom I was speaking with, who is going to attend grad school at Cornell next year, suggested only visiting colleges after you’ve been accepted, since it allows you to spend your time exploring college environments you have a definite choice to immerse yourself in later. In my opinion, if you have the time, you should visit a large portion of the schools on your list, just to ask students there for their opinion. If certain schools require you to demonstrate strong interest, then you should go on tours and attend info sessions.

6. Love the college you end up going to. This is something agreed upon by all of the people I spoke with. After all, you’re going to spend 4 years there living and preparing for the rest of your life. Your college experience will be what you make it, but you want a college that will provide you with those opportunities to develop and mature into a better person. They warned against choosing a college out of parent pressure or prestige, which is something I’m struggling with a bit at the moment.

This advice has drastically altered my mindset with respect to continuing my college admissions journey. In my first post, I indicated that I would be making a spreadsheet of colleges and various facts about them. After incorporating the advice I’ve received since, I’ve backtracked and been trying to create a final list of colleges to include on that spreadsheet. This has been pretty hard.

I know I definitely want to pursue science or engineering in some form in college. That said I’ve been looking into universities and avoiding liberal arts schools. However, I still want to continue my education in violin (perhaps as a minor) and in Latin. I also strongly believe that humanities and arts help people adopt creative thinking skills that are useful in any profession. For that reason, I don’t want to attend to STEM-oriented schools that are extremely small, since they might not have strong music and humanities programs. So, I’ve been searching for well-rounded universities on Google. Inevitably this leads to college rankings, which may or may not give an accurate comparison of certain colleges.

My parents have also been involved in this college search, and their opinions, as well as pressure to be successful in front of my peers and community, have been affecting my college list. Specifically, these influences have been making my college list very large and tedious, since many of the colleges I added have long writing supplements. I know this isn’t the ‘right’ way to approach the college admissions process, since as one of my RTAs explained, I don’t want to look back on senior year and realized that the college admissions process consumed my time and efforts when I could have been focusing on my final stretch of childhood.

Overall, until my next post I’ll have to search for that balance between trying too hard at college admissions/ possibly compromising other important factors in my life, and not letting any important opportunities (in the form of applications from certain colleges) slip through my fingers. I can’t wait to tell you what I find out next month! Hopefully I’ll have the spreadsheet ready by then.


Want to get in touch with Shivani? Email, and she’ll write you back ASAP!

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