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Image from Pexels

If you go to any website, blog, or forum about college, you’ll see it: a carefully-crafted list of schools that an applicant will apply to next cycle, accompanied by their GPA and SAT/ACT scores. Many times, applicants have spent hours on the colleges’ official sites, visited their campuses, and made connections with admissions counselors, all in hopes of getting into the schools of their dreams. All in all, people may seem very on top of the college process.

Not everyone is that fortunate. For a large variety of reasons, some people may have not even started their college list as seniors, and are unsure about what steps to take next. Maybe that is you. If it is, you know that the next few months will not just be finding colleges to apply to, but really getting to know them as a potential four-year investment, and completing the applications. Here are some tips for completing this notoriously long process in a short amount of time.

1. Sign up for a standardized test right away. 

Unless you are only applying to schools that are test-optional (I highly recommend having a few of these on your list), it is vital that you sign up for some sort of standardized testing right away. Most schools require an SAT or ACT score, as well as SAT Subject Tests. Be aware that you may not have long to study for these; keep this in mind when gathering a college list.

You cannot take the SATs and the SAT Subject Tests on the same weekend, so if these are two you plan on taking, plan accordingly. Here is a link to the SAT and ACT testing dates. Also note that it takes 19 days for College Board to release these scores. If a college requires a score by a certain date, make sure the test date you pick is not after this, unless you get permission from an admissions counselor.

2. Find schools that  meet your criteria.

What are some factors that are make-it-or-break-it? These are qualities that are essential to your college experience. Do you need four seasons, or do you abhor the snow? Do you need personal attention in the form of a small school, or the anonymity and resources of a larger university? Here is a list of a few more things to consider:

  • Geographic location
  • Do they have a program in your anticipated major?
  • Diversity
  • Strength of resources for disabled individuals
  • Greek life
  • Religious affiliation

Since you do not have much time, it’s good not to get too picky! If you head over to a library or bookstore, you can search through those massive college books that list basically every school in the U.S.

I’m sure you’ve heard the words “reach,” “match,” and “safety” thrown around a lot. If you have not, these are incredibly important terms! They describe three categories of difficulty for getting into college, depending on a person’s statistics. These include the selectivity as well as financial generosity. Reach schools are very difficult to get into, and very difficult to get merit money from–think Ivy Leagues and other schools with a 30% or less selectivity rate. Match schools are schools you have a higher chance of getting into, but it could really go either way. And safety schools are colleges whose average stats are much lower than yours, practically guaranteeing you admission and merit money.

Because it is incredibly difficult to come up with the money for college, I highly recommend applying to safety schools: if all goes wrong, you’ll have somewhere to go, and for a lot less money. Make sure your safety schools are ones you can actually see yourself attending, because you don’t want to be miserable there. Finally, remember, your safety school may be someone else’s reach school, so don’t bash on the safeties!

Show Your Interest–Quickly!

Many applicants are already on top of their game in terms of showing that they are seriously considering a school. However, no need to fret–there are very small things you can do to demonstrate interest. Signing up for a college’s mailing list, liking their Facebook page, and shooting an admissions counselor a few questions about their school all help. Depending on a school’s application date and geographical distance, it might not be too late to visit the campus and interview with the school. Note that the season for interviews have already started, and depending on the school, the last interviews are offered sometime between October and January. All of these things are especially important for your safety schools, which feel more confident accepting overqualified students (see: Tuft’s Syndrome).

Ask for Recommendations

A deadly mistake is to put your recommender down before having asked them if they will write you one. Whether is is an email (or preferably) in person, ask first! It is a common courtesy to ask for recommendations from teachers and other authority figures far in advance of the deadline. That way, they don’t rush a part of your application that is incredibly important. Make sure you supply them with a brag sheet, that way they are aware of what you have accomplished: here is a link to an excellent brag sheet guide. Don’t forget to send a handwritten thank-you note after your recommendation is completed!

If you start now, with a lot of research and communication, you can absolutely catch up! The final stages of the process are ones you can go through together with your fellow classmates: the CommonApp, the application submissions, and the admissions decisions. Best of luck, seniors!

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the author

Lillian is a member of the Pitzer Class of 2017, where she is an anticipated Biology major. She is a first-generation college student that is interested in dental medicine (floss please!), mental health, visual arts, and political activism. Combining these interests, it is Lillian's life goal to heal communities on a micro and macro scale through medicine, art, and activism. You can learn more about her on her personal website. Since she will be retiring from TP at the end summer '14 in order to prepare for her study abroad in Ecuador, please subscribe to her blog to follow her journey!

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