College Factors: What to Let Go and What to Embrace

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It is that time of year when seniors feel that the college process is getting real!

In just two short months, the early application deadline of November 1st will be here, so now is the time to focus on what you have control over and to let go of what you do not.



Factors outside of your control (recognize these, but then let them go):

-competitiveness of the applicant pool

-a college’s preference for in-state vs. out-of-state applicants

-# and competitiveness of students applying to your major

-needs of the university

-how admissions staff measure the desirability of applicants

-the essay questions you are asked to answer

-competitiveness of your high school

-biological and background factors (race, income, etc.)

-the mood and perspective of your reviewer

Factors within your control (prioritize these, and give them your best effort):

-your course selection

-the quality of your essays and application

-what is on your resume (how you’ve chosen to spend your free time)

-who writes your recommendation letters

-your desired major

-where you apply

-how you engage with colleges

-seeking out resources in your school and community

I could write about all of these in-depth, but today I will focus on quick tips for the things you do have control over.

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1-Your course selection: As a senior, you WILL be judged by colleges for the classes you take your senior year. They want to make sure you are academically prepared to be successful in college, and that you are someone who enjoys learning (because that is what you are supposed to do in college, right?) Before you are no longer able to change your schedule, reflect on whether or not you are challenging yourself appropriately.

2-The quality of your essays and applications: I have been working with students all summer on their essays because crafting strong college essays takes time. Prioritize working on your essays and applications now, even if that means giving up something fun on the weekends, so you have time to revise them…and revise them…and revise them again.

3-What is on your resume/how you’ve chosen to spend your time: As a senior, you don’t have a lot of time to add to your resume. What you can do is highlight what you have contributed to or gained from the organizations or activities you have been involved with. In your applications, answer these questions: Did I do something specific that would make me hard to replace? Did one of my ideas inspire others? Did I develop mastery of a skill or learn a new one? Did the experience change the way I view something? Colleges want to know this information.

4-Who writes your letters of recommendation: Make sure to ask teachers, coaches, employers, or advisors that know you very well and who can highlight specific, (and different, if asking for more than one recommendation) positive traits. Help your recommenders by sharing with them your future goals and what you want colleges to know about you.

5-Your desired major: Some majors are more competitive than others (i.e. engineering, art, and computer science). Do your research to make sure that you:

  • Understand what that major entails (look at the 4-year curriculum plan) and are excited about what you see
  • Meet the requirements suggested for your major (some programs require or recommend certain math classes or standardized tests, for example)

6-Where you apply: This is a big one. You have control over where you apply. Your friends do not; nor do your neighbors or well-meaning family members who don’t truly understand your needs, wants, and values. Focus on those three things (needs, wants, and values) when finalizing your list. Think long-term: “In four years, I want to….” (fill in the blank with your financial, academic, and social experience goals).

7-How you engage with colleges: September and October are the months that colleges are on the road visiting high schools, hosting admission events, and offering interviews. Have you connected with each of your colleges in a meaningful way? Now is the time to research if and when they will be visiting your area. Regardless of whether a college tracks demonstrated interest, a smart college consumer will be connecting with colleges as part of their research before making this big investment and decision.

8-Seek out resources in your community: This process can be overwhelming, but there are knowledgeable people and resources to help you. First and foremost, you should talk to your high school counselor. If they are unable to give you the attention you desire, ask them for additional resources or try this resource. Or, of course, you can contact me. 😊