I think that the difficulty of the college admissions process is underrated. It is stressful, tedious, and altogether horrible. Throughout the process, there are countless adults that will hear your complaints and say things like "What matters is that you end up somewhere you'll be happy," and "Just let your true colors shine through your application," as if you could figure out how to allow any colors to shine through your Common App, much less your "true" ones.
These parents, relatives, and family friends who are so far removed from this process, as many a teenage girl has whined on a sitcom, "Just don't understand!!!!" It's true! The college application process has changed a lot since our parents did it, and it's still changing every year. (Did you hear about what they're doing to the SAT!!??) Having just completed this process myself, and considering how happy I am here at Oberlin, behold my plethora of knowledge on applying to college:
Start thinking about college early.
In this case, your parents are correct. It's never too early to start thinking about what you want your college years to look like. This can consist of some preliminary research about the different types of schools out there. Your friend's sister just took off for her new college in the fall? Take a look at its website. Go visit your cousin and stay the night in his dorm room. Even just little doses of college thinking can help prepare you for when you...
Visit different types of schools.
You may think you know what you want in terms of a college, but you also might be totally wrong. If you can, visit different types of schools; for example, a public university with a large student body, a college in a city environment (and maybe one in the middle of nowhere!), and a small private college, like Oberlin. These can even all be within driving distance of your house, what's important is to get a sense of the range of colleges out there. Sometimes, just physically going to these places can narrow a pool of thousands of possibilities down to a few hundred. In my junior year, I visited a humungous Big Ten school in the Midwest, and I knew immediately that it wasn't for me. From that point forward, I knew that I wanted to go somewhere with fewer than 15,000 students.
Don't apply somewhere just because your friends are doing it.
You owe it to yourself to do some research and figure out what you want. The place where you will feel most at home and get the best education that suits your needs might be very different from where they decide to apply.
Applications are hard and scary, but you're a champion!
The people who tell you that college apps "aren't that bad" are lying to you. They are stressful and difficult, and it's ok to acknowledge that. Throughout your childhood, you are told that "everybody's special" and "everybody deserves a chance." Then you log on to the Common App and are told to prove all the ways in which you are better than everybody else. At first, it feels really strange to write about yourself, but after your fourth admissions essay, you'll have it down. As long as you're honest, the ability to acknowledge your own accomplishments can be quite gratifying.
College Admissions Officers know more about you than you think.
So you didn't get into a school you really, really like. That doesn't feel good, but it's probably not because the college doesn't like you too. Believe it or not, regardless of what your friend's older brother told you that one time, colleges look at more than just your grades. They not only want to admit people who are a good fit for their school, they also want to make sure that their school is a good fit for the people they admit. Your grades could have been perfect, your extracurriculars stellar, and yet you were not accepted. It's not you, it's them.
This doesn't mean that it's not ok to be sad. Eat some chocolate, hug your cat, then watch some 30 Rock to cheer up. You're going to have some great choices!
Remember, above all, that you are not your list of college admissions. You are a beautiful, majestic unicorn who is about to embark upon some of the best years of your life, wherever that might be.
I'll be honest - I was that kid who obsessed over college admissions. My high school was full of overachievers, and, being the hyper-competitive person I am, I knew that I had to do everything I could to do well in the Holy Grail of competitions - college admissions.
Flash forward a couple years, and I realized that the best way to win competitions is to not have competitors. At my New Jersey high school, most people wanted to go to colleges in the Northeast, while some went to the South and a few to California. Meanwhile, I, in true Oberlin hipster fashion, decided to make my way to the great Midwest. All of the schools that I applied to were private, selective, liberal arts colleges, and four of the six schools I applied to were in the Midwest. Although I thought I would be the only person from my school applying to these schools, I'm actually attending Oberlin right now with my friend Sloane.
Anyway, my actual college admissions experience went as well as it could have. I am horrible at making decisions, so I hoped that I would only get into one college out of my top three choices. Luckily, that's exactly what happened! Oberlin it was.
Anyway, I've had the honor of reading Frances's part of the post already (she's clearly being more productive with her spring break than I am); I'm going to spill out some wisdom in list form just like she did.
1. Stay overnight if you go to accepted students days.
Maybe this is just an Oberlin thing, but everyone LOVES prospective students (we call them prospies). I host prospies, and it's one of my favorite things to do at Oberlin. Introducing them to all of my friends is so much fun, and everyone is always excited to see people who are interested in Oberlin.
When I came to Oberlin for my accepted students day, I didn't stay overnight, because I was afraid of interacting with scary college students. I didn't have the best experience at my accepted students day, and although it wasn't bad enough to make me decide to go somewhere else, I think I would have gone into college more enthusiastically if I had stayed at Oberlin overnight.
2. It's really not as big a deal as you think it is.
This probably sounds hypocritical, considering that I spent four years stressing out about college admissions and decisions. However, what I learned from that was that all of the stress wasn't really worth it. Yes, it's important to do as well as you can to get the greatest number of college options, but there's no reason for dramatics over things beyond your control. Once you've made your applications the best you can, there's not any more you can do, and it doesn't matter how good anyone else's applications are. Also, even though I spent years worrying about it, I honestly feel that, although I think Oberlin is by far the best choice for me, I think I could have been happy at most colleges. Before going to college, I thought that when adults said things like "you'll find a place that you're happy at," they were just trying to take the pressure off. They probably were, but at this point in my life, I think they were right. Freaking out about things that I can't control and/or don't actually matter is my specialty, though, so I guess there was no way around all of the stress.
3. Going along with the previous point, although this directly contradicts one of Frances's points, don't worry too much about college too early.
Although I wouldn't want you to be that person who starts looking at colleges a month before application deadlines, my personal experience was the complete opposite, and it was pretty unnecessary. It was completely pointless to think about college freshman year when I had no idea what my grades or standardized tests scores would look like senior year, or even what my preferences in terms of college would be senior year. All that stressing out about college freshman year gave me was some uncomfortable freshman year Facebook statuses to accidentally remember and cringe at. I would provide a screenshot, but luckily I've purged my account of my most awkward moments. That being said, I am glad that I didn't wait too long to think about college. I think that my college obsession did lead me to the right place, so I guess I can't regret said obsession too much.
4. Here's another one that directly contradicts something that Frances said: applications aren't as bad as you think they are.
Yes, it's very difficult to write about your life. But think of all the difficult things you've overcome already. If you're applying to Oberlin, you've probably taken your share of tough classes, taken a never-ending string of too-long standardized tests, and balanced your schoolwork with your extracurriculars and (perhaps) your social life. To quote Grammy-award winning artist Mandisa, you're an overcomer.
This song got me through finals. Warning: It's a Christian song.
5. Oberlin is the best. Come here.
I know I said I could be happy at any school, but, honestly, Oberlin is the greatest. If you look through these blogs you'll find tons of things that make Oberlin unique, as well as just plain amazing. Maybe it's because I'm home for spring break right now, or maybe it's because I'm one of the crazy few who signed up to blog for the school, but at this moment, I honestly don't think I could have made a better choice than Oberlin.