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Conquering College Apps, Part I

Emily Zheng has been chosen as an Arcadia High School Valedictorian for the 2015 senior class, and is heading to Pomona College this fall.

College applications are often the bane of high school students’ existence. Tons of paperwork, essays and payments ominously await incoming seniors and their parents. Though it seems daunting, the process is not that difficult if you plan ahead and start early. Here is part one of my college application advice:

Start in the Summer College applications take a lot of brainpower. The prompts are quite challenging, so starting early will give you more time to think clearly and write effectively. You worked for four years for this moment, so furiously writing a full-length essay the night before the application is due would probably not reflect the credit you deserve.

Personally, I had little time during the school year to even look at my college essays. I was so inundated with work that I had to put them aside until Thanksgiving break and winter break. Thankfully, I was satisfied with most of the essays that I wrote over the summer, so I only had to revise one or two before I submitted my applications.

Plan Your Applications There are so many college options. Where to begin? Start with categorizing the colleges. Find one to two “reaches,” or colleges that may seem like a long shot but you might be accepted. Then, find two to four “matches,” or schools that match your stats. Finally, find one to two “safeties,” or colleges that you will most likely be accepted. It is important to have all three because the admissions process is often very unpredictable.

It is recommended to open your options to a variety of college types. Liberal arts schools, state colleges, and research universities all have something different to offer. Try applying to at least one of each, because you might change your preference between the time you submit and the time you decide.

Research Colleges Now that you’ve chosen your colleges, it’s time to find out why. What in particular stands out to you? Listing at least three pros and cons for each school helped me put my choices in perspective. This is vital, because applying solely for the name may lead to a miserable four years.

Next, research their requirements for admissions. What is their SAT and ACT score range? Is a letter of recommendation required? Is there a supplemental essay? What would be the total cost of attending that school? When calculating this, make sure to crunch all the numbers, including tuition, health services, room and board, meal plan, and registration. If these costs are not realistic for your family, you may want to research what measures you will have to take in order to afford college, such as scholarships and financial aid.

If possible, plan to visit the colleges before you apply. After all, these are possibly your future homes! The best time to visit is during the school year, because it will be most representative of your potential time there. It’s like visiting Disneyland: an empty Disneyland is completely different than the one we know, complete with long lines and huge crowds. Tours of the campuses are nice, but the best way to see your and a college’s compatibility is by talking to the students. After all, the buildings on campus will not make or break your college experience, but the people and faculty will. Overnight stay programs, if offered, are highly recommended because they allow prospective students feel the vibe of the school, ask questions about college life to current students, and attend classes.

Ask for Letters of Recommendation If your colleges require a letter of recommendation, you should first identify which teachers would be willing to write a positive recommendation for you. If you excelled at and are passionate about history, perhaps you would like to ask your history teacher for one. If you slept in biology class every day, you probably shouldn’t ask your biology teacher. Ask for a letter in person, and ask early. It takes at least a few months for teachers to write the letters because they are busy and often have to write many. Also, you should give them a relevant writing sample like a college essay draft or an essay about yourself, a list of your schools that require letters, and a resume, which leads me to…

Create a Resume A resume will be tremendously useful for both your recommenders and yourself. Having all your activities, awards and more listed beforehand will make form-filling a breeze when the time comes. Plus, it will be useful when you are preparing for interviews and also when you apply for jobs in the future.

I hope you find this article helpful, and if you have any specific questions about college applications that you would like me to address in Part II, please let me know below in the comments. Best of luck!

— By Emily Zheng

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