How to Survive the College Application Journey

Hi everyone! It’s that time of year when the college application cycle comes into full swing. I distinctly remember the stressful times of researching schools, writing essays, balancing schoolwork, and just making sure I got enough sleep on a daily basis. However, don’t fear because I promise everything will all work out! I just wrapped up my freshman year here at Swarthmore so I can definitely say I survived that process 😅. Here’s some tips that I gathered over my application journey that you might find helpful. 

Tip #1: Start your essays early and have someone you trust look over it

Now I know you’ve heard this tip over and over again but please do yourself a favor and start those essays early! From firsthand experience, you will be bombarded with 100 different things going on all at once when senior year starts so begin early and write many drafts. Inspiration comes to people at different times but I can guarantee you it doesn’t work out well when you write an essay the night before. (Trust me.) Once you have that draft, have someone look over it. That could be a friend, a teacher, a parent, your counselor, or anyone who you feel knows you well enough, but make sure their suggestions don’t overshadow your own voice. 

Tip #2: Do your research and create an organized list

A lot of times, you’ll find yourself applying to a school that isn’t truly a good fit for you. It may be due to external pressures from parents, friends, or counselors. However, a strategy I did was to truly research the schools, talk to students there, explore the websites and social media pages, and go on tours if possible (unfortunately for me, I applied during the pandemic, so no in person tours for me, but I did virtual tours to provide some basis). Once I did my research, I created an excel sheet with a balanced list of schools I wanted to apply to and kept it updated with deadlines, number of recommendations required, list of supplemental essays needed, and any other requirements. After submitting an application, I crossed out the school on my list, which was very satisfying. 🙂

Tip #3: Be genuine

Don’t feel like you need to write a certain way or “fluff” up your accomplishments. For me, I am really passionate about Asian American activism in sports, and love the basketball player Jeremy Lin, so I ended up combining all of that into my Common App essay. Ultimately, your application won’t be the first that your admissions counselor reads, so they are pros at sniffing out insincere, dishonest, or exaggerated essays. Admissions counselors also expect you to write like a 17 or 18 year old, so don’t worry if it’s not to total perfection. Let your own personality shine through!

Tip #4: Don’t be afraid to ask questions

I am a firm believer that there’s no such thing as a dumb question. Sure, you could explore the school’s website, or look at their TikTok or Instagram, but what’s truly going to make a difference is talking to students who go to the school and asking them questions about academics or social life. I can’t even count the number of people I reached out to during my application process: from counselors, parents, siblings, admissions counselors, current students, professors, and more. The questions that I asked included “What’s the difference between a college and a university? What’s a liberal arts college? What do students do for fun on campus? Are there any research or internship opportunities available? How does this college support low income students?”

Tip #5: Talk to your parents about financial aid

This is a big one that often gets overlooked. I know it’s a tough conversation, but it’s always better to know what’s possible than to get into your dream school and not be able to afford it. Also, make sure you research the financial aid policies at each institution. You’ll often find buzzwords like “need blind”, “100% determined need”, or “loan-free”, all of which happen to describe Swarthmore’s Financial Aid. 🙂 

Tip #6: And lastly, trust the process

Please stay positive during the often complicated, stressful, and long application process and know that a college decision does not define who you are. Be proud of what you have achieved and know that sometimes it’s not you, it’s the college itself. Every school has its own institutional needs, like needing a french horn player for the orchestra or a goalie on the lacrosse team, and in so many instances, the students who apply are all qualified, but there are just a limited number of spots. I promise you will ultimately find a school that fits your needs, and a place where you can see yourself belonging. 

While these tips above are meant to be helpful and useful, the most important thing to remember is to relax! The college application journey is a long and strenuous one, but make sure you take time for yourself to practice self-care. Watch some Netflix, take up knitting, spend time with friends and family, or go for a walk. And remember, everyone is rooting for you to succeed, including me! Best of luck! 

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