High school seniors, the time has finally come; after years of thinking about where you want to go to college, this fall is when you complete your applications and seriously think about where you want to end up. The whole process can seem very overwhelming, especially when you consider that this is the biggest step towards your future that you’ve taken so far (no pressure!) Here are my tips for surviving college application season:
1. Narrow down your list
By this point in the process, you should have already researched schools that you want to visit and eventually apply to (if you haven’t done this yet, College Board’s Big Future search is a great resource to quickly find information about colleges). If your research has left you with a long list, now is the time to narrow that list down to about five or eight schools, according to the College Board. It might seem tempting to just apply to a bunch of schools and see what happens, but the less applications you have to complete is the less time you have to spend writing essays and the less money you have to spend on application fees and visits. Personally, I only applied to three schools (all of which I considered match schools). When I was narrowing down my list, I asked myself one question that really helped me focus only on schools I was seriously interested in: “If I got in to this school, would I actually go?” Applying to colleges “just because” or “just to see what happens” is a waste of time and money.
2. The thing about safety schools
When narrowing down your list, it’s good to have a mix of reach schools (schools that you’re not entirely sure you can get in to), match schools (schools that you’re pretty sure you can get in to), and safety schools. It can be easy to not take your safety schools seriously, but remember my question from above: “If I got in to this school, would I actually go?” You have a safety school for a reason: if, for some reason, you don’t get in to any of the other schools you apply to, this will be the school you are going to. Remember, in a year you will be going to college and starting a new life. You don’t want to waste years of your life in a place you don’t want to be just because you wanted to get a surefire acceptance letter. Most importantly, make sure that you have financial safety schools; schools that you can afford without a large amount of financial aid. Financial aid is difficult to predict, and you don’t want to find out that you can’t afford to go to any of the colleges you got accepted to.
3. Really think about your essays
In English class, you’ve probably had to write essays of about 2,000 or so words. So a 500-word application essay should be easy, right? Wrong. Having such limited space means that every word you use has to matter. That can be stressful, so make sure that you take the time to truly think about what message you want to get across before you start writing. Whether you want to describe your love of the color red or how a speech impediment has affected your life, really think about what the best way to convey your story is. A good rule of thumb is always to show, not tell; describe specific instances that illustrate your point, paying close attention to feelings and setting.Read sample application essays online so you have an idea of what you should be writing. Have your English teacher and your friends proofread your essay and take their ideas and criticism into consideration so you can submit the best essay possible.
4. Penn State-specific advice
Penn State’s application is available through MyPennState (you will need to create an account to apply). The application opens on September 1st every year and operates on a rolling deadline, meaning that there’s not one specific deadline that your application must be in by. However, it
’s best to apply by November 30th for your best chance at getting in to the campus and major you want. Once your application is in, you will hear back anywhere from within days to months. If your application is in by the November 30th deadline, you will receive an offer of admission no later than January 31st. Again, the best choice you can make when applying to Penn State is to apply by the November 30th deadline.
New this year in the application is the system of self-reported grades, meaning that you will manually enter your high school grades into the application and you do not have to send in your official transcript until the end of your senior year. Make sure that you have a copy of your transcript in front of you when you fill out the application. Obviously, entering wrong information as part of your self-reported grades can have serious consequences down the line, so make sure to double check that you are entering the correct information.
Another part of the application that you will notice is the part where you have to select an alternate campus and a starting semester. There are 19 campuses other than University Park to start at, all with their own unique atmosphere and advantages. Take the time to research Commonwealth Campuses so that you fully know your options when you apply. Unless you note otherwise (and there are many reasons why you may choose to start at another campus), Penn State will assume that your first choice of campus is University Park (also referred to as Main Campus). Your application will first be reviewed for University Park and you will only be considered for an alternate campus if your application is not accepted for University Park. Another option is the choice to start during summer session. As with alternate campuses, your application will be reviewed for fall first (unless you choose to apply directly to summer) and will only be considered for summer if it is not accepted for fall.
5. Don’t stress!
One of my high school teachers gave me great advice when I was applying to colleges: “You are going to be happy at whatever school you end up at because you are going to choose to be happy wherever you go.” Even if you don’t end up at your first choice, the decisions you make once you’re in college (such as what major you choose and the clubs you decide to join) will give you a lot of things to enjoy. Going to college (and especially going away to college) is a great experience that not everybody gets to enjoy, so take a step back and think about all of the support from teachers, parents, and friends you’ve enjoyed that have allowed you the privilege of sitting down and choosing your own future.