By Ashley Chen
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Around this time of year, high school seniors have just finished the last step of the college application process—committing to a college. Some will feel that where they go to college is a testament to all the efforts to receive perfect grades and accumulate athletic accolades over the course of their childhood. But getting into college is one of the biggest steps taken in life, wherever you end up going. Here are what some current high school seniors have to say about college apps:
“At least 80% of the work that goes into college apps is already done before your senior year. Writing the college application is about just compiling that work into something that another person can understand.”
— Delaynie McMillan, class of 2022
While some people have their lives planned out since they were in elementary school, others will still be deciding while they’re in college. Most of the college research is finding a college niche that will fit your identity and not the other way around. Research includes majors, housing, food, study abroad, cost, or other considerations that matter to you.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, more and more colleges are going test-optional. SAT and ACT scores have been de-emphasized. Standardized testing was meant to provide a benchmark for colleges, but with the rise of the pandemic closing down testing sites and scandals of rich people buying good test scores for their children, the benefits of standardized testing are no longer as viable. Although colleges have not decided their stance on standardized testing scores for next year, it’s safe to say that essays are the most important element of the app.
Let the essay come to you
“I think the biggest thing I learned is how to present my narrative to others. Before college apps, if someone asked me to introduce myself, I would simply say my name, age, and hobbies. But during college apps, I spent so much time and effort trying to tell my narrative in a nuanced way that’s unique to me. So I’ve not only gained a better understanding of myself, but how to present what I’ve learned about myself to other people.”
— Grace Park, class of 2022
“If I had to give advice to those who are applying to schools in the future, it would be, don’t be afraid to show your true self! Don’t think a lot about packaging yourself, but I think it’s okay to ‘package’ to some extent. Sometimes authenticity really comes through.”
— Ziqi Fang, class of 2022
Most of the best essays are the ones that come straight from the heart. Write about a very influential event that happened in your life that is core to your identity. However, some people might find probing their memory for a massively impactful event difficult. The greater majority of us live simple and boring lives. Perhaps sitting in bed watching YouTube will inspire a college essay. You never know.
You can also try to read essays from your peers or online. Be sure to vary the types of essays you read, from essays that worked to the ones that didn’t, and ones written by people that may or may not have a similar resume as you. Your essay shouldn’t be an exact copy of other people’s, but drawing inspiration from them can be helpful.
Think about your audience
“You should try to make it comfortable for your audience and think about your audience’s perception. Make it interesting to read and not cliché. You should sound genuine and engaging. Being a boring person is the dead end of college applications because admissions officers don’t want to advocate for someone who made them feel bored.”
— Hannah Huang, class of 2022
Many interviewers are college alumni who want to write something positive in your favor. Most interviewers will ask the same set of questions, such as, “Why do you want to attend x school?” or “What extracurriculars are you involved in?” Rehearsing every interview question might not be the most productive use of your time, but having a standard set of answers about what sets you apart from other people can really impress your interviewer.
Interviews are typically casual talks, but it’s not always easy talking with someone older. In the chance that the interviewer throws a curveball, take a pause and thoroughly think about the answer. At the end of the interview, feel free to ask your interviewer questions about anything. It creates this back and forth dialogue between two people, instead of a plain relationship of interviewer and interviewee.
Believe in yourself
“When people say don’t compare yourself to others, they mean it, because every step of the journey, from writing to submitting to waiting, is going to look different for everyone. You also shouldn’t expect perfection out of anyone and always remember that people are only putting their best selves out there. What you know or see is most likely only half the story. Take your time and breathe.”
— Anita Gao, class of 2022
At the end of the day, your college app is whatever you put on there. You can spend so much time making edits to essays and joining new activities and constructing your best self, but once you press the submit button, it’s out of your hands. Everyone’s different—the way they emphasize their personality, values, and hobbies will always be different from you.
Congrats! You’ve just taken one of the biggest steps of your lifetime. Give yourself a nice pat on the back. You deserve it!
Ashley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.