Juniors, it’s time to start planning and preparing for college applications! Reflecting back on my college application process and four years at UC Berkeley, I’ve compiled a list of things that I wish I knew before applying to college.
1. Start Early, Plan Your Deadlines
The worst mistake you could make is missing an application deadline for your dream school or any college for that matter. You should start early and keep some kind of document where you make note of schools you are interested in applying to and all necessary deadlines. With the pandemic, some colleges are no longer accepting the SAT and ACT standardized tests. Additionally, the College Board just discontinued the optional SAT essay and SAT Subject Tests. You will want to do research on the universities you are interested in, so that you know of all of the materials you need to submit and so that you don’t miss any deadlines.
If you want more information about planning ahead and creating a college application checklist, check out my blog on this topic: creating-your-college-application-checklist.html
2. Talk to teachers/guidance counselors early!
Going off of the last point, if you compiled a document, you will know which colleges require a letter of recommendation versus which colleges do not. You should talk with your guidance counselors and teachers early on in your high school career, so that by the time junior/senior year rolls around, you have two teachers you can ask for letters of recommendation. Personally, I asked two teachers for letters of recommendation at the end of my junior year. They said yes, so at the start of senior year, I reminded them of the letters and sent them all of the necessary instructions and materials on how to submit them. Some teachers at my school would only write a certain number of recommendation letters each year, so getting on their list early is very important.
For letters of recommendation, you could ask teachers of classes that you did well in. Or if you did not do well in a class, but you showed perseverance and hard work, that teacher could also be someone who you ask. When asking teachers about letters of recommendation, you should ask the teacher “if they are able to write you a good letter of recommendation.” This is not rude, but common courtesy that teachers would not say yes to writing you a letter when they do not feel comfortable doing so. You want your teachers to be honest with you so that you can find teachers who can write you the best letters possible.
3. College Essays - Ask for Advice and Be Open to Feedback
When I wrote my college application essays, I asked my parents to give me feedback on my essays. Looking back, I feel like I was very closed off about receiving essay feedback. You should be open to feedback because you want your editors to give the most brutally honest feedback possible. Additionally, having people who you don’t know read your essays is important so that they can see if there are gaps to your story that people you know may fill in, but are missing or confusing for others.
When drafting your essays, you should write multiple drafts of each essay. You should also try writing numerous essays for the same prompt and edit each one to see which essay becomes the better response. Having others read your essays and being open to feedback is the best way you can achieve great essays that tell your story.
4. Dream Schools are Ok, But Give Other Options a Chance
When creating your college lists, you should look into a variety of schools that range in price, location, rank etc. Having a dream school you would want to attend is great, but you do not want to only apply to that one school. Really take your time to research a variety of schools and think about pros and cons for each option.
5. Be Open to Rejection
Hearing rejections back from colleges is something new that high school students typically have not dealt with before. These rejections from schools can be really hard, especially if it is your dream school. You may be a great student, have good grades, worked hard throughout high school, so seeing rejections is difficult to process.
Something that helped me get through college rejections would be to realize that attending this school was not meant to be for undergrad. Being rejected does not mean that you can’t attend this college later on for graduate school. Being accepted or rejected from colleges is not about your self worth!
6. Asking for help is not a bad thing!
Asking others for help can be scary, but asking for help is not a sign of weakness. You should be utilizing your school's resources and asking your guidance counselor for tips and advice. You can also reach out to family and older friends who have gone through the process. If your personal connections are not that helpful, you can turn to the internet for help, through YouTube videos, Reddit, and College Confidential. Asking for help can only improve your application because the insight from others should help answer your questions and make the application process clearer.
7. Think About How Undergrad Affects Grad School Admissions
Something that I wish I thought about more before choosing a college would be how my undergraduate career affects graduate school admissions. GPA is usually an important factor in graduate school applications. However, UC Berkeley is notorious for grade deflation. That is something I wish I knew before choosing a college.
If you are interested in going to grad school, you should choose an undergrad that will help propel you into grad school. Does the college have the programs you’re interested in? Are there a lot of research opportunities? Does this school send a lot of students to grad school? Is there grade deflation at this college?
8. Attend a Campus Tour
You should be trying to learn all that you can about the universities you are applying to. A mistake I made was not thoroughly researching colleges because they were out-of-state, so I didn’t have an opportunity to visit. Even if you can not visit a college, there are so many other ways to get to know a school. You can watch YouTube videos of students at that school, ask questions on the school’s Facebook or Reddit pages, connect with current students to ask them questions, and research the public information on the school’s websites.
Even if you are out-of-state or international, it is even easier now to access campus tours that you may not have been able to attend in-person. With the pandemic, many colleges have moved their campus tours online! To learn more about online campus tours, you should read Sarah’s blog about getting the most out of virtual tours: getting-the-most-out-of-virtual-campus-visitstours.html
9. Talk to Actual College Students
Similar to my last point, the best way to learn about a university is to talk to actual college students. You can talk to students at the university you are interested in or you can talk to college students generally to see what their life is like. You may want to learn about the campus culture, homework load, clubs, extracurricular activities, and professors/classes they’ve had. This personal information can not be found on the college website, but diving deep into real-life experiences can help you make a decision on whether a college is right for you.
Rachel is the Founder of Study Hall College Consulting. Rachel graduated from UC Berkeley in May 2020 where she double majored in Cognitive Science and Legal Studies. For more application and essay tips, check out our Study Hall College Consulting website at: shcollegeconsulting.com.