Today, the Common Application for the class of 2019 opened. Everyone in the Columbia Class of 2018 Facebook group expressed pity for their rising high school senior friends. Time has flown so fast, it is hard to believe I had created my own Common App account one year ago. But I will never forget the stress, the hopelessness, the despair, the feelings of inadequacy, the tears, and the pain. Essays are not my favorite things in the world. Somehow, though, I ended up getting accepted to “the greatest college in the greatest university in the greatest city in the world”, according to my dean, James J. Valentini, also known as “Deantini”. I shall now share how to get into college (perhaps more specifically, a prestigious college, if that’s what you’re going for (that was bad grammar by the way, never end with a preposition, and yes, that’s the first step: know your grammar)).
Organization is crucial. The first thing I did after I filled out the basics (name, birthdate, parents, etc. but not awards, extracurriculars, etc.) of my Common Application was create a folder on my laptop called “!!!COLLEGE!!!”. That makes this folder the first thing I see when I open my documents. Then, within that folder, I made a separate folder for each of the colleges to which I applied (and one for your Common App essay!). Then I went to each of the colleges’ writing supplement section and copied each prompt onto its own Word document. Many colleges will have the same prompt (so you scream out “hallelujah!” because that makes your life so much easier). Still, make sure you have a new Word document representing each of that college’s essay prompts. I named the documents “Columbia Essay I”, “Columbia Essay II”, etc., and each time I edited the essay, I renamed it (i.e. “Columbia Essay Ia”, “Columbia Essay IIa”). Feel proud if you get to write “Princeton Essay IIIk” (as I did!). Once the essay is perfect, change it to “Columbia Essay I Final” so it’s easier for you to find and copy into the application.
The early bird gets the college. Start NOW. Yes, RIGHT NOW. If you are a rising high school senior, you should be finished with your first draft for each of the essays (Common App and writing supplements) before school starts. If I can do it, you can too. No, it’s not because I’m an amazing, fast writer who is absolutely perfect the first time (although thanks if you thought so!). It was torture. I was 99% sure I had ADD/ADHD/dyslexia all at once because there were so many things I wanted to do other than sit on a hard, worn swivel chair in front of my 15 inch screen laptop all day. But you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do, and if you want to get into college, you have to suffer for it first (you know, the college has to know if you’re deserving or not). Let me tell you though, near November (or sometimes October), when the early applications are due, you are going to be so grateful you finished your first draft before school started. Why? Because all you have to do is edit. Send it to your brother, your parents, your teachers, your principal, your violin teacher for all I care (bonus points if you send it to your senator), get everyone to edit your essays. I am blessed with a genius brother who literally got 100% on all of his European history essays (oh wait, make that 110%), so I was pretty much set with a great editor. But one other person’s not enough. I had my brother’s freshman year of high school English teacher as my essay mentor because he is extremely through and critical. Find your mentor and remember to START NOW.
Get involved…unless it’s too late. If you haven’t done anything out of school except play video games or hang out with friends doing nothing and you’re going to be a senior, I’m sorry, but don’t try applying to the more selective schools. You’ll only be wasting your money (yes, applications have fees. So does breathing). If you’re a junior, you may have hope. But, if you’re a freshman and you have drive, then I love you. You are the kind of person I want to mold into a First Class Model of the Ivy League. Do something different and stick to it. Oh, and it helps to be really good at it too. And make sure you can win prizes for this activity. If I could do over high school (shutter), I would have taken up archery. It’s different (especially for my race because you have to consider that) so it sets me apart. The goal is to stand out among all those dull applications. The main thing though, is to win competitions. That fills up your honors and awards section really well. Also, do community service. Don’t just do it either, START IT. Be a leader (everyone loves those people) of a community service project (everyone loves those too). So it’s a win-win situation for you (one win because you’re a leader, another because you’re volunteering). And be smart. Literally. Get a straight “A” average, win academic honors or awards, do well on the SAT and ACT (those are important when applying for jobs too). And about the SAT, you have to start studying when you’re young. I started in 8th grade; my brother started in 6th grade (guess who got the higher score. Hint: it’s the person who studied longer). Maybe I’ll write about the SAT/ACT another time.
Give yourself a chance. I applied to twelve schools. I was accepted to four, waitlisted to three, and rejected from five. My best friend was accepted to all her schools. However, my friend only applied to colleges she knew she would get in. I only had one safety, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how many schools accept you. You only need one good one. If I were only accepted to Columbia, I would still be in the same situation as I am now. However, when you apply, you can’t tell the future. Maybe your dream school is one you’ll definitely get in. Then by all means, just apply to that one. But if you don’t have a dream school (as I didn’t), apply to as many as you want (or can afford). Lots more work but totally worth it. Don’t be afraid of your reach schools either. You’re most likely better than you think you are anyway.
I probably have more tips and secrets that have faded away from lack of use, but these are the ones I used and for which I am most grateful. It absolutely sucks to be a rising high school senior (especially now college is getting harder to get into and more expensive every year). But once it’s all over and you’ve seen all your acceptances, you’re going to feel so proud and accomplished. And then you’ll remember it starts all over again next year. Just be wise about your actions and appreciate your last year of not doing laundry/cooking/mundane chores. Try to be productive and take each day as the day you’ll write your winning essay.