If I could give juniors one piece of advice it would be to apply to fewer schools. Highly rejective schools are getting even more selective. Students are casting a wider and wider net in the hopes of getting into one “top” or “brand name” school. But all this really does is drive up applications, and cause schools to admit an even smaller percentage of their applicant pool. Too many clients spent their winter break trying to get their applications finished for January deadlines when they should have been enjoying time with their family and getting a much-deserved break.
Instead of applying to 15 or 20 schools, do your research. Find a group of schools that are right for you–where you will be admitted. You don’t have to go to a school US News ranks in the top 50 (because their rankings are bogus anyway). 80% of American colleges admit over 80% of their applicant pool. And many of those colleges will provide amazing education where you will be mentored by faculty, make wonderful friends, get internships and jobs–and probably better recommendations for graduate school. As you build your college list, you can have one or two reaches–but the majority of your list should be colleges you will get into and be happy to attend (maybe even with some merit aid).
Most colleges have at least one essay in addition to the personal statement you write for the Common Application. The highly rejective schools can often have 3-5 supplemental essays. If you are applying to 10 of them you are writing 30-50 essays. Most of the topics are released around August 1. You will be spending most of your fall writing essays while trying to manage a challenging senior schedule, activities, a job, and a social life. If you get invited to honors programs or a scholarship program, it can mean more essays. Some essays can be recycled or modified (for example the “why this major” or “how are you going to contribute to our community”), but some are completely original to that school (Stanford’s short answers, UChicago’s whacky prompts written by their students). If you apply to more than 10, you will be writing non-stop. It causes so much stress, anxiety and BURN OUT!
If you pick schools that you have researched, visited, followed on social media, talked to current students, and met with their admissions staff either on campus, at your high school, or at a college fair–writing the essay will be easier. If you are picking schools based on their reputation, name, or because other smart kids at your high school are applying then you won’t have enough detail and connection to write meaningful essays. Admissions officers know the difference. They read thousands of essays. They can also tell when parents have written them or when they have been overly edited by an adult. A smaller group of colleges you are really excited about will result in better admission decisions.
You can also only list 10 schools on your FAFSA form. When you apply to more than 10 you have to constantly watch for who has downloaded your FAFSA, switch it for another school, and it’s easy to make mistakes and cause an error–delaying or jeopardizing your aid.
As you begin the second half of the school year, keep up your grades, research colleges online (use Naviance, Scoir, My Big Future, Niche, Cappex) attend their visits at your high school, go to a college fair and schedule some virtual and in-person visits to start narrowing your list. Senior year does not have to be all essays all the time. Plan well and be realistic, you will be better off in the long run!
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