Dear High School Senior,
It’s hard to believe that just a year ago, I was in your shoes. Eyes glued to the computer screen, pouring over drafts of Common App Essays and supplements, making revisions upon revisions, double-checking that all the requirements have been fulfilled and that all test scores have been sent, the college visits- trust me- been there, done that.
Seeing as how I am writing this blog, I came out of the college application process relatively unscathed, albeit a little frazzled and with a minor addiction to coffee and Welch’s fruit snacks.
In order to help you navigate this overwhelming/stressful/exciting point in your lives and hopefully make you feel more at ease, I want to share a little bit about my experience applying to college and what I’ve learned from it (while at the same time trying not to sound overly trite or cliché).
So here’s how I ended up at Hopkins:
I grew up in Denver, CO and attended a fairly large public high school with 906 students in my graduating class. Extracurricular-wise, I was involved in a number of clubs and sports with the occasional leadership position. My grades weren’t perfect (they call Calc BC “Calc Butt-Cicker” for a reason). I got my driver’s license, went to school dances and football games, you know, typical teenage stuff.
As a rising senior it was time for me to come up with the infamous “college list”. In this list, I was advised to have a certain number of “Reach”, “Comfort”, and “Safety” schools. Naturally, I did the whole U.S. News College Ranking thing, as well as google “Best colleges for [insert major here]”. I ended up having a lot of “Reach” and “Semi-Reach” schools on my list. Although I was advised to put more “feasible” schools on there, I would stay to trust your gut and remember that you’re the one applying to these schools, not your counselors or parents or friends. While having a backup plan is a great idea, don’t let the fear of not getting in stop you from applying (unless their application asks for a bajillion supplements- then you might want to rethink it). Believe in yourself and your achievements, and if it doesn’t work out, at least you tried! By October of my senior year, I had a solid list of 8 schools. By January, it had expanded to 12, most on a whim, actually.
College tours? I did those, too. Eight colleges in one week during Fall Break, I must add. Ambitious? Definitiely. Tiring? Yes- by the sixth school the info sessions all started to sound the same and the road was the last place I wanted to be. Would I recommend it? Depends- although tiring, it did help me narrow my college search. I can’t say this was the same for everybody.
They say you should visit a college to see if it’s the right “fit” for you. This word is guaranteed to have popped up at least once in your college search process. It’s highly subjective and vague. I once read on a blog that “A good fit is a place where you feel completely natural, where you can focus your efforts on achieving instead of diverting part of it to maintaining something that you’re not. And when you find that true fit, that perfect place for you, it’s much easier to be happy”. I can attest to this through my own college-visit extravaganza. There were some colleges where as soon as I stepped onto campus I just knew it wasn’t for me. And then there were others where I could picture myself walking around campus, chatting with friends, content. You know a college is a good fit when you look at the people around you and see reflections of yourself.
The Common Application
Now, the Common App. I took me a solid week to fill out just the profile itself- mainly because 1) it wasn’t that fun, 2) I was procrastinating, and 3) some other reason that I’m sure was
not valid at the time. With regards to the “Activities” tab, I would say to list what extracurriculars you are most passionate about and what activities are good reflections of who you are. I made a list of all the extracurriculars I was involved in since freshman year. I then proceeded to reflect on which ones I had spent the most time in and why I had stuck with it- if you’ve been in a club for that long, it’s for a reason. Now, onto the writing section.
The essay, I believe, brings your application to life- it portrays who you are as an individual. When I first started out, I couldn’t think of anything to write about, so I made a list of the characteristics that I wanted to portray in my essay and thought of specific instances or events in which I exemplified them. I’m no essay expert, nor am I an Admissions Officer, but I know for sure that it’s better to show than to tell. The essay was my chance to bring my application together- to connect the test scores and the activities to the person. I was a 17-year-old girl whose experiences living abroad in Thailand and working at Chipotle have changed my outlook on the world and influenced what I want to study.
Wait and Relax
After submitting my final college application, there was nothing left to do but wait. Feel accomplished and congratulate yourself for making it through the process.
I can’t point to a specific aspect of my application that got me into Hopkins. Colleges don’t have a set formula for the kinds of students they admit, but they do want students who they know will take advantage of the opportunities the school has to offer- a student with potential (see JHU_Quan’s article about getting into Hopkins).
I feel as though nowadays there’s so much pressure to be the “perfect” college applicant with a perfect resume, test scores, and GPA that it’s so easy to compare ourselves and our achievements to those of other students (I’m looking at you, College Confidential) and to get caught up in a world of “what I should do”s and “what did you get”s.
I didn’t start a non-profit or invent a self-heating ski boot or have an internship at Capitol Hill or do research or take classes at the local community college (if you did, that’s great!). I remember reading an article in December about the accomplishments of students who got into Hopkins through early decision and feeling like I wasn’t “doing enough”. I rolled burritos at Chipotle and asked customers whether they knew guac was extra. However, Hopkins saw who I was as a person and believed that I’d take advantage of the opportunities here and learn. Be confident and proud of your achievements, big and small- applicants come in all shapes and sizes with different backgrounds.
So dear college applicant, although this whole process can be very overwhelming and stressful, you’ll get through it! Remember to take a breath, step back, and be yourself. Wherever you end up, I wish you the very best (if you see us around campus, make sure to say hi!).