Applying to College: High School Senior

Second topic of College Week! You can read my advice to the middle school students and high school freshmen, sophomores, and juniors here. To all of you about to be seniors, read on!

You Are a BRAND — Be Marketable

It’s important to keep in mind that you are a brand. You represent yourself, and just like you choose some brands over others when shopping, you as a brand need to stand out in order to succeed. To be completely honest, this is something I could have done better when I applied to college. Let me put it to you like this: a person— who knows nothing about you — is sitting and looking at a bunch of transcripts, scores, and essays trying to build a person. Always remember, you’re pitching yourself to each college, so be marketable.

Whenever Relevant, Use Numbers!

Colleges operate as a businesswhat are you going to bring to their table? They want someone who is monetizable (just as a business relies on money, so do colleges) and is going to bring success to the university as a student and alumni after. So QUANTIFY!!!! If you write for the school newspaper, how many weekly articles are you writing/editing? How many people rely on you? What ranking does your organization have? How much money did you raise (this doesn’t have to be personally raised — your club could raise X amount of dollars in a given term, etc.)? Numbers matter because they ground abstract roles and responsibilities in something that’s profitable.

You May Qualify for All-Inclusive Paid Visits to Schools

This is something that isn’t normally talked about. Essentially, certain schools offer paid visits to their campuses — if you apply and are accepted to their individual programs, the school will comp your travel expenses and let you stay in a dorm, eat at the dining hall, and experience college life for a weekend. It’s an incredible opportunity! There are restrictions, but it’s not all based on grades or extracurriculars — a lot of the spots are reserved specifically for first generation, minority, or low-income students. Most schools are accepting applications from now until August/September. Click here or here for a pretty thorough list of schools.

Navigating the Common App

In applying, most schools use the Common App. Some schools have their own applications (the UC App. is very mainstream for California students). Because the Common App. is a one-stop-shop for all college applications, go over it with a fine tooth comb. Multiple times. I messed up an ID number on my Common App. and had to call every school individually to fix it — not fun. Give yourself extra time to work on the main section, and when it comes time to submit, do so at least 2 days before the deadline to avoid technical errors, because yes, they happen.

What’s Up with Early Action?

If you have a school in mind that you consider “your #1,” see if they have an Early Action option. This means you’ll be sending in your app in October and hearing back in December. I’m a big advocate of Early Action (this is good article that flushes out pros and cons).

It’s Essay Time!

Creativity goes a long way in college essay writing. And I mean thinking outside of the box. There’s a reason this essay about Costco and this piece about Papa John’s pizza were successful essays. I don’t recommend writing something absurdly creative for the sake of writing about something absurdly creative is the way to go —  however, don’t be afraid to break convention.

Think about it like this: when you watch America’s Got Talent, who catches your eye? The singer who can belt out an incredible tune might be good, but you’ve seen that already. You want something new and fresh, something that will make you want to slam the golden buzzer. Remember, college admission officers are human too! They want to read something that’s going to knock their socks off and maybe be a breath of fresh air after reading hundreds of other essays. 

Also! Do not feel like you  have to sum up yourself in an essay that talks about a huge part of your life. Sometimes the most [seemingly] innocuous things make for the most enjoyable essays — the way you write it will tell the reader enough about you!

Paying for College

There are some really good articles written about this, and here are some of my favorites: this article from U.S. News, this book about beating debt, and this portfolio from Forbes. To give you the gist, there’s 2 types of aid — merit-based and need-based.

Merit-based is given out on academic or organization success, a.k.a. your test scores, your grades, if you performed well in a club/sport/organization. Most likely, you’re the “package deal” and the school reallllllyyyy wants you because they’re giving you money/preference to go. This could include other perks besides tuition like comped housing/meal plan, entrance to an honors college, or a stipend to do research over the summer (do NOT underestimate this!! Research is HUGE at a lot of colleges and way more fun than it sounds — getting paid to create you’re own project about whatever interests you is an amazing opportunity).

Need-based is given out based on your family’s income and eligibility. You’ll be filling out FAFSA and sometimes additional services, depending on the school. Be cautious of deadlines!

The other thing is scholarships. I recommend looking for local scholarshipsthe Rotary Club, National Charity LeagueDaughters of the American Revolution, and more organizations that have local branches are great places to start! Local scholarships tend to be less competitive than national scholarships. Also take a look at on a weekly basis starting in fall all the way through next spring — even if you don’t know where you’re going yet, scholarships are still available!

Don’t Let Your Senior Year Get Ugly

If I had to describe my senior year of high school in one word, it’d be, competitive. I remember friends talking behind each others’ backs about who applied where and who got into what school. It was a toxic environment to be in, and I remember ending high school quietly happy to be done.

In the grand scheme of the world, you’re going to make the most of college — wherever you end up. I don’t believe there’s one perfect school for anyone. If you have an open mind, college can be whatever you want it to be. And chances are, it will still surprise you. College will come when it comes. It’s a big deal, but so is your senior year. So enjoy being present with friends in your hometown, because you’ll be moving on soon enough.

Make a Senior Year Bucket List!

So on a high note, make a list of every single thing you want to do before the year ends and try to make it happen. Pancakes at 2 a.m., a sunrise hike, a movie marathon with your best friends — whatever it may be, senior year will absolutely go by in a flash. Try to make it out to events and relish the cheesiness of everything. High school is probably not going to be THE high point of your life, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be a high point.





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2 Comment

  1. This is good advice. I’m going to be a junior in highschool next year, and everything is just getting more and more competitive it seems. These tips helped me. Thank you.

    1. Thanks so much, Courtney!! I’m so glad this could help — I also wrote this for a post about preparing for college for high schoolers: Good luck with your junior year!! 🙂

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