It is no easy task for a student to figure out what they want to get out of the college process, and the barrage of insincere advice they did not even ask for certainly does not help. Dinner conversations with grandparents, social time with friends, and even the family breakfast table are often filled with discussions of what the student is hoping for. Naturally, it is stressful enough for students to answer questions about their academic future, especially when (most of the time) they have not even figured out what they want for themselves. High school juniors know all about this phenomenon. They are asked to get the best grades that they can, take mind-bending standardized tests, and are told that this or that school would be best for them, all while keeping their cool. Juniors find it very difficult to keep their minds focused on what is most important, despite advice from well-intentioned seniors.
Much of the advice is accurate, but surely hard for juniors to grasp. While many juniors believe that grades are the most important, Misha Nye, a senior at GCS, told us, “More and more colleges are looking at the whole candidate as opposed to ACT scores and grades… the most important thing is what you are passionate about, not simply your grades of standardized test scores.” This seems contradictory to all of the hard work and pressure juniors put on themselves. The entire college acceptance process appears to be so filled with judgment on students’ academic success, which may not entirely be the case.
Most juniors want to visit every college they can, although the cost and logistics of doing so can be difficult on families and the students trying to keep up with their workload. Emma Gottschalk ‘19 describes her experience with touring colleges, saying, “You do not need to tour every college that you apply to. That is just if you want to see if you have a connection to the environment and if you could see yourself there. If it is really important to you, you definitely should visit, but a lot of people don’t tour every school and it isn’t something you should stress about.”
Friendships can suffer during the year from stress and natural competition. It makes sense to keep college choices to themselves, so students are not comparing themselves to others too much and creating reasons for others to compare themselves to each other. Paul Hirschorn ‘19 said, “There definitely is a lot of competition with my friends through the college process. I think not talking about [college applications] and keeping the colleges where we are applying a secret makes it a lot easier. There is always constant stress of what other people are doing at the same time.”
And the worst part is once juniors are done, they want to take a deep breath, only to find that senior year is even harder to manage. Misha said, “Especially if you are trying to submit your application by the early decision deadline, the first month of school is very hard. During this time, since most people are trying to keep their grades are as high as possible… some are still finishing their ACTs and SATs… and everyone is writing their applications, you don’t have any free time.”
Despite what may seem initially intimidating and anxiety-inducing, one important aspect that juniors should remember is that all of the students have support. It appears not only logistically (the Common Application, standardized test prep etc.), but emotionally as well. Teodora Kanlic reminds us, “Definitely lean on the College Office for everything.” According to Kanlic, the College Office can help students and parents reduce the stress of the process by helping each student individually from the beginning to the end. She recommends that, “[All juniors] start to open up to them way in advanced because they are stressed too. [The people who work in the college office] don’t sleep during application times either.”
Below are some ideas from seniors about how to manage certain aspects of the college process:
Emma Gottschalk: I toured a few colleges last year and I am actually still touring. It does not actually matter when you tour if you want to tour over the summer or during the school year. I am touring all of the colleges that I am applying to.
STRESS AND APPLICATIONS
Misha Nye: Especially if you are trying to submit your application by the early decision deadline, the first month of school is very hard. During this time, since most people are trying to keep their grades are as high as possible… some are still finishing their ACTs and SATs… and everyone is writing their applications, you don’t have any free time.
Junming Qiu: The hardest part of the [college process] was keeping track of all of the applications each school’s specific requirements.
Paul Hirschorn: It is important to get all of your standardized tests done early because you have a lot on your plate by the end of the year.
HOW TO LIMIT STRESS
Teodora Kanlic: Map out what your supplements will be and how much work you will have to do with everything. I recommend that you use Google Drive and Excel so that you can visualize what you need to do. Knowing what your senior fall will look like will really help you and destress you.
Paul Hirschorn: There definitely is a lot of competition with my friends through the college process. I think not talking about [college applications] and keeping the colleges where we are applying a secret makes it a lot easier. There is always constant stress of what other people are doing at the same time.
WHAT COLLEGES ARE REALLY LOOKING FOR
Misha Nye: Most and most, colleges are looking at the whole candidate as opposed to ACT scores and grades. Even if you have your ideal GPA and a good ACT score that is not all that colleges are looking for. If you don’t have those things you can still make up for it in other ways and get into a great school… The most important thing is what you are passionate about, not simply your grades of standardized test scores. It is important to get your passions and personality across in your essays and interviews and I believe if you succeed at this, there is a good chance of being happy with the college that you end up at.
Photos of College Office by Jiwon Simpkins ’19; headshots used from GraceNet.