July 25, 2012

applying to college - a (hopefully helpful) guide by julia

now, i wanted to write this for various reasons - but the main one being to help out people who were in my spot last year. i am the oldest in my family, so my parents had NO idea how all this college shit went - and my best friends (who are a year older than me) told me that it's something that you pick up over time. and they're right - you do pick it up. they also helped me a lot - so i wanted to return the favor.

DISCLAIMER: THIS IS ONLY MY OPINION AND MY APPROACH. DO NOT HUNT ME DOWN IF I HAVE LED YOU ASTRAY. THIS IS ONLY ADVICE OK. this is a guide for applying to school in the USA if you live here. i don't know if this helps much to others, sorry! if you have anything you want to add or correct, just comment below!

a general rule of thumb is that you should apply to colleges from ALL different levels. yes, all different levels. don't be that kid that applies to top tier schools and one safety and gets rejected from all the top tier schools. for me....i judged a school based on their acceptance rate and their overall reputation and word of mouth. personally i believe that you should apply to as many schools as you can - unless you are totally sure of what you want. (i'll talk more about this later) choose a few super good schools that you probably won't get into (because, WHO KNOWS), choose one or two "i think i can but not sure but i SHOULD" type of schools, choose a few schools that you are almost positive you will get into, and then choose maybe 1 school that you are dead sure you will get into so this is your safety safety safety school. for me, i chose wesleyan and vassar as my "LOL I CAN'T GET IN" schools. (yeah i didn't get in). and for my i "should get in but i dno't really know AHHH" schools i chose colby and new york university (aw yeah, got into a selective program) and carnegie mellon. and for my safeties, i chose art schools. for my area, a common safety school is rutgers, which is an awesome school - but i chose not to apply because i wanted to get out of state.
now these are one of the topics i'm not an expert on, so i suggest you look this one up! when you think of good schools, your mind probably wanders to harvard/yale/princeton, etc. now, usually liberal arts school's names aren't as common but there are some really amazing liberal art schools out there. like: people get rejected from these schools but accepted into other top tier schools. here's a list. these schools are just as selective, but they have a different environment. i visited hamilton college (where victoria goes), and i THINK for a rule of thumb: liberal art schools tend to be smaller than big universities or state schools and usually have a different crowd of people. it's really hard to explain, but i'm just putting this section here so you know they exist. (one of my friends didn't know!) if i had gotten into any liberal art schools, i would have seriously seriously considered it.

here is a helpful comment from megan who is a junior at bowdoin.
Liberal arts schools generally have a more intimate environment. The class sizes are generally smaller, and there's generally more interaction between students and professors (so you can't hide in a huge class!). Additionally, if you don't like everyone knowing your business, a liberal arts college is probably not the place for you. Being at Bowdoin (I'm a rising junior) is awesome for ME. I love it. But you have to get a feel for where you think you belong. I, personally, could NOT do well at a large school. Liberal arts schools really engage you and have a lot of classes that are interdisciplinary. You may not think that the hard sciences have anything to do with the humanities, but at a liberal arts school you'll find a lot of crossover. Additionally, professors tend to be accessible and the research opportunities (in ANY discipline) are generally geared towards undergrads.
Just some thoughts! Feel free to drop me a message with any questions you may have about Bowdoin or liberal arts colleges in general (I'll answer to the best of my ability!) 
i know i kind of touched upon this earlier, and i apologize for the lack of organization. i have lots of thoughts. you have to first know what kind of school you would want to go to. here are some questions to help you narrow the search:
  1. do you want to go to a big school/medium sized school or a small school? each has their pros and cons, so think about it.
  2. do you want to go to the east coast/west/south/north? if you are particular to a certain region on the US or you love a certain type of climate - look for schools in that region. i wanted to stay on the east coast and stay relatively close to home - so the furthest i applied to was maine and the closest was NYC.
  3. what do you want to do? don't worry - you don't have to decide now. but if you have a particular program in mind, look up schools that excel in that program. of if you're like me, who wants art and academics - look for schools that have both of these programs and are strong in it.
  4. the people. don't just think college is for studying and school work, the people are a HUGE part of it. they will be your classmates in the upcoming years, your friends, and potential networking opportunities. check the diversity, it matters much more than you think it does.
  5. do you want to go to school near a city? total seclusion?
  6. some schools have a religious affiliation, do you want that? do you want a school that has an active greek life? these are more things you have to consider.
you must visit the college. sometimes visiting will help you decided whether or not you want to spend time applying to there. for example: i thought carnegie mellon was going to be MY school. so i signed up for their sleeping bag weekend (try and see if your school offers any sleepover or tours or anything) and flew up to pittsburg for a weekend. to be honest, it wasn't for me. i adored the people there, but i didn't like the design program that much and i found the campus itself to be dull and boring and i just couldn't. it wasn't for me. YOU MUST MUST MUST UTILIZE YOUR FALL/END OF SUMMER WISELY AND VISIT AS MANY SCHOOLS AS YOU CAN!!! not only will it help and show on your application, it helps calm your mind. when i walked onto the campus on NYU, i knew i wanted to go there. i personally never saw the appeal in a campus - it was just grass connecting buildings. if i was going to go to a campus school, i would want total seclusion like hamilton college. (hogwarts style). i liked the fact that there wasn't a campus on nyu, and i ~felt it~.

but to be honest, even if you aren't totally "loving" the school. apply to it anyway if you're wishy washy. because come april, if you get accepted, all these schools have admitted students days - and not only do you get free stuff but it gives you a much better feel of the school.
 you can find this anywhere online, but i'll just add it in here. EARLY DECISION means that you apply to a school earlier and if you get in, you are going to that school. almost all schools offer this option, and usually the application is due a month or two earlier than the deadline. ED means that if the college accepts you, YOU MUST GO. but with that, the acceptance rate for ED is higher - and you don't have to spend time worrying about college all year. i did not ED to any schools, i was unsure - and i applied to a bunch of schools that i was planning on visiting after i got it, because i was on vacation that summer. if you visit a school and know, THIS IS MY SCHOOL - then ED to it. but remember, even if the school gives you 0 financial aid, you still go. so it's a big decision. i knew one girl in my school (a year older than me) ED'd to upenn and then applied to rutgers. she knew that if she didn't get into upenn that she would go to rutgers, so that was what she did. of course she got into upenn, but this is another way to approach applications. another one of my friends applied ED to a school and waited for the response to come out before he send out his other applications. XD

early action is almost the same as early decision, except early action is NONBINDING. you can apply earlier and hear back earlier, but it does not mean you are obligated to attend. EA helps calm your mind too, so you know that at least you are going to college.

some schools are "rolling" which means that there is no deadline for the application, they just accept and admit people on the basis of space. i'm not totally sure of the correct definition of this, so look it up.
it's okay! breathe! there are a ton of helpful stuff on the web. my school used a site called NAVIANCE for handling applications and stuff. i personally love collegeprowler because it gives you a student's perspective of the school. you need to make an account, but it's free. i was confused and lost, so i bought a book! i bought fiske's guide and it really helped me. it rated the school by it's social life/academics - had it's best programs on the side - showed it's acceptance rate - showed how hard/easy it was to get in - and gave a huge in depth coverage on everything (living, the people, the atmosphere....) so i highly recommend it, or just visiting a book store and going to the guide section. you can look up rankings if you want and browse through college websites. but i found college prowler and fiske's to be the most helpful.
you are almost 90% likely to be using commonapp to apply to school. it's rare to do otherwise - but i applied to SVA and MICA using other methods because they asked for something else.

commonapp.org is basically how you will apply to college. if my memory serves, you can make an account right now - i believe. it's not something your high school will teach you how to use - it's just something that all colleges need. your school will say on their website in their "applicants" section if they use commonapp or not. basically, you fill out the commonapp portion of the application. THIS IS THE PORTION THAT ALLLL YOUR SCHOOLS WILL RECEIVE. it mainly details your name, school, age, yadda yadda information, extracurriculars.....and it will have an essay. your commonapp essay is ONE essay that is sent to all of your schools. they offer a lot of great topics, so pick and choose.

now, what differentiates an application to NYU (example) and to carnegie mellon is the supplement. supplement is basically another application that is unique to said college that usually will ask for another essay or will ask about a program or something. you write that out - and when all your shit is together you can send your applications out. i'm not a commonapp expert, but this is the main gist. 
 if your school is like mine, chances are you transcript secretary sucks major butt. make sure you request your transcript early and find out if you have to send it via commonapp or via mail. MAKE SURE YOU ASK YOUR TEACHERS EARLY. most likely, they will have a ton of kids asking for letters of recommendation - so get on that shit when school starts. they don't have to write it right away, but ask them if they are willing to. pick teachers that KNOW you, not just your grades. often times schools will have a sheet they want to teacher to fill out or specific teachers from certain subjects. that's your job to find out. the school's website will have everything detailed on it.

COLLEGEBOARD IS A BITCH. it will usually take a while for your scores to send through. so as soon as your can - log on to collegeboard and send your SAT scores. yes it costs money, yes it sucks. applying to college and sending SAT scores cost money and it's stupid, but it must be done.
alas i cannot help you with the essay portion. it's up to you and maybe your english teacher to help you out with that. just remember that college essays are VERY short. the word limit sucks, so pace yourself. don't write about cheesy and cliche shit, try and find something that is really unique. hell, i wrote my commonapp essay on doctor who. YUP.

DO. NOT. PROCRASTINATE. i swear to god there is a time to procrastinate, but this is something you do NOT want to wait on, please. trust me.

kind of know where you stand academically. i was in the top 20 in my grade, but i knew i wasn't the smartest. i couldn't get into ivies (nor did i want to go) but i also knew that i could get into certain state schools with ease. so having a general gist of how you academically stand helps you sort out schools.

it sucks, but it's true. affirmative action sucks. a lot of schools "say" they don't do it but they all do. basically, if you're black/spanish/native american - you have a better chance of getting in school. if you're asian or white, yup. i can't compete with the other asians, their scores are ridiculous and it makes me weep. so if you happen to be "one of the minorities," you have something playing on your side. but it won't get you into college. your grades, essay, and extra curriculars still hold priority. but your ethnicity will help you. if yo asian, like me, a "non-preferred minority" - it sucks. IT SUCKS. but it's not impossible, so chin up! and if yer white i'm sorry ):
i'm not kidding guys. the wait KILLS YOU. i mean once you send out the application it's in the hands of da lawd, but i never noticed until the letters starting coming back how STRESSFUL it was. the wait is awful, but it will come to an end.

i got into all my art schools and my safeties, but i got rejected from carnegie mellon, waitlisted at colby (shouldn't have procrastinated on that essay....), rejected from vassar/wesleyan. rejections suck, there is not other way to put it. mentally i prepared myself for rejection, so i wasn't that bad. but NYU was the school i was really unsure of. i think i could've gotten in to the university fine, but i was worried about the photo program because it only accepted 30ish students. so basically, shitting myself.

honestly, the day i say that congratulations was one of the happiest days ever. after so many "denied" and "i'm sorry" to see those tiny green letters in bold verdana font. i was so fucking happy. so i got lucky, i got into my top school.

if you don't, it isn't the end of the world. not matter where you are, or where you will end up - you will be happy in that school. it's the mentality that is the most important. be open to it, and you will love it. and if you don't, just transfer! my cousin transferred from rutgers to stern:nyu.

so yup, this is the main gist of college advice i have to give. if i end up remembering stuff - i'll add it on. if this helped you, i'm so glad! if you comment below it will make me happy. and you can ask me whatever questions you have, i will try my best to answer them. and if you're wondering how i know about college life when i am in fact, not in college yet....it's because i have a lot of friends in college who tell me stuff. :)