As second semester seniors (a.k.a. #SSS) who have completed the applications process and heard back from colleges, we have begun to reflect on the process and look to pass our advice onto students who will soon find themselves in our footsteps.
College applications can be time-consuming, confusing and stressful. However, they do not have to be. Here are a few tips to help you put your best foot forward when applying to colleges.
1. Start early
Getting a head start on applications before homework and extracurricular responsibilities roll around will prevent undue stress.
For instance, the University of California essay application consists of four mini-essays. During the summer before senior year, jot down ideas for each prompt and mull over which four prompts you will write about from the eight options.
“[During] junior year start thinking about colleges, what classes you want to take senior year [and] your A through G requirements,” college advisor Stephanie Mendoza said. “That’s why we start having orientations for the juniors in January so juniors have the whole semester to do their college research.”
On the topic of when to start college essays, Mendoza says that it is completely up to the student when to start.
“A lot of the students do work on the personal statement on the Common Application and the UC questions during the summer because those are available then,” Mendoza said. “That way they save themselves some stress during senior year and they can focus on their academics and other supplements they might have.”
2. Choose quality over quantity
As students who applied to more than 15 schools each, we wish we had applied to fewer. In addition to wasting money on universities that we would not have liked to attend in the first place, spending time on unnecessary applications is an energy sap. Instead of applying to many schools and boasting numerous mediocre essays, we would advise students to focus on a fewer quantity and perfect them.
“As college advisers, we recommend students apply to about ten to twelve colleges with a variety of selectivity in the colleges,” Mendoza said. “So having safety schools, having target schools and having reach schools — making sure students are reaching high but also having some safety schools in their college list.”
3. Mind the dates
Some colleges require that applicants request interviews in a separate process from the application itself. Often, the deadlines for interview requests vary. If you are looking to get an interview, mark the dates on a calendar.
Paly has specific dates for turning in college cover sheets, assigning recommenders to the Common App and requesting mid-year transcripts. Abide by these dates in order to best ensure Paly sends in your materials to colleges in time.
4. Ask for edits
Do not expect to sit down at your computer and immediately type out a perfect essay. Inspiring essays take time and many, many revisions. Once you have completed the first draft, share it with a friend or family member for advice. During the fall, Paly holds college essay feedback sessions, where teachers are available to provide feedback.
Additionally, Paly’s two College Advisors Sandra Cernobori and Mendoza are available for editing essays.
5. Choose your recommenders wisely
Throughout your sophomore and junior years, put in the extra effort to get to know your teachers — their enthusiastic commendations can make you stand out among your peers.
Students typically request for letters of recommendation in the spring of their junior year.
“Teacher recommenders should come from your junior year from your core classes,” Mendoza said. “If you’re interested in majoring in a science major, then a science teacher would be a good fit. But … it also depends on your engagement in the class and making sure you have a good relationship with the teacher because it doesn’t really matter about the subject as long as the teacher can write a good recommendation.”
6.Take advantage of Paly college visits
As long as space permits, juniors are just as welcome as seniors to attend college visits during the first semester. Attending college visits as a junior can show colleges that take into consideration “demonstrated interest” that you are a serious applicant.
If you can’t attend a college visit at Paly, many colleges also offer information sessions across the Bay Area. Paly and Gunn often hold college fairs with dozens of college representatives in attendance.
Seniors and second semester juniors are also permitted five days of off-campus college campus visits with prior approval.