Protips: The do’s and dont’s of applying for college

Leland Spangler and Isabel Dufford

7658305438_e552345dd0_kCollegeDegrees360 (Flickr)
Freshmen, sophomores, juniors, we understand: college is a long way away, isn’t it? You don’t have to worry about all that yet. It’s fine.

Well, that’s what many of us seniors thought as well, once upon a time. Unfortunately, we’ve since realized that our partially-developed prefrontal cortices had shrouded us in a false sense of security, and we want to help you avoid the same fate.

The following tips were crowdsourced from five highly qualified seniors who have been through the college application gauntlet and succeeded.

Freshman Year

– You are not in middle school anymore. Get to work. A single bad grade will cause you unbearable anguish and pain once senior year rolls around (not to mention THOUSANDS of dollars).

– This day and age, high school is literally just preparation for college, so treat it as such. Everyone before you made it through Geometry, so you can too. Make an effort, do your best, and don’t be afraid to be kind of a nerd.

– Just get out and do stuff. Really. Join a club (or double points if you start one) – it could be underwater kazoo club, or whatever you are into. We can’t stress this enough. Besides, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

Sophomore Year

– Start making a plan now. What are you interested in? How do you want your life to look in 30 years? Do underwater kazoo players have a lifestyle you could live with?

– Research and explore institutions or postsecondary paths that would support your career path. For instance: The Zimbabwe Institute of Underwater Basket Weaving and Kazoo*.

– Look for places where you will be happy. If you don’t enjoy New York, don’t move to New York, smarty pants. Remember, you can find a good school or program for what you want to do almost anywhere, so make finding a place you truly want to live your priority.

– Remember that the traditional path of going straight to college after graduation and getting a four-year degree at a typical university isn’t for everyone, even though school these days makes it seem like a necessity for any kind of success. Maybe you’d like to take a gap year to volunteer in Central America, or go to technical school to learn welding, or join the military. Make sure you understand the implications and consequences of these paths before you commit, but don’t dismiss them immediately, either.

– Lets be honest. You have done some cool stuff in the past year or two. So write it down, even if it doesn’t seem that momentous. You never know. Talking about your intense passion and hobby for hand-carving ornate wooden spoons on an application will make you stand out to admissions counselors, if nothing else**.

*Not a real place.

**Editor’s note: This editor knows of a real person who listed this exact hobby on his application to Colorado College, and was told by an admissions counselor later that it played a big part in his being accepted. 

Junior Year

Crunch time.

– This is your chance to make up for all those iffy grades you got the past few years because you were too busy eating pop-tarts on the couch, or whatever you do. These are the grades admissions officers are really going to scrutinize. Have a poor geography grade freshman year? Nail American History, and spin it as a personal success story full of introspective thought and perseverance.

– Start looking for scholarships NOW. When you actually need them, a magical phenomenon occurs which makes it seem like scholarship opportunities are being offered to everyone but you. Start finding them, plan which ones you will fill out, and #justdoit.

– Hopefully by now you are the leader of something. By all means, use your leadership to its maximum potential. You were not  just the WORRMS Vice-President: you were the “co-leader of a locally sourced, youth environmental club focused on bettering the community and school campus by way of education and service.”

– The most important thing is to go visit colleges. The more schools you visit, the better you will understand what you want your dream school to offer. Even if you can’t afford a trip out of state, visit UCCS, CC, CU Denver, and anything close by just to see what you do and don’t like in general about college campuses.

Senior Year

– By now you should have a list of 5-6 schools you will apply to. Ideally, you spent at least a portion of last summer writing – or at least thinking about – application essays. Start them early, because as every senior will tell you, writing 9-10 essays about “how you will contribute to the diverse community of (INSERT COLLEGE HERE)” is awful, and the sooner you start, the sooner you’ll be done.

– DO YOUR TAXES EARLY, PEOPLE! THEY ARE THE WORST! They’re also incredibly important for financial aid. Some colleges, especially private ones, can take care of upwards of half your tuition if you demonstrate financial need (which, let’s be honest, almost everyone does), but you need your taxes finished and filed in order to do that. Most financial aid priority deadlines are in early February, so start nagging your parents about it early

– Ask for letters of recommendation as soon as you need them. People don’t necessarily enjoy writing them, and you won’t improve your image by requesting one the night before they are due. Also, have them print out extra copies on school stationary so you don’t have to ask them to print out another copy every 1-3 months each time you apply for a scholarship.

– If you are relaxed during Thanksgiving break Senior year, you are doing it wrong (or you’ve got your business together in a way that’s honestly inhuman, but this is the less likely scenario of the two).

– Don’t let a scary price tag deter you, most financial aid offices are willing to work with you!

– Just chill out! You got this! And let yourself get excited; this is a cool time, you’re a senior, and you’re almost there. Enjoy it!