Tips for Tackling College Applications


Students applying to colleges

Leah Silva, Staff writer

Most students would love college applications to be a breeze, but unfortunately, it is a long, hard, stressful process in which tips from others can become a handy resource.

“I’m feeling really stressed because it’s a lot for us to take and it’s something we have never done before,” Amish Jain, a senior at Vista del Lago in the process of filling out applications, said.

Mina Basmaci agrees. “The application process is nerve-wracking because there is only one school I really want to go to, so I am putting all of my effort into that one school. It’s a time to consider everything you’ve done and either regret it, or be thankful for it,”  Basmaci said.

While Vista students are feeling stressed about the application process, there are some tips from experienced students and the professionals to make the application season less difficult.

“I suggest to get familiar with Naviance because it helps you through the process of discovering what campuses you want to apply to. Then, work with your counselor to do the required paperwork,” Vista Counselor Julie Werner said.

The website, Tips for Preparing Your Application, says to stay consistent. Students should stick to one name on all of the forms, and they shouldn’t switch from their legal name to a nickname.

The first thing seniors should do before filling out applications is figure out what type of college is the best fit for them. There are 10 categories to look at when deciding where to go.

The first category for finding the correct college is test scores and selectivity. Each college will post the desired GPA for incoming students.

Secondly, students should figure out what type of school they want to attend. Considerations include the size of the school, private or public options, all-men’s or all-women’s, and junior colleges versus four-year schools.

The next category for finding a college is the location, such as how far away the school is from home, the weather, and which side of the country the school.

“I decided what schools I applied for because I mostly wanted to stay in California,” Jain said. “I also looked at my GPA and where my SAT scores are at to see what schools I have a decent shot at getting into.”

“Location is a big factor on deciding where to go to college,” Basmaci said.  “A lot of personal preferences played a role in where I applied. Also, obviously prestige because I want to be proud of where I go.”

There is also campus and housing to — suburban, urban, or rural. Of course, consider that in some schools, most kids live on campus, and in others, the majority of students have to commute to get to their classes.

Majors and the learning environment also make up a category  to think about when finding the right fit for a college. “Someone might want to study Fashion Design, but a lot of schools might have design courses, but not Fashion Design. While looking for colleges, students should check to make sure they have the specific major you are looking at,” Jan Whitfield, a retired college planer, said.

Another category is sports and activities. Some students want to continue their high school sports into college while others may want new activities or groups on campus. Get involved.

Academic credit is another important element because students want colleges to accept their AP credits.

Money is also a big factor. “I would not discourage looking at private schools,” Whitfield said. “Private schools are the most expensive, but they are also the most generous at giving aid.” If a student is set on going to a certain school but finds it is too expensive, they should contact the school and talk to financial aid,asking about opportunities they have for making tuition more affordable.

Support services are important and available for students with disabilities. “My son is dyslexic and [his school has] incredible programs for free where he can take notes by speaking or people can come in to take notes for him,” Whitfield said.

The last category is diversity. Whitfield said that a lot of her students of different races want to make sure they go to a school with many nationalities.

Underclassmen should get involved in leadership and extracurricular activities because that is one of the main thing colleges want to see. Students should also take time to interview and shadow people in the career fields that interest them.

After a student finds a college, take a self inventory of extracurricular activities and leadership skills to include in the essay portion of the application. Colleges are more likely to choose students that are doing more than just taking classes in school. Even if a student is applying for colleges that do not ask for an essay, it is still important to do a self inventory because it helps determine a student’s major and what activities the student is interested in. “Schools want to know what you are going to bring to the table,” Whitfield said. “What are you going to add to our school? Are you just going to take from us, or are you going to add to our school’s population?”

“There is no worse feeling than sitting down to start a college application and not having any past experiences noteworthy enough to have an essay on,” Vista alum Carson Thomas said. “Start building a resume as soon as you get into high school and add to it throughout.”

Next, visit schools to see the type of school you like–even visit schools you think that you won’t like. Whitfield said that a student should spend four years visiting colleges. While constantly visiting colleges, you will soon be able to tell if you fit there just by walking on the campus.

“I started considering colleges at the end of junior year to see if I need to retake the SAT for higher scores or if it would make much of a difference,” Jain said. “I still haven’t finalized it yet, but I have a working list.”

Basmaci started looking at colleges late in her sophomore year through early junior year. By the end of junior year, Basmaci had her whole college list ready.

Students should start applying early because there is no exception to missing the deadline. Some schools stop looking at applications once they hit their mark of how many students they accept. Other schools look at the applications all at once at the end of the deadline and then choose the best fits. Oftentimes, students don’t know the process of how colleges choose their students.

Whitfield suggests applying to five or six colleges because there is no need to apply to more than that if students have done a good job at looking for the best college fit. “It is ridiculous to apply to Stanford if you have a 2.5 GPA because it is a waste of money and you aren’t going to get in,” Whitfield says.

On the other hand, Werner suggests that students apply broadly from eight to ten colleges. “You should apply to some schools that you meet all of the requirements, reach schools that are a little harder to get into, and dream schools that would be unlikely.”

Thomas, a student at Texas Christian University, said that he suggests seniors apply to at least six colleges. “My recommendation would be for a student to make a list of their top three choices and apply to those, and then apply to another three as safety options in case the first three choices don’t work out.”

Jain has applied for five UC colleges, but 10 or 11 colleges all together. So far, Basmaci has applied to 15 or 16 colleges.

Thomas applied for eight colleges–four in-state and four out-of-state. Deanna Cuadra, a college student at Columbia who graduated from Vista in 2017, applied to about 12 colleges.

Students should talk to admissions and other people at the university. They should also call the department they are interested in joining because not all focus on the same thing.

Many schools take notes of how many times a student calls or writes to them. Colleges know that the more students reaches out to them, the more interested they are. Whenever a student has an excuse to get in touch with a school, they should.

The essay is key to standing out to colleges because it can make or break your chances of getting in. Whitfield said, “You want your best self to stand out in the essay.” The essay should show your interests and top strengths. A good idea is to tell a story about your strengths. The essay should be written in an elevator pitch–what’s most important goes first. Students need to write only two essays–they just need to revise it for each prompt.

Basmaci said, “I fill out the essays first because I feel like that is the best part of the essay since you can articulate yourself.”

Always be sincere. “It looks bad on an application if a student appears disingenuous, where it looks like what they’ve done has been solely for looking good on a college application, rather than a true interest or desire,” Werner said. “Sometimes college reviewers will see through that.”

Whatever students do, they should not procrastinate. “I found that completing my applications over an extended period of time was really helpful,” Thomas said. “Starting the applications months before they were due helped me work out all the kinks and perfect it by the time I had to submit them.”

“What helped me was getting feedback from family members, friends, and teachers,” Cuadra said. “I was able to present who I was in a more concise manner by hearing what others had to say. Ironically, you may find that you see yourself clearer through others’ eyes.”

Basmaci advises underclassmen to get ready early for college applications. She also suggests to choose classes you are passionate about, not based off of what friends are taking that same class.

Consulting others who have already been through the application process is great for the college application season. To learn about stress during the application season, go to Senior Stress in Prepping for College.