I am currently a high school senior navigating the wondrous world of college admissions. Too bad it’s not wondrous at all. Frankly, it’s not even October, and I’m already stressed out.
Most students will have college counselors and teachers to help them along the college admissions process. However, if you have ever lived in a middle of nowhere town and went to a middle of nowhere school, you know that is not always the case. For example, my senior class is comprised of twenty-eight students, including myself. My counselor has never had experience with the Common Application nor has any of the teachers. Not to mention, teacher recommendations are often pre-written letters in which the teacher copy-and-paste your name.
So what do you do then?
You know you are a good student with decent grades and activities, and you want to go to a college outside of a community college and a state college.
First, it is crucial to start early. I personally seriously started thinking about college admissions during my Junior year. Look for resources and opportunities that you won’t be able to get in your town. Especially look for organizations that provide college admissions guidance, such as mentors. Some examples of great organizations to apply to is: LEDA, Questbridge College Prep Scholar, and Matriculate. Also, be sure to keep up your grades and have a standardized test score ready for your senior year’s college applications.
Ideally, it would be best if you started working on applications, whether that be for scholarships or college, in the summer before your senior year. Especially essays!!! Utilize any mentors you gained from your junior year and brainstorm with them. While their knowledge will be invaluable to you, always remember, this is YOUR application, NOT theirs. If you disagree with them on a particular idea or concept, trust your instinct and remain true to who you are. During this time, some applications you should work on include Questbridge National College Match, Gates scholarship, and local scholarships. The summer before your senior year is a great time also to finalize your college list (list of colleges you plan to apply to), think of financial aid, figure out deadlines, and gather any documents or information you might need for future applications.
Once school starts, start thinking about which teacher you have the most genuine relationship with. If you are sincere and the teacher’s recommendation letter is written correctly, your personality will show through their words. But, how do you get your teacher to write your recommendation letter correctly, you ask? Well, you bring your resume and brag sheet (a sheet that lists all of your best qualities (easily found with a quick google search)) to them when you ask them to be your teacher recommendation. Tell them what the teacher recommendation will be used for and what they need to write in the letter itself. Include your intended major and career, and include the reasoning behind your choices. Even if they don’t ask for the information, they usually won't mind as long as you tell them respectfully. To add, try to limit the number of teachers you ask throughout the entire college admissions process. Teachers, especially in small schools, talk. Once it gets near deadlines, do not be afraid to remind your teachers that they need to turn in their recommendation. (These steps can also be used for Counselor recommendations)
With these steps, you can be more prepared as the college application deadlines start rolling in.
In the end, the best way to start your college admissions journey is by believing that you can get into any college you wish. Although your circumstance may provide you with fewer resources than a student going to a Private school in New York City, colleges will understand. Just remember to open, honest, and authentic throughout the entire process.
Ye Gang Lee
Republic County Jr./Sr. High School Senior