Advice for seniors applying to college

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Ryan Silver works on his Vanderbilt University supplemental essay.

Ryan Silver, Senior, Ladue Horton Watkins High School

So … what now?

For many, college is a symbol of independence. It represents a chance to follow passions, make new friends and explore one’s identity. Each year, high school seniors across the country spend time and energy dedicating themselves to their college applications. For me, this held true.

Now that early applications have ended (with a deadline of Nov. 1), I can recall how I got to this point. I like to split the process up into two parts: essays and everything else.

The everything else part comes first. It includes researching colleges, choosing colleges to apply to, choosing how to apply (rolling decisions, early action, early decision, regular decision, etc.), learning what topics and possible careers to further pursue, compiling extracurricular activities, etc. You get the point.

Essentially, it is researching colleges and presenting yourselves to these colleges as accurately, precisely and impressively as you can. And it takes a lot of time.

The essays take even more time. In addition to the 650-word essay sent to virtually every college that a student applies to, each school usually has one to three extra supplemental essays. Although it is possible to use the same essays for different prompts, the truth is that many cannot be combined.

I applied to four schools early, and I wrote nearly 10 supplemental essays. If I had applied to more, I would have needed to write more essays. Still, essays are one of the most unique parts of any application. They represent a chance to stand out through personality, creativity and effort. The more time put in, the better the output.

As an already busy student, the process has completely changed my schedule. I take difficult school classes, participate in a handful of activities outside the classroom and save some time to be social.

On an average day this fall, I would go to school from 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., attend a club from 2:30 to 3:30, do schoolwork and eat dinner from 4 to 7 p.m., work on personal extracurriculars from 7 to 9, work on my college application from 9 to 10 p.m., and I would have just a few resulting minutes at the end of my day to truly relax.

Due to college applications, the time that I would usually have spent socializing or relaxing morphed into those sparse minutes at the end of the day. I do now appreciate the time management that I have learned, but it is difficult to repeat this process every single day.

So, what should the underclassman or junior do in advance?

As a junior, I wish that I dedicated more time to researching colleges. It would have taken away some of the stress. I could have instead worked more on essays. In general, a junior should make sure to try their best in school, participate in activities that they enjoy and hang out with friends. It is tough, but it is important.

The underclassman has a completely different approach. As a freshman, I wish that I had understood the importance of finding topics that I found interesting. And the only way to do this to the fullest extent is through clubs and activities. I wish that I had experimented with the many club opportunities at my high school and tried out activities spanning a wide range of interests. Though I mainly began trying new things as a sophomore, the process would have been much easier if I had known this at an even younger age.

The takeaway depends on who you are. For the younger high schoolers, branch out. Juniors should do their best in school and activities (and honestly mentally prepare for the stress of college applications). Seniors should understand that they are not alone, as everyone around them is working just as hard.

But for now, as I prepare to tackle the Jan. 1 regular decision deadline, I am going to sit back and appreciate the effort that I have put in, and I am going to look forward to the future.

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