College Application Tips from the Class of ‘18

    by Brenda Ward – Director of College Counseling


Seniors have now committed to their colleges, marking the official end of the application cycle for the Class of 2018. And who could offer better insights than these recent applicants? In wrap-up meetings with seniors, this is what I heard them say:

“There’s more to it than I thought.”

Year after year, the most common piece of advice seniors give to sophomores and juniors is to “start early.” Not only does the application require several pieces of writing, students need time to visit colleges, sit for interviews, and compile résumés or portfolios. Students who start thinking about college as early as freshman year often make more thoughtful choices about which classes to take, what kind of activities they want to pursue, and how to prioritize their time. Starting early alleviates last-minute stress. It’s good advice!

“I was surprised.”

This year seniors and counselors everywhere saw an increase in unpredictability in college admissions. Numbers (ACT/SAT scores, GPA, etc.) alone did not ensure admission. Students found themselves accepted to colleges they thought were long reaches and denied at colleges they thought were within range. With this unpredictability, students benefited from a deep college list with a range of colleges.

“Sometimes it seemed unfair and totally random.”

Students compare notes, so they know who got in where, and many times the decisions appeared unfair. “So-and-so got in with worse grades and test scores!” But students don’t see their peers’ applications in their entirety.  Factors, such as rigor, recommendations, essays, activities—all of these are considered by colleges when making decisions. Plus, colleges have their own institutional priorities. They might be looking to boost a particular major or maybe the college already has good representation from a particular city or region. Decisions are not random, but they may be surprising or confounding from the student point of view.

“There will be some ‘sorry’ emails, and they hurt.”

If students have several “reach” colleges on their lists, it’s almost a guarantee that there will be a few “we regret to inform you” replies. This is part of the process and does not signal a mistake, personal shortcoming, or misplaced application. Gaining admission to colleges is like stepping up to the plate: a batter doesn’t expect to hit much over .300, because connecting with the right ball may take several swings. If the college list is deep with good range, there will be “Congratulations” letters, too.

“Now that it’s done, I’m really excited to go to my U.”

With graduation just a couple of weeks away, seniors have moved on from the process. They are embracing their colleges, especially the ones that rolled out the welcome mats for them. Their futures are exciting—there will be new friends, campus adventures, and academic opportunities. The work was worth it, after all!