By: Emma B.

College. It is the existential dread of high schoolers everywhere. It is a source of pride and monumental pressure for countless teenagers. This isn’t helped by the fact that many more jobs are becoming dependent on college degrees, and competition for admission is growing rapidly among students. Life can also be just as fulfilling without a college degree. However, many people don’t recognize their options. I’ve compiled this guide for everyone worried about college because nobody deserves to go into college admissions blind.  

Tip #1: Should you go to College?

Though many people will tell you otherwise, college is not a requirement for living a long, fulfilling or economically stable life. Obviously, there are many benefits to going to college but college isn’t for everyone. Some people don’t thrive in academic environments, or have interests outside of the college campus. Also, some people can’t afford college. Thankfully, numerous lucrative careers exist that don’t require a college degree such as paralegals, technical writers, plumbers, electricians, welders, and other skilled laborers and tradespeople. These careers can be incredibly rewarding, and often without the burden of college debt. Deciding which path is for you can be a lot, and requires introspection and conversations with people you trust.

Tip #2: Don’t Procrastinate on the SAT (or ACT).

The SAT, for all of its controversy, is one of the college entrance exams of the United States. It’s a massively important exam, but many people tend to procrastinate taking the SAT and SAT Subject Tests. Not only because it’s a test you can retake, but also because it can be hard to study for. However, procrastinating on this exam can have repercussions for the college application process. If your exams aren’t completed by the time the college application process finishes, you may be unable to apply. Though this isn’t true for all schools, the SAT (or ACT) is a requirement for many schools around the country. There are numerous free resources for studying for the SAT, such as Khan Academy and YouTube, and with practice and effort, you too can crack it.

Tip #2.5: A tip related to COVID-19.

The COVID-19 outbreak has made it difficult for many people to take the SAT and apply to college, and has made discussions surrounding the SAT incredibly controversial. Still, it’s not a hopeless situation. Many colleges have started to make exceptions to requiring the SAT due to the virus, but not all of them. For the next several months, try to stay in the loop about which colleges are making the SATs a non-requirement. College and the COVID-19 outbreak is an evolving situation, and developments are changing daily. 

Tip #3: Get INVOLVED with Clubs.

There is a common misconception when people say “get involved” with clubs. Oftentimes, people will say that you need to join a wide variety of clubs, everything from the swim team to debate club. Though it’s important to be involved with clubs, it’s more important to participate in them. For example, if you’re in the school newspaper, apply for an editor position. Taking leadership positions in your high-school clubs looks good on a college application. It shows that you have passion and that you’re willing to put time and energy into something. Part of getting involved is also staying committed. If you join a club, I’d recommend figuring out whether or not it’s your thing quickly. If it’s not your thing, then quit and find something else that you enjoy. The reason this is important is because it is better to find clubs you show dedication to, and not sticking with a club can paint you as a drifter. Identify what you like and pour your energy into it. Additionally, try not to worry about awards. If you are truly passionate about something, they will find you.

Tip #4: Give Personality to your Essays: 

College essays are brutal. Many essay prompts will ask one personal, yet incredibly vague question. Failing that, they will simply ask you why you want to attend that university or college in particular. It’s a deviously simple question and can often lead to underdeveloped, boring essays. The biggest tip to counteract this would be to work on your college essays as soon as possible. It’s a common tip given by people, but it’s accurate. By starting essays early, it allows you an opportunity to edit your essays for grammar errors and style. Additionally, it can also be a benefit to be earnest in your essays. It may not be good to discuss deeply personal issues on a college essay, but sometimes adding details about your life or your background can increase your chances. And, sometimes appealing to emotion can increase your chances of getting in. 

Tip #5: Be Realistic: 

Though you shouldn’t limit your life by strict realism, it’s important to be practical. If your family can’t afford an Ivy League school or if it’s inconvenient to go out of state, keep that in mind. Your GPA number is also an important factor to consider. Though GPA doesn’t indicate intelligence or drive, colleges still consider them in the admissions process. And, it is important to know that every high school and college calculates GPA differently. Some smaller schools are often just as good (if not better) than bigger colleges. Furthermore, you don’t have to stay at one school. Though it isn’t discussed as much, transferring your second or third year into a higher rated school is also a great method of getting into a preferred college. Typically, transfer applicants will only have to submit college GPA and not be forced to join countless extracurricular activities. It can sometimes be the best option for people who can’t get into their dream school right away.

Tip #6: Scholarships are King: 

Scholarships are obviously crucial. For some families, they are the difference between going to college or not. However, what many don’t know is that scholarships are available for people as young as 14. It’s about knowing where to look. Start looking for scholarships during your freshman year. By finding scholarships early, you’re setting yourself up for success and know where to apply when the time is right. Additionally, also look up what scholarships to apply too, and their details. For example, if you’re a Georgia resident, you’ve likely been told about the Zell Miller or Hope Scholarships. However, without proper research, you wouldn’t know these scholarships only apply to Georgia residents attending Georgia colleges. 

Tip #7: GPA is Important, but Flexible: 

Every high school and every college calculates GPA differently. For example, a certain out of state school calculates your GPA on a weighted scale and judges you upon their credentials. By contrast, some of the more prestigious universities will drop all electives and only calculate GPA based upon core classes such as Math and English. However, you’re not doomed if your GPA isn’t the highest, especially if your high school is difficult. It would be silly to assume all high schools are the same. Colleges are aware of this as well, and if your high school is rated as being more difficult, then it’s possible you’ll be accepted even with a lower GPA. It may seem paradoxical, but it’s not uncommon.  

Tip #8: College isn’t a Monolith: 

Despite the tips I’ve given you, college is unpredictable. You will hear about students getting rejected and accepted and there is advice everywhere. Even though you can increase your odds of getting into a college of choice, it’s not a perfect system. The college admissions process has numerous quirks, and the people who make the admission decisions are bound by a lot of different factors. Furthermore, your worth can’t be measured by your grades or how many awards you’ve acquired. Your worth as a human being is determined by your actions, your ambition and the quality of your character. As such, don’t let college admissions worry you. Simply do your best, and know this is only the start of your story. 

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