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Advice to Students About to Apply to College

Photo by Vasily Koloda on Unsplash

When I was in ninth grade, I wanted to go to Yale for criminal law to become a Behavioral Analyst Unit FBI Agent. Motivated after binge-watching CBS’s Criminal Minds, I enrolled in an Intro to the Administration of Justice course at Glendale Community College, joined the National Forensic League, and took an interest in a national linguistic organization.

In 10th grade, I wanted to become a lawyer, and in 11th grade, I wanted to become a congressman. Like my initial aspiration, every single time I changed my career path, I pursued extracurriculars related to that career. Part of me actually wanted to learn the career, but the main reason why I wanted to have a centralizing career path was for my eventual college application in 12th grade.

When I told my counselor in 9th grade that I wanted to go to Yale, she obviously said I have to get perfect grades, a perfect standardized test score, and basically be the second coming of Christ. But she also said that colleges absolutely adore college applicants that have a uniform interest that is surrounded by relevant extracurriculars.

If you wanted to pursue medicine, you shadow a surgeon at the local hospital. If you wanted to enter the arena of law, you get an internship at a law firm for licensing and registry. If you wanted to enter politics, you work on a city campaign in an election cycle. Whatever it was, you had to demonstrate a passion and an ambition on top of getting well above the average GPA and standardized test score.

But what my counselor failed to mention, which wasn’t her fault, was that a rejection letter can often seem irrational. And I’m not talking about myself, I had a mediocre GPA and no SAT score, I’m talking about my friends that achieved nearly a 5.0 GPA, 1600 SAT score and practically did wonders when it came to extracurriculars still getting rejected from colleges that everyone expected they would get in.

These are kids who did not begin working for an acceptance letter back at the beginning of high school but well before then, carefully crafting a meticulous application that would presumptively yield acceptance in at least their backup schools.

When the dust settled, months after everyone got their decision, there are several pieces of advice to recognize, one question that really has to be asked of oneself, and one alternative I can offer.

Centralize Your College Application Around How Colleges Will Benefit If They Accept You

Make your application not about why you want to be accepted but what colleges will benefit from accepting you.

One of my friends, who was on my editorial board during my term as executive editor, will attend the University of Southern California’s School of Engineering this fall. And he basically centralized this point in his USC and Northeastern University application. When I asked him about it, he said, “College applications measure how successful they see you being at their college, and if you fit their culture. They care about building their culture.”

I reached out to former editorial board members attending New York University or the University of Utah and former contributors attending the University of California, Berkley, or Pepperdine University, and they all said the same thing: make the case for what will benefit them, not why you benefit.

Because, essentially, universities are profit-driven business ventures that want to invest in students that will benefit them in the long term. If you are interested in going to the New York University’s School of Journalism, explain how your potential contributions to the school newspaper will create an informed student body. If you want to go in a pre-med major, argue how your thoughts on any recent revelations in a scientific community can bring a new perspective to the campus. If you want to major in theatre, outline why your previous performances can bring something original or revitalize the current theatre college club.

Anyone can write their college essays about why they want to go to college: the education, the honor of saying you attended there, and the potential career opportunities that follow an undergraduate degree. However, what colleges really care about is what you have to offer to make their campus advance.

Focus On a Singular Passion and Paint a Picture of Who You Are

The term “Renaissance Man” refers to a person that can excel in multiple fields and industries. Don’t be a Renaissance Man in the face of college admissions because they want you to predicate your application around a continued and consistent passion.

No, Its Not the End of the World If You Get Rejected From College

Where you initially end up for college as you graduate and conclude high school is obviously not a metric of intelligence or eventual success. I understand that everyone in your graduating high school class will cast judgment or lift their opinion of you based on the college you will attend in the fall, but honestly, if you get rejected, you should not worry about what people say to you as much as what you believe your next course of action should be. Those next courses of action will be later discussed in the alternative I offer.

The fact of the matter is that there is not a “correct” path to college. A good portion of the high school classmates you are graduating with will most likely transfer from the college they will initially attend. The same evidently applies to majors and career aspirations. Obviously, this should not disincentive you from trying your hardest to get into college. You should pour months of dedication into your college application to achieve the highest possible educational opportunities. But realize that a rejection letter is not the “eternal testimony” to what you will and can accomplish in the near future.

Why This College?

I guarantee you that if you answer that question with “My parents wanted me to apply here,” you will not have tremendous motivation to sufficiently complete your application. Every college application you fill should have a comprehensive rationale. Maybe the undergraduate department you want to enter has a high ranking, or there is a bevy of career opportunities surrounding that college. Whatever the case may be, you, not your parents or counselor, have to decide why you want to apply to this college and what you plan to do if accepted.

The Alternative Route After a College Rejection

For me, I did not get into the colleges I wanted to attend, which means I plan on attending Santa Monica College for a year and transfer to a top-tier University of California school in fall 2022. I understand there is a stigma in attending community colleges, but for many people, it is a perfectly viable and smart route to the school you want to end up at.

California Community Colleges average at around four thousand dollars in enrollment fees per year, which is significantly cheaper than the tuition at the backup schools you may settle for. You can potentially do your GE credit and major prerequisites all in one year and transfer as a junior, which means you can skip an entire year of college.

Ultimately, where you end up is up to you and your parents. It requires dedication, months of planning, and meticulous design-making because this is a major crossroad in your life. Best of luck!

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