So I just graduated high school a month ago and am attending UCLA in the fall. The college admissions process was the weirdest, most stressful, confusing time of my entire high school experience and I guess I wanna reflect on it (and try to help some upcoming seniors while I can).
1. This website will drive you insane. If you can, only use it to find out when decisions are coming out because I swear some of these people have some inside info. They were right about most of the dates. But the chance me crap doesn't help anyone. Most of the responses I got just made me feel worse and were inevitably wrong. This process is a crapshoot. I've seen so many people with perfect everythings not get into where they want to go and people with crap scores get in everywhere and vice versa.
2. If it's financially possible for you, apply somewhere out of state that can be considered a "safety school." At least just for the option. So many of my friends ended up at a state school when that's really not what they wanted because the out of state schools they applied to were reaches. Do your research and figure out what a safety is for you and do it. Having the option is better than not having it. Don't limit yourself if you don't have to. I live in Virginia and I'm moving across the country to Los Angeles, California. The opportunities out there compared to the ones here are immeasurable and I wish more people were doing it. Am I going to drown in debt? Probably. Will it be worth it? Probably. Take some risks.
3. Focus most, if not all, of your energy on your essays. That is what sets you apart. Decide what has happened to you in your life/insights you have that separate you from the crowd. At a certain point, everyone has the same scores, GPA, extracurriculars. What makes that admissions committee remember you is your essays, not your SAT score. Organize all the prompts you have to write into separate documents and brainstorm ideas. Reuse bits and pieces from other essays. Figure out what works and what doesn't. Find your voice and make sure it comes through in your essays. Have someone else read it, but make sure when you read it back that it's still you. I had to step in a few times when my parents were revising mine because I could tell it wasn't mine anymore. The admissions counselors will know. Be yourself. If a college doesn't want that then you don't belong there.
4. Do not waste your energy trying to get a perfect score on the SAT or ACT or whatever. Do well on the parts that pertain to what major your pursuing. Once you get past a certain threshold, they could not care less. I got a 1390 on the SAT twice with a 1420 superscore. I got a 32 on the ACT. But I got into UT Austin, UCLA, and UC Berkeley plus I was waitlisted at Georgetown School of Foreign Service (didn't get pulled off the waitlist but it's fine I'm fine). I had demonstrated that I could take a stupid test and do pretty well. That was enough. My essays were what set me apart (in my opinion). And I am not an amazing writer. I am very average. But I found things in my life that I could tell a story about. I picked something (mathematics combined with solving social issues) that I was passionate about and carried it through all my essays. Find what sets you apart and cling to it. Make it obvious.
5. Apply early everywhere you can. If I didn't get those decisions in December to hold me over, I think I would've gone insane. They also say it helps your chances, but I don't know if that's true. It just helped my peace of mind a little bit. But don't rush it if you're not ready to apply. Don't rush the essays.
6. Apply to the schools that feel right. In my experience, I knew the schools I was applying to were good choices for me. It's almost impossible to write a convincing essay for a school you don't really want to go to. My first attempt was Georgia Tech and I could not write those essays to save my life. The prompts didn't make sense, but it was because, in my heart, I knew I didn't belong there. Don't force it.
7. The rejection hurts (especially the places you thought you were perfect for and the places you thought you would never ever get into because a part of you always hopes), but the acceptances feel amazing. I cried when I got into UCLA and I don't cry about things like that. But the relief and the feeling that they wanted me was something I had never felt before. And I'm not gonna sit here and pretend like everyone has that feeling. Sometimes you don't end up where you need to be. But, in my opinion, if you put in the work (especially in your essays making them as honest and well-written as possible) and if you put the right thoughts into the universe, it will pay off. Stay positive. Don't put negative vibes out into the universe. If you believe you won't get in somewhere, why would you?
8. Apply to an Ivy League. Just for fun. Yeah the rejection hurts, but you'll get over it.
9. Take the SAT and ACT. If you are not a science person, take the ACT. On the SAT, the science passages are included in the reading section so you could be great at reading fiction and get every question right, but get the science ones wrong and drag down your entire score. But on the ACT, there's a whole separate science section and the reading section has no science. I got a 660 and then a 690 on the reading section for the SAT. I got a 35 on the reading section of the ACT and a 29 on the science. At least with the ACT, the schools knew I was good at reading most passages and just sucked at science.
10. Stop comparing yourself to other applicants. Just because someone else got in doesn't mean you will and just because someone didn't get in doesn't mean you won't. Also pro tip, try not to apply to all the same schools your friends apply to unless it's really where you wanna go. It just gets awkward.
Well, here ya go. If you have any questions you can message me I might be able to help who knows.