Hi all! I've wanted to do a post like this for a long time. But I didn't, since I didn't feel like I had any credibility as some random high schooler on the internet. Am I completely qualified now? No. But I hope prior experience at least helps my case. This past December, I was accepted ED to a T11 LAC (thanks for all the ties, US News...), so I hope that will provide some credibility as it's now my turn to give back to the wise folks of CC. While I still have no clue into the inner workings of admissions (no big hooks so I'm not really a catch and I have kind of borderline everything lol and basically everyone hated my essays, maybe they hit the accept button on accident), I hope that some of my advice might help you all have a marginally less stressful experience. Organization of this post will be random, and I might tack on random things as comments if I think of anything else. Of course, this post is my opinion, feel free to follow or not follow as you so choose; figure out what works for you. My post really has to do with "top" schools, whatever that means. "Why is this needed?" you ask, when it's a repeat of so much other advice? Who knows, I felt particularly reflective today and wanted to. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
1. Basics. A good GPA is absolutely essential. We're talking 3.7+ UW on a 4.0 scale. If you're not at that, don't despair! I've seen people get accepted with lower, but you better have some darn good explanation for why. Or not. The latter really only seems to work if bad GPA happened early on in HS. But trust me, life will be easier for you with higher stats. And yes, this process is a crapshoot, so don't respond with "but my non-hooked friend of a friend got into [insert top school] with straight C's and 2 A's!!" Good scores are great, but if your GPA isn't up to snuff, it's probably not good. Anecdotally, I've definitely seen more people get in with bad scores/good GPA combo vs. bad GPA/great scores combo. Also, pay attention to class rank if your school calculates it; most schools take it pretty seriously. If you have a 3.9 UW, but you're 200/300, that's not fantastic. You still need tough classes to show you're challenging yourself though. A 4.0 UW with all easy courses ain't it.
2. ECs. My ECs weren't really on the level of most of the people on the accepted threads I read for my school. I still wonder why they took me in. I guess still shoot your shot! I'm unqualified to give any advice on starting your own national organization or anything, so I'll skip it. Basically, my only advice is to find some things you like, and stick to it. Ideally, ECs will also be something you enjoy doing and aligns with your major/concentration interests. Commitment is good, whether it be for a relationship, or ECs. Definitely don't get too hooked on video games. I've seen more than a few top students ruin their prospects due to gaming too much and losing track of grades and things like that. Self-control, folks.
3. Breaks. Don't waste your breaks. Go do something, anything. Within reason, that is. Read some books, hang out with friends, search for opportunities that interest you, study something fun (hello EdX and coursera!), volunteer, etc. Yes, not everything is about filling the stupid activities section of the Common App and do relax and take the time to enjoy what you have, but you'll want to have something to show for your breaks to show that you didn't just Netflix and eat BBQ all summer long.
4. Appreciate the adults and friends in your life, and drop the toxic relationships. I thought I was sooooo smart and didn't take enough time to appreciate the adults advice gave. Yes, some of it can be stupid, but some people will nag you in your best interests (cough parents and teachers cough). My sophomore English teacher told me late junior year when I asked for a rec that an LAC would be the best fit; I argued and made my list all universities somewhat to annoy her. A month later, after some serious soul-searching and reading of Unigo and other such sites, I switched it over to all LACs. If I'd listened to her reasoning in the first place, I'd have wasted far less time compiling universities that I liked. My parents always tell me that I'm too "type B" to succeed lol but I appreciate them anyway. This won't apply to everyone, as not everyone is so fortunate, but from my limited sample size of CC's audience, I'm going to guess it will apply to the majority. Please please please appreciate your parents for what they do to support you, even if they can be annoying about it. Toxic friendships can take up a lot of time/toll and create negative emotions in your life. I have a couple ex-friends who literally don't talk about anything other than weight-loss, and it created a really toxic environment in my group of friends. It sounds like exaggeration, but I'm really not joking. The only way the loss affected me is that I no longer know the newest diet fads.
5. Perspective. Appreciate the things you have. Take time to tell others you appreciate them. Take time to help a friend with their homework or something. Go out to lunch, brunch, or coffee with a friend once in a while. Take a break and do something fun. I've been a news junkie from a young age, but trust me when I say that reading the news constantly will probably make you more stressed and depressed. I limit myself to headline exposure now, and my happiness increased so much when I deleted my Twitter account because I was less aware of the latest headlines. Subscribe to theSkimm!! It'll keep you on top of most headlines, both critical and useless, and it's more than just for liberal 20-something women. The news makes everything seem like we're on the brink of an apocalypse when it's not always the case. Is it good to remain aware? Yes. But there's a limit. (P.S. this probably doesn't apply to PoliSci people.) I got into reading more and collecting antiques. I'm not the most exciting person though tbh. Do your own thing. :)
Indulge in chocolate. Whatever. The college app process is hard, and it can create enmity between friends if you're not careful, because it really does/can bring out the worst in some people. Remember, the college you end up at is not the end-all, be-all for your life. If things don't work out the first time around, transfers and grad school are always there.
6. Opportunities. No, just because you got rejected from the most competitive internship/summer program/position ever does not mean that life is over for you. Some opportunities aren't broadcasted. Talk to people in your areas of interest, and you never know what opportunities could arise or what things you could learn. I've never had a good experience personally with cold-calling or anything, as far as actually nabbing a position goes, but I've learned a lot about the fields I'm interested in from very qualified people in those fields.
7. Testing. If I could re-do this process, I would definitely finish all misc. tests (SAT/ACT/Subject tests) BEFORE the start of senior year. Trust me, you do not want to be the senior who has testing AND a crap ton of homework AND essays to do. Don't be me. Aim for 700+ on subject tests, but know that if you don't hit that, it's not a dealbreaker necessarily. Just don't submit it. Although I did get in with a relatively sad Chem subject test score, %-ile wise. I submitted one 3 on an AP test and opted to not include a different 3 for a self-studied test (no, self-studying for micro right after stats during an all-nighter does not work, from my limited experience), but my scores were mostly 4s. So know it's fine to not have entirely 5s.
Random bit: James Clear's article (https://jamesclear.com
/luck-vs-hard-work) on luck vs. hard work is really helpful for a bit of perspective/guidance as well. I'd certainly never really thought about the term "Ovarian lottery" prior. Among other things.