Focus on Self-Discovery When Applying to College
By Juaquin, IvyWise Principal College Admissions Counselor
The path to college should not cause anxiety. Instead, think of it as a time for self-discovery and an opportunity to learn more about who you are and what matters to you. This includes your academic interests and abilities, but also your social and emotional needs. Identify what matters to you and make sure to reflect on your development. One way to view the college admissions process is as a journey where you build a relationship with yourself and learn to trust yourself, and become your own advocate.
Determine Your Needs
Do you need to attend a small liberal arts college with intimate class sizes? Or are you better suited to a large university with ample research opportunities? Part of the college admissions process is learning what you need out of a college, a major, or even the student body. When applying to college your needs come first – not what you think the “typical” college experience looks like. Focus on fit – academic, social, and financial – when building your balanced college list. This is a big part of learning about yourself – what do you need to succeed in college?
Like you, colleges have their own needs, and their admission office works hard to understand and support their institutional needs. These needs can vary from college to college and from year to year. For example, if a college needs more students from a specific geographic location because they yielded too few applicants the year before from that region, they may offer a student a spot over another student whose grades and scores are comparable to fulfill their institutional needs, which may change the following year. Colleges know themselves well and self-advocate. For this reason, you should not take their decisions personally but remember they are taking care of themselves, which is something high school students should be learning to do as well. Colleges know their needs, so you need to be clear about your needs and how the colleges you’re applying to fill those requirements.
Start Advocating for Yourself
Becoming a self-advocate requires is trust, especially when it comes to your ability to make decisions. Much of the college process is about making decisions, from choosing the colleges to which you will apply, to determining the best standardized test to submit, to who you will ask to write your recommendation letters, and so on. High school is the perfect time to learn how to make informed decisions. Seek out the resources you need to support your understanding of the options available to you. This will help you advocate for yourself and express what you need to feel supported. You can practice in the classroom with your teachers or even with your parents. The more comfortable you are with expressing your needs and seeking out the right support, the more you will maximize your potential and standout in college.
Know Your Story Before Applying
There are many unpredictable components and changes from year to year in the college application process. This year a new application was introduced, the Coalition Application, the College Board has changed the content, format, and scoring of the SAT, and the deadline to file for financial aid is now four months earlier. With the earlier financial aid deadline and other changes, it is likely that more students will complete and submit their college applications earlier as well. Submitting your application as early as October may or may not be the right strategy for you. It is always advantageous to work on your application during the summer before your senior year, but the timing for submitting your application requires you to know your story and your transcript. For example, a student who has a downward trend on their transcript may want to submit their application once they have quarter or first semester grades to show the colleges a positive upward trend. Also, a student with an “untraditional” transcript, either because of a year abroad or transferring schools, may want to hold off on submitting their application early.
This is why it’s important to know your story, your needs, and how they fit into the dynamic of a certain college. Having a full grasp of your identity and how your applicant profile looks on paper to admissions offices can keep you from making grave admission decisions – like applying too early or not giving enough context in other parts of your application.
Adapt to Change
The fact that the college admission process changes is nothing to stress about. Instead, think of it as practice for when you get to college and beyond. If you see the college admission process through the lens of self-discovery, you will grow and be aware of how you respond to change. You are in charge of how you respond to change. It is important to assess the difference, determine how much energy it deserves, and always remember you have support. Seek out the expertise, insight, and advice from your IvyWise counselor and/or school counselor to devise your college application strategy, and know how to respond to change if challenges come up during the process.
The college application process requires hard work and a commitment to engaging in self-discovery. While we can’t predict every outcome in this process, there are aspects that are completely in your control. Embrace uncertainty, keep an open mind, and be kind to yourself as you move through these next steps. Remember, you are working to accept yourself and to understand who you are now and who you will become in the future.