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4 Things Students Shouldn’t Stress About When Applying to College

By Scott, IvyWise Master College Counselor

The college application process is potentially the most stressful time of a student’s high school career. However, chances are they’re stressing about things either out of their control, or fixating on one of the many myths surrounding the college admissions process.

As a counselor, part of my job is to help alleviate some of this stress and help my students channel their energy into parts of the process that they can control.

Here are four common things that students spend a lot of time worrying about, but shouldn’t.

Writing the Perfect Essay

When it comes to the college application, few things stress students out like the personal essay (cue dramatic echo). But if you keep in mind that the essay isn’t meant to tell the reader everything about you, and that it’s just one part of a larger whole, it should bring the task into perspective.

Yes, colleges do place special importance on the essay. But, in truth, it’s not very long, meaning you can’t tell them too many things with sufficient detail. When crafting an essay, your goal should be to choose one or two things the admissions committee is not likely to discover elsewhere in your application and illustrate that in an engaging, thoughtful way that shows your personality.

Being Completely Unique

Admissions officers read literally thousands of applications and have seen a broad spectrum of applicants, so it’s unlikely that your debate championship is the first to come across their desk. However, that doesn’t mean you should abandon your passion and take up an odd and unusual activity for the sake of being “different.”

Tell the admissions officer why you debate, how it makes you feel, and how it’s part of who you are. Your individual take on why you enjoy this activity and demonstrating your depth of involvement and passion will make you stand out.

Having a Mind-Blowing Resume

Students ask all the time whether they need to have some major accomplishment on their resume in order to stand out, and the answer is a qualified “no.”

Sure, colleges are looking for talented students. Having a lead role in the school play will help your chances more than never having auditioned, but so will being the dedicated sound specialist for the school play each year. Showing that you have interests and that you’re willing to commit your time outside of school to those activities tells colleges that you’ll come to their campus and make their community interesting and exciting.

Get out there and explore, experiment, and don’t be afraid not to be the best at everything — but do make sure you find a few things that genuinely interest you and commit to them.

Needing to Get into a Prestigious School to Be Successful

There’s a lot of confusing information out there that seems to say that you either need to get into the best college possible to get your career going, or maybe you shouldn’t even go to college (after all, Bill Gates dropped out, right?)

At the end of the day, motivated people tend to succeed, but the building blocks of their success come from both the things they learn and the people who help them. For many, their key lessons will take place in a college classroom and they’ll meet their future business partner in a campus dining hall or dorm room.

Regardless of where you have your “aha moment” about your career or where you meet the yin to your business yang, the key element that facilitates it will be finding yourself in the right environment. If you’re on a campus that doesn’t have classes that suit your learning style, you’ll be frustrated and probably never imagine yourself doing any of what you learn. And if you don’t mesh with the people around you, it’s unlikely you’ll build deep friendships that later translate into working relationships. So, how do you avoid this trap?

Do your research. Yes, it really is that easy. Even if you can’t visit campuses, most schools have virtual tours on their websites, publish their course catalogues, and have current students employed to answer your questions.

Doing your research will not only help you write convincing essays as to why you want to be at a school, it will help you know whether or not a core curriculum, or a double major, or a campus full of political activists is for you. You may find the school with the big name doesn’t even have your major, or has a relatively weak program, making another more specialized school a better fit for you. You’re going to spend four years there, so you owe it to yourself to be sure you’ll be happy there, right?

While the college admissions process can be nerve-racking, it’s important for families to remember that this process is in their control. Stressing over becoming the “perfect applicant” won’t improve your chances of admission. The best course of action when applying to college is to be yourself and let your true personality and interests shine through. Of course, IvyWise counselors are here to help you along the way to ensure that your college application demonstrates your strengths, passions, and the contributions you can make to the campus community.


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