Last fall I was assigned to the task of applying to college. Yes, it was exciting. I hours spent looking at college websites and following college Instagram accounts to try and get a “real feel” of the student body. It proved to be exciting to senior year me who couldn’t wait to move on to somewhere bigger.
But here’s the thing—I didn’t know where that “somewhere bigger” was.
In fact, I went back and forth between small campuses, private schools and big UCs with large campuses and large student bodies. I grew up in California and I was lucky to find myself with a lot of options within my own state. I could stay in Northern California where I was raised or I could go to Southern California and be close to Disneyland (or what I like to call my second home). Unlike other seniors, I knew what I wanted to major in, but I had no clue where my dream location was. I was going to be an English major with the goal of becoming a screenwriter. So LA seems like the perfect fit, right? But it didn’t become as easy as that. LA is a much larger city than I’m used to and finding a lot of good running trails proved to be a challenge. So even though LA had opportunities (that you would have to fight a whole bunch of other people for), it didn’t have my love of nature. So, I looked north, more north than Northern California, and found schools in Washington, Idaho and Oregon.
Let’s get this straight: I applied to schools up and down California and applied to other schools on the west coast and one on the east coast (shout out to College of William and Mary). I accumulated a list of 25 colleges that I would apply to. Yes, I did apply to each one. 7 were out of state and 18 were in California.
My parents told me I had to be more decisive and I wish I had taken this advice more seriously. The entire fall and a few months into winter were consumed with college applications on top of schoolwork, sports and my weekend job. Finding the balance between writing essays for colleges, completing the Common App (which took so much more time than I anticipated) and making sure I didn’t fall behind in class was a struggle. There was also the organization factor and making sure I was keeping track of early and regular application deadlines for each university. Many nights included staying up to 12 or 1 am, some nights included crying when I realized I had more work to do on an application and the stress of “what if I’m not good enough for any of these schools”sank in from time to time.
The reason why my list grew to be so large was because I tried to keep a good balance between dream and reach schools, match schools and safety schools. If you’re applying to colleges right now or you’ve already gone through this process, then you have probably heard of the terms I’m talking about. But in case you have no clue, here is a brief rundown.
A dream school is one where your SAT/ACT scores are under their average score, your GPA is below their average and the average percentage of getting in is quite low. Match schools are one where your SAT/ACT score falls in their average, your GPA is in their average range and the percentage is at a reasonable number (meaning it’s not something crazy like below 10%). A safety school is one you know you can for sure get into, as your SAT/ACT score is well above their average score, your GPA is well above their average and the percentage to get in is going to be even less daunting. It’s best to find a good balance between these three categories because you’ll be giving yourself a shot at some of those dream schools while still making sure you have other options in case you don’t get selected for one of those top schools.
This is where I struggled. Out of the 25 schools I applied to, 6 were reach schools, 10 were match schools and 9 were safety schools. The problem is that even though my stats may match up with 10 of those schools, it wasn’t definite I was going to get in. And that scared me. The other problems I had were my uncertainty on location, the size of the campus and student body I wanted. Other people in my class had these dream schools they for sure wanted to get into. Some were lucky enough that they knew they would get into their dream school. I didn’t have that same luxury.
But I did find myself with another luxury. When springtime came around and application letters starting popping up in mailboxes and email notifications, I was accepted into 16 universities and waitlisted at 2. This gave me a lot of options, which was both a good and bad thing. And it wasn’t until spring when I started touring more universities that I figured out what it was I was looking for. If only I had toured more schools in the fall then maybe things would have turned out differently.
In some ways, I’m glad I applied to 25 different colleges but I also know time and money could have been saved if I had just been a little more decisive in the beginning. So would I recommend what I went through last fall? Definitely not. If you can save some time for having fun in the fall and winter and decrease your stress levels, then I highly encourage you to do so. Really take a closer look at all of the details that make up your dream education and make sure to check that list quite frequently in case it changes. Make those pros and cons list and remember to be more decisive.
However, sometimes you convince yourself this doesn’t work, the whole being decisive thing. You look at websites, stock the social media accounts, read reviews on Niche and find all the pictures you can on Google Images and still you don’t know if a college is right for you. When you can’t go and tour every college you’re thinking about, well that’s a challenge, too. But please, take it from me and know that everything will turn out the way it’s supposed to. This process is scary and exciting all mixed into one big, crazy ball of emotion. But remind yourself this is just the phase of giving yourself options. You don’t have to overdo it like I did but if you have the time and money to throw in one more college you think might be the one, then I say go for it. But be wary and don’t end up adding an extra 10 colleges to your list.
So from one indecisive person to another, remind yourself, or force yourself, to be decisive in the college application process. You’ll thank yourself in the long run.
Lead image credit: Unsplash