College Applications: Could’ve Should’ve Would’ve


Alicia Gleacher, Staff Writer

I am a senior this year. I spent my whole year stressing over college applications. I wrote countless essays, watched so many tutorials, and spent hundreds of dollars sending in my applications. Now, decisions are coming out and we seniors are all hoping for the mythic acceptance letter. Getting into college is the pinnacle of senior year for many. I know I made plenty of mistakes, but what is done is done. So, I made this guide to help you all plan ahead and have a better college applications experience than I did. Do as I say, not as I do.

What You Should Start Doing ASAP

The earlier you start preparing and working on your skills, the better. Take as much as you can, but try not to bite off more than you can chew.

1. Take hard classes and challenge yourself

You should take as many AP and Honors classes as possible. Some students prefer to take Dual Enrollment classes, as they let you take more classes weighted for a 5.0. However, these classes go on your permanent college transcript and are very difficult, due to the material and timing constraint (each class is a year’s worth of material done in half the time).

I thought I was taking hard classes, but my GPA was not as high as some of my peers because I took a lot of electives, like theatre and drawing. I wish I had taken more dual-enrollment classes, as they significantly boost your GPA and help get college credit. I also wish I had pushed myself earlier as my ninth and tenth grade because I did not take many AP classes.

2. Make a plan for what classes you want to take

You should have an idea of what area you want to focus on in school. Having a solid plan will not only ensure you complete the graduation requirements, it will let you know where you will stand class rank wise. You may not want to take only AP classes, especially if you want to apply to a non-traditional college, like an art school. Find what niche you want to go to college for and take as many high-level classes in the field as you can.

I knew medicine was a field with a lot of opportunity and money, so I decided to focus on science and biology. Whether I stick with it and become a doctor or not, I know an education in biology can be extended to a lot of fields and job opportunities.

Maya Holland, 12, and Ms. Cofer

3. Be the best at something

Find a skill, activity, or project which can make you stand out. It could be sports, orchestra, art, anything really. To get into elite schools, you need to find something you can be the best at and win something to prove it. Championship titles, awards, and your name in headlines can make all the difference.

4. Establish good relationships with teachers

You will need one to three recommendation letters when you apply to colleges. Building a multi-year relationship with a teacher will get you a foot in the door when you start asking around for letters. Don’t wait until the last minute to ask, and don’t hound your teachers immediately after asking. Teachers are very busy and probably have thirty to fifty other students to write letters for.

I asked Mr. Johnston, Ms. Glover, and Mr. Vickers for my letters. I chose teachers who I trusted, who trusted me, and who had knowledge of the field I was intending to go to college for.

5. Prepare for the PSAT and SAT

You will be taking the PSAT in fall of your junior year and the SAT in spring. The SAT is just one part of your application, but it can be a pretty important part. You should start practicing for it as early as possible. Khan Academy has a free program with hundreds of questions and tests for you to take. I used Khan Academy’s program for about two months and saw a 100 point jump in my SAT score. I also used Khan Academy practice for AP exams.

The fall PSAT for 11th graders is extremely important because it could qualify you for the National Merit Scholarship Program. Students who score in the highest percentile for their state will receive a scholarship, possibly worth thousands of dollars.

What You Should Do Senior Year

First and foremost, you need to pay attention when guidance talks to you, they know their stuff. I know so many times when I heard guidance say something over and over again, but people still asked about it a day before it was due.

1. Get started early

The earlier you start working on applications, the more opportunities you can get. Colleges have a limit for the amount of spots and scholarships they give out, so applying late can mean the funds have run out already. Also, starting earlier (like over summer or even junior year) helps make your senior year less stressful.

2. Make a list of colleges

Find what colleges you want to go to. Don’t base your entire plan on one college or program. Nothing guarantees your acceptance until you have it in writing; not your GPA, not your test scores, not anything. You need to apply to schools based on several factors:

Financial aid – Not all public schools will give you the best bargain. You need to analyze what scholarships they give you, what the average cost is, and what the costs will add up to.

Location / ease of access – Schools that are across the country will be very expensive. You need to take into account travel costs, moving furniture, family visits, and the cost of living in that area.

Lifestyle of current students – Some schools have a reputation for being party-heavy. Others have no social life. Match whatever college you go to with what lifestyle you desire.

Demographics / social groups – Colleges in urban areas will have more minority groups. Community colleges will have more later life learners, so the age of those sitting in class with you range more.

Sports opportunities – If you want to continue your high school sport in college, you need to know where you can make the team and where the best coaches are.

The campus – Go on as many college tours as possible. You can’t fully experience a college until you have toured it.

I took all of these into account. I wish I had done more college tours, but most of my colleges were out of state. I decided to only apply to colleges that focused on education, had comprehensive financial aid programs, and were either in Florida or in the Northeast.

Max Bergmann, 12, and Ms. Cofer

3. The essay

There is one general CommonApp essay, but some schools will have additional material they want you to write. Some applications could require 3 or 4 essays, and one of my applications even required a teacher-graded paper.

The essay is your main opportunity to distinguish yourself from other applicants. It is only a few hundred words, but there are so many websites and guides can help you find what you want to write about. I wrote my college essay about a random, obscure, miniscule topic that I had a strange interest in. I made my essay into an extended metaphor, which showed my writing talent and made the readers think.

4. Make sure you have everything you need

Transcript forms, AP score requests, recommendation letters, etc. There are a million things you need and need to do. Make a checklist for yourself and add to it every time guidance tells you something or you get an email from your colleges of choice.

5. Apply

Once you have actually applied, you are not done yet. You will have to check your email and application portal a few days after. First, check that it was properly submitted and downloaded by the college. Then, read any and all information your portal or email tells you. Some schools want you to create an account on their site and fill out forms, others tell you to submit financial aid information of a housing deposit. This is still part of your application, so if you don’t submit it on time, you may not be accepted into the college.

6. Apply for financial aid / scholarships

You aren’t out of the woods yet. You still have to apply for financial aid, scholarships, and Honors colleges. Some schools have you submit your Honors application with the rest of the application, while others have you do it after. This is a very important step which many people miss. Honors Colleges can give you extra scholarships, better dorm rooms, higher priority in application and class selection, and better opportunities for research or work. If you aren’t planning to apply to an Honors college, you still should apply for financial aid. You NEED to do the FAFSA. It is long and tedious, and you need your parents to help you with their tax forms and income information. After that, some schools have their own private financial aid portals. Ivy Leagues often use CollegeBoard’s CS. Florida schools may use the SPARK, SSAR, SRAR, and more.

I did all of my financial aid as soon as possible, because the earlier you submit the more likely you are to receive aid.

Maya Holland, 12, and Ms. Cofer

7. Wait

This was, for me, the hardest part. The constant reminder emails, the portals updating over every little detail. Watching that loading screen on the portal for your dream school. You will get accepted to some colleges, rejected from others. Just remember that the college you go to is just one part of the process. Take pride in wherever you get in to. Excel as much as you can, take opportunities, meet people, and have a fun time. This is just one small phase of your life, so try not to stress it (wise words from someone who stressed over it immensely). Reply to the college of your choice and figure out your housing and payment situation.


You’re done! Congratulations, you are a college student! Go post about it and tell everyone, this is a huge accomplishment.