Navigating The College Admissions Process In High School

Our guest Elizabeth

This blog article is based on the College Talks podcast brought to you by Elizabeth, an upcoming high school senior, discusses the college admissions process.  She is looking at applying to Connecticut College, UCONN, Wesleyan, and Dickinson, among others.  She is applying early-decision to one school, and for the other schools, she is applying early action or regular decision.  Most schools have gone test optional due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so they are not requiring SAT or ACT scores, but she says that without taking the tests, it’s harder to get accepted.  Elizabeth describes the interview process and touring colleges during the COVID-19 pandemic.  She recommends going into the admissions process with a positive attitude,  to plan ahead, and to be organized as it will help reduce the stress of the admissions process. She started out the interview by giving a brief overview of herself:

My name is Elizabeth. I am a rising senior in high school and I go to a private school in New London, Connecticut. I’m currently in the midst of the college process and applying to colleges.

What schools do you plan on attending?

It’s hard to say right now but I do have a couple of first choices. It’s still up in the air and I won’t really know until the fall.

What schools do you plan on applying to?

I have a list of 12 schools but it might change in the near future. So far I’ve looked at applying to Connecticut College, UCONN, Wesleyan, and Dickinson, which is in Pennsylvania.

When do you plan on applying to these schools?

There are different deadlines for applying to these schools. I’m planning on applying early-decision to just one school because it’s binding. Then I will apply for early action in November and early action isn’t binding so if I get into the school I don’t have to go. Regular decision is in January and I’ll be applying to a couple schools that way. I will be applying to colleges in November and January.

So you said that there are deadlines for the schools that you are applying to and it sounds like your latest deadline is January. Is that correct? 

Yes, my latest deadline for applying to colleges is January.

Did you take the SAT or ACT and are you finding that these tests are required for the schools that you are applying to?

Taking the SAT to submit to colleges

Yes but with COVID-19 everything has been drastically changed. When I went into this process in March, I was planning on taking the SAT or ACT and submitting those scores to all of my colleges because most of them required the standardized testing at that time. Due to COVID-19, most of my schools have gone test optional. I am considering skipping out on testing this year.

From what I’ve read, a common app is a standard application that is filled in for multiple colleges. Are you using a common app or do the colleges have their own applications?

Most of the colleges that I am applying to are on the common app, which makes it easy because I only have to fill it out once. One school that I am applying to actually has its own application on the website but for the most part, I am using the common app.

What is the average GPA of students that are accepted?

I’m not too sure about that. It really depends on the school but most of the schools that I’m looking at require a GPA of at least 3.7.

Do the schools you’re applying to consider interviews with the application process? If they do, how do interviews happen now that there is the Covid-19 pandemic?

College interviews for the application process

It’s different for each college. For a lot of prestigious colleges, such as Ivy League schools, they will tell you that they don’t look at the interview in the application process. In that case, the interview would be informational and less about interviewing you and getting to know you. The interviews would just give the student information about the college. Other schools do look at the interview and in my opinion I think the interview is an important aspect of the application because it gives you the opportunity to really talk about yourself and get to know these colleges. It also allows the colleges to get to know you better instead of reading about you on paper.

Do the colleges that you are applying to require essays? If they do, have you already picked your topic or do they supply one for you?

Writing an essay for applying to colleges

You have a choice for most of the colleges. They have prompts that you can answer and one prompt says to write about something that’s important to you or give insight into your life. That’s the prompt I’m going to do because that’s something I can submit to all colleges. I have started writing my essay but I’m not done yet.

Have you taken any college tours, what schools did you tour, and do you have any tips for students looking to tour colleges?

I did tour UConn and Wesleyan. I haven’t toured Dickinson or any of the colleges in other states right now because of COVID-19. On the other hand, because of COVID-19, it has become easier to interview because you don’t have to drive to the school and you can do it virtually. Also, they are doing virtual tours and virtual information sessions. That makes it a lot easier and it is something that I am currently doing over the summer.

Did you find that taking a virtual tour was as informative as the tours that you did in person?

Visiting a college campus

Yes, I did find that a virtual tour was as informative as the in-person tours. However, you don’t get a sense of the area that the college is in. A couple of colleges I am looking at applying to are actually in Washington DC and while the virtual tour is helpful because you get to see the campus, you don’t get to see the area that surrounds the campus. You don’t get to see the neighborhood or the city it’s in. That’s something that has been a little difficult for me.

What did you learn on your tours and what was your first impression?

When you see a college, you just know that you will fit there. For me, I’m looking for a campus that is green and suburban but that I have access to a city. Being on the campus, seeing the dorms, meeting the students and admission representatives will give you a vibe about that college. Sometimes just being on the campus and meeting those people will let you know if the school is a good fit for you.

Did college representatives come to your school and talk to you?

Yes, so every year my school has a college fair in October. I’m not sure if it’s going to be happening this year because of COVID-19. We have over 100 colleges that come to my school and I get to talk to the actual admission representatives that would be reading my application and potentially accepting me into the school. That has been really helpful.

Did you pick your colleges from the college fair?

I learned about some of the colleges when they came to my school. Others are schools that I’ve heard about, schools that my college counselor recommended for me or schools that my parents went to.

Why did you decide to apply to these colleges? Do you already have your major picked or were there other deciding factors? 

Planning to attend law school to become a lawyer

I’m looking to go to law school after my undergraduate years so for me it’s really important that I go to an undergraduate school that will set me up really well for law school and help me to get into a good law school. Also, I am looking at schools that have their own law schools that I could potentially go to after my undergraduate years at that school. For me that’s an important aspect of looking at colleges. Also, the kind of success that someone has after graduating from that college is also important.

Do you know anyone who has attended any of the schools that you are applying to?

Yes, I do. I have a lot of friends and peers that have graduated from my high school and have gone to these schools, so that is how I found out about those colleges.

What is your GPA and SAT score?

I have not been able to take the SAT yet. There is a huge possibility that I will not be taking it this year because most of my schools don’t require it. As for my GPA, I’m not really sure about it because my school hasn’t finalized it yet but it’s around a 3.8.

What are you most looking forward to when attending college?

I am looking forward to studying whatever I am interested in. In high school, you have to take math, science, history, and English but in college I am looking forward to prioritizing and putting a main focus on what I’m interested in learning.

Are you planning on joining any sororities or clubs when you’re at college?

College dance team

I don’t know about sororities but I definitely am planning on maybe writing for the school newspaper because I love English and writing. Also, I am a dancer so I’m planning on being involved in the dance team. 

Do you plan to live on campus?

Yes I do because most of the schools that I’m looking at are five hours away.

Are you nervous about being accepted into college?

Yes I am nervous especially because of COVID-19, if I choose to go the test optional route, it is harder to get into those schools and there’s no way of knowing if you’ll get in or not. You can look at the statistics of the GPA and test scores of students that have gotten into those schools but there really is no way of knowing.

What extracurricular activities have you done in high school that are going to help your application process or getting into college?

Helping out the community

One extracurricular that I have taken all the way and explored every aspect of is dance. I dance outside of school and inside of school. I’m also involved in my school newspaper and my school literary journal so I will be publishing a few of my writing pieces. I’m also involved in my service committee at school so I go out in the community where my school is and help others. 

Have you applied to any scholarships yet?

No but I am definitely planning on applying for scholarships.

Is there anything else that you’d like to share about your admissions process or getting into college that you think would benefit other students?

Go into the admissions process with a positive attitude and know that your list of colleges will change. I also think it’s really important to get ahead in the process. Right now, it’s July and I already have my list of colleges that I will apply to. I feel confident applying to those schools so I have that part of the process over. Unfortunately, most of my classmates are still trying to tour colleges and figure out their list of schools they want to apply to. I think it is beneficial to be organized and get ahead so that you are not stressed out more than you already are.

Now that you’ve given some helpful advice for other students, can you also share some concerns you have about starting college?

I am concerned about being away from home because I am a homebody. Most of the schools I’m looking at are a 5-hour drive so I won’t be able to come home on the weekends. On the other hand, I think that is good for me because it helps me grow my independence and not rely on my parents so much. I am going to miss my family though because I’m very close with them but I am really excited to be able to live somewhere else other than my small town in Connecticut. 

Are your parents helping you with the college application process or are you doing it all on your own?

It’s important for students and parents to set boundaries in this process and work together because it is really stressful. I’ve worked it out with my parents where they take care of the financial obligations and we go to tours and information sessions together. I’ve had help and support from my parents but I am trying to do a good amount of the college process on my own.

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