By: Shelby Sveiven
Juniors, here are some harsh realities of senior year: you will cry. You will be stressed out. You will (probably) think “Wow, Ms. Campos’s biology class actually wasn’t that bad compared to this!” These things just come with the territory. Another thing that comes with the territory, for a lot of seniors, is college applications. That dreaded—almost unavoidable—reality of being a SOAR student. You’ve taken countless classes at AVC, participated in extracurriculars, held leadership positions, all for those coveted acceptance letters that will spell out the next two-to-four years of your life. Or more accurately, acceptance emails. That’s another thing: you’re going to spend a lot, and I mean A LOT of time in your inbox. Refreshing it, asking for letters of recommendation, emailing admissions counselors at different colleges about if your credits even transfer, et cetera. So get comfortable with having one eye on a device at all times.
But senior year isn’t all bad! Lots of students drive, underclassmen look up to you (when they’re not annoyed by you), and you get the luxury of knowing high school is almost over. It can be pretty great sometimes, but let's bring it back to the worst thing about being the oldest class on campus. College applications. I’ve used my own experience applying to 20 schools, and the experiences of other seniors, to make the ultimate guide to applications: when to start, what we wish we’d done differently, and how to deal when things don’t go as expected.
1. Start Early
This is probably an obvious one, but it’s first on this list for a reason. In order to get everything in order, from supplemental writing to financial aid applications to recommendation letters, start as early as you can. If you know what you want to major in, think about which teachers would be most relevant to write you a recommendation. If you need to do supplemental writing for Common App, or PIQ’s for UC’s, draft early and often and have people you trust read over them. Older siblings, friends who’ve already applied to college, and trusted peers who know you well are ideal reviewers who can help you optimize your message under a word limit. If you’re someone who is looking to apply out of state, starting early also gives you enough time to research robustly and make the best decisions possible about where you’d like to apply and all the opportunities available to you.
2. Stay Organized
This one goes hand-in-hand with starting early, as the main goal is to keep your head on your shoulders and your goals clear throughout the process. One senior, Koji Abel, says, “During the process, it can be quite helpful to organize one’s applications. You can create a Google Drive to do so, including various writing supplements into different sections/documents.” If you don’t have one already, I’d highly recommend making a personal email account to store everything, as you will lose your school email once you graduate, and it’s highly advisable to keep all your documents and communications in one place. When you get closer to deadlines, such as late November for state schools and late December to early January for Common App, it can also be helpful to organize applications in your Drive or folder by deadline and do the most pertinent work first.
3. Keep an Open Mind
One of the most important things to keep in mind is that everyone has a different path. I know people who have applied to one school and committed, who have applied and been accepted to ten schools—the majority of which were out of state, and those like me, who have a mix of acceptances and rejections, trying to maintain patience until regular admissions decisions are released in March and April. I was rejected from my top school, and am applying to 20 schools because that is the decision that makes the most sense for me. There is no one way to do it, and it’s not a race. You have to determine your own goals and what YOU want from your future. Stay your course, and you’ll do great. As senior Alexander Zepeda said during our conversation, “The college that you go to should not define you, and you will find happiness and success wherever you go.”
4. Be Authentic
It’s important to cultivate a strong voice, especially in application writing. You want to show the application reader who you are, and what you could add to their institution. Ultimately, it becomes like a kind of personal campaign, where you’re convincing someone why you deserve a specific thing. Alex advises to “Place yourself in the shoes of an admissions officer and think about what kind of essay you would be excited to read. Showcase not just the things that you do, but why you do them.” Demonstrating to colleges a why and not just a “what” makes you stand out from other applicants, and shows not just what the school can do for you, but the impact that you could have on their campus.
5. Trust Yourself
Ultimately, you’re the only one who knows what you truly want. Whether you apply for different programs at different schools, want to go out of state, or have your sights set on staying in Southern California, you are the one who has to live the life that you’re creating, the life that you’ve worked towards during all of high school. As Koji says, “...doubt derives from indecision and feelings of insufficiency. Regardless of this doubt, one should shoot their shot, even if it is ninety degrees off the mark.” It’s cheesy, but you miss one hundred percent of the shots you don’t take. And Common App being free for all SOAR students and many qualifying for UC and CSU fee waivers, is a wonderful opportunity to take your shots, if you want to.