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Tips while finishing up college applications…

Ohhh, it’s that time of the year again.  Thanksgiving Break.

Where green triangles are the most satisfying thing high schoolers’ eyes will ever behold, and where yellow and red triangles mean yet more hours of worry and parents pestering you with the question, “Have you finished your college apps yet?”

    CommonApp1 USC-Campus

As these final hours are winding down, remember that 90% of your applications are pretty much completed.  Your first semester senior year grades will not drastically change the GPA you’ve been building for the past 3.5 years, and will be submitted soon.  Your standardized tests are all over and done and submitted as well.  I’d like to meet the person ambitious enough to start a new club right now, grow it, and undergo enough growth in order to impact their community before January.  Most likely, your teachers will already be in process of writing your recommendation letters and sending them out shortly.  Which leaves one area left in your control: your essays.

I’ve heard some people complain that essays are the most difficult part of the application process because they are the most subjective.  While it is true that your essays will be subject to your reader’s interpretation and opinions, the truth of the matter is that your personality will also be subject to your reader’s interpretation and opinions, as it always is.  Thus, I actually really liked the essay portion of college applications, since it provided me a way to really analyze my growth as a student as well as the development of my character and personality over the years.

The purpose of the essays is for you to express your true feelings about either the school you’re applying to, or to shed some more insight into your personality and see if you are indeed a good fit of the school.  It is really important to write a creative essay that shows personality and who you are–since that’s what will give admissions officers a good gauge for how you’d fit in with everyone else at that school.

university-of-southern-california-15      campus_day

Where to Begin?

  • Think about the areas in which you’ve been the most involved over the past years.
  • Think about the areas in which you’ve shown the most passion and might consider continuing once entering college.
  • Try to make it multi-faceted and different, not just about one event in your years, but see growth.
  • Sometimes when I have writer’s block, I record myself answering the questions asked.  Then, I transcribe.  In a few minutes, I’ll have had a decent rough draft in progress.
  • Try be in a positive, inspired, and energized mood while writing essays, since your attitude can come off in your writing voice.
  • If you’re really stuck, go outside or go to some place that inspires you.  Sometimes, reading a favorite author or watching a favorite movie can also help kickstart the creative process.
  • Do your research about specific things that excite you about a certain school.  For USC and Marshall, I was interested in the international opportunities and the interdisciplinary opportunities, and wasn’t afraid to talk about it in my essay.  Some of my fellow MSAs have written blog posts about why they chose USC that you can look up.  I’ve also written a previous blog post about why I love my school here:
  • Give yourself plenty of time to edit and revise, so start brainstorming and getting a few drafts down on paper early.

Things to Keep In Mind

  • Follow the instructions.  Colleges try to be as specific as possible when asking questions in the applications.
  • Don’t fall for gimmicks by attempting to write a wacky/risky/controversial/tongue-in-cheek/incomplete essay.  If you’re just trying to game the system, chances are that it won’t work and you’ll leave people unimpressed.  If you are actually genius enough to be able to pull off a gimmick essay, there’s probably something equally genius indicative in another part of your application (your numbers/scores, or your extracurricular accomplishments?) that will be stronger than said gimmick essay.  Write about something you’re passionate about, since those essays will always be strongest.
  • You don’t have to be someone that you’re not.  You have family, friends, peers, and teachers who already adore you the way you are, so don’t feel like you need to hide your quirks or make yourself seem funnier or cooler than you actually are.
  • Be yourself and have fun with the supplemental short take questions.  There’s no wrong answer to those.

Ok, maybe there is a wrong way to go about the short takes.
(One of my current classmates at USC was tempted to submit this.)

Ways to Stay Stress-Free

  • Make sure you are able to do things that help you stay relaxed.  For me, when my mind is racing, I tend to want to exercise since physical activity also seems to calm down my mental state as well.  Some of my friends dance, listen to music, play with their pets, or call up a friend.  Just make sure you have an outlet of some sort.
  • While it may feel good to eat comfort foods in stressful situations, junk food will ultimately 1. make you fat 2. make you feel lethargic and gross, so try to make sure that you’re still eating well and that you don’t compromise your health.
  • If you have to, deactivate your Facebook account.  The opportunity to procrastinate is devastating when you’re under as intense a pressure as the college application process.
  • Take things one step at a time.  Work on one application, then another.  Try your best to work efficiently at one thing at a time–that way, you won’t get overwhelmed by your workload.
  • Try to get a solid amount of sleep each night.  The specific amount may vary for different people.  I know that when I don’t get very much sleep, I tend to have lapses in judgment, be more careless, and become more easily overcome by emotions and stress.
  • Soak up the holiday spirit!  The thanksgiving attitude and renewed sense of connection with family and friends makes me really happy, which both inspires me and helps me de-stress.

What have I done!?     WEB_SAC-560x373

Before You Send..

  • Have someone read over it for edits, but if that person tells you to make major revisions right before the deadline, don’t do it! It’s not worth it.
  • Check again for grammar and spelling mistakes.
  • Check again.
  • Read your essay aloud.  Does the essay really sound like you?  (This ties into the next bullet point.)
  • Be proud of the work that you’re submitting.  If it’s been so heavily edited that it no longer feels like you own the essay that you’ve written, change it enough so that you can look at it and say, “I WROTE THAT.  Not my parents, or my family member, or my counselor, or hired admission tutor, or anyone else, but me.”  Take ownership of your ideas and your life–and make sure your essay reflects that.
  • This may sound obvious, but check to see if you have the correct school’s name written down for everything in the app.

Some of these tips are mine, and others are from some of my friends both at SC and at other schools who have completed the college application process in recent years.  Again, this is all advice, so you can feel free to take it, or leave it!

Good luck writing and finishing your applications!  This is the final stretch–you guys are almost done with this extremely stressful period of your lives.  Let me know in the comments below if you have any questions or concerns or any other tips to help your fellow prospective students out, or any feedback to give me.  Fight on!

– – –

First-Year Application Timeline:

December 1st – Deadline for USC Merit-Based Scholarship consideration (also the deadline for some talent majors)

January 15th – Final Application Deadline for first-year applicants

Late January – Scholarship notification

April 1st – All first-year decisions sent

May 1st – National Candidates Reply Date


Posted on November 27, 2013 by Wendy


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