Senior perspective: a guide to college applications


The Catalyst / Sophia.Vo / Flickr Creative Commons

Students typically use several online application systems as they navigate the college application process.

The idea of applying to college is incredibly intimidating. Often, parents and advisors give the impression that there is only one right approach to college applications, but really, everyone approaches it differently. There is simply no rule book. However, there are some helpful things to know about the process and how to set yourself up for success.

One of the biggest mistakes juniors make when selecting their senior year classes is requesting an excessive number of AP courses because they think it is the key to getting into colleges. Taking a packed schedule is not entirely necessary. Most colleges do not only look for a perfect track record–they want to see the type of person you are, what extracurricular activities you do, and what you will bring to their institution. While it’s important to show that you are challenging yourself and can handle a rigorous course load, especially for top universities, what’s more important is dedicating time to areas of passion. When writing your essays and filling out your activities, the thing that shines the most is your interest in certain fields or your dedication to different causes. Rather than drowning in work your senior year, it is better to focus your energy on continuing your passions. 

Learn about the three categories—University of California (UC), California State University (CSU), and Common Application (Common App)—before you begin considering where you want to apply. I mistakenly believed for a long time that I would need a different essay for each college I applied to, which is luckily not the case at all. 

The UC system includes 9 colleges, and there is one application for all of them. When filling out the application, you can choose which campuses you would like to send that application to. Prior to that, you must select four prompts and write a 350-word limit response for each. Since you only use one application for all of the UCs you apply to, that means you only write four essays for the whole application. 

The state school application is my personal favorite because it doesn’t require you to write any essays. There are a lot of forms to fill out, which takes some time and effort, but thankfully there is no additional writing supplement. Additionally, the application doesn’t include listing your extracurriculars. While some think that looking at just a student’s GPA is unfair, it makes the application easier to complete and more accessible, therefore encouraging more people to apply to college.

For the Common App, the most popular college application system, you must write one lengthy essay. From a list of eight prompts, you choose the question that resonates with you the most and write a meaningful response in under 650 words. Additionally, the Common App has numerous sections for filling out information about your family, education and testing. There are also sections to list and describe your extracurricular activities and a section to list and explain awards you have received. Next, at each individual institution, there are typically extra questions or short essays that you must complete.

For me, all of this was completed over a long period of time. In the summer before my senior year, I enrolled in the NDB Summer Essay Writing course to get a head start on my college essays. By the end of the weeklong class, I had first drafts of all of my essays that were required for college applications. For these essays, colleges don’t want the fanciest and perfect writing; they want the essays to have heart, passion, and examples of why you are a good fit for their institution. 

Although the entire process is time-consuming and lengthy, it is not as difficult as many people make it out to be. When my junior year concluded in June, I began working on my applications, but I took a break until August. Some applications do not even open until the start of senior year, so although you can get started on your essays during the summer, you cannot even begin filling out the actual application. I feel like the biggest piece of advice would be to start early but not rush to get everything done right away. It is okay to spread it out and give yourself some grace when going through this stressful time. It is hard to see at the time, but ultimately, you will get it done and you will get into college. It is important to remember that it all works out in the end and the process is not as scary as it may seem.