From the high school auditorium to the college theater: a drama student’s struggles

I expected my senior year to be easy.

Throughout middle school and my first three years of high school, I had taken all of my math and science requirements, and then some. Now, to all of those who have a knack for (or, even enjoy) STEM related classes, I applaud you. However, my talents have proved to lie elsewhere, and being able to have a reprieve from math and science for a year seemed like an absolute paradise.

But then the Common Application opened on Aug. 1, and all my dreams of free time flew out the window.

The majority of my senior year hasn’t been spent on homework, but instead on applying to colleges. For first time applicants, trying to chart this foreign territory can be incredibly confusing and exhausting.  After two hours of writing essays about how much you absolutely love and are completely dedicated to a school that you (in reality) aren’t all that excited about, it’s all too easy to feel like giving up.

I feel like there are many misconceptions that go along with applying for colleges, and too many students go in blindly and make mistakes that they later regret. In order to help those of you who are currently applying for colleges, or will be in the next few years, I have some tips to help you chart the college application waves.

Common App or Not? In my personal experience, I’ve found the Common App to be incredibly helpful. With the Common App, you only have to fill out one application for all of your colleges. Some colleges do not accept the Common App (you fill out separate online applications for these schools), but the majority of schools do. Some, in fact, even require you to fill out the Common App. One large perk of the Common App is also that it keeps you organized. It lets you know which colleges require what, and what their deadlines are. Coming from a person who has an extremely busy (and sometimes unorganized) life, this aspect has been incredibly helpful.

Know the difference. For almost every college, you can apply for Early Decision, Early Action, or Regular Decision. Early Decision is a binding application, in which you apply to a school by an early deadline (usually in early November) and pledge to go to that school if you are accepted, no questions asked. The belief is that schools are more likely to accept you if you choose Early Decision, as you display loyalty to the college. Refrain from applying for Early Decision if you aren’t absolutely certain you would be happy attending that school, or cannot pay the full cost of expenses.

Early Action is a non-binding application, in which you apply by an early deadline in order to receive a decision notice by an earlier date. Early Action is helpful if you like to know decisions early; however, if you’re applying to several colleges, trying to get all of your application in early can be stressful.

Regular Decision is a non-binding application in which you apply by the regular deadline for the school and receive an admission decision in late spring. Talk to your parents and counselors to see what is best for you and your future interests.

Apply to a variety of schools. Applying to a variety of schools allows you to keep your options open. As senior year progresses, you and your wants and needs change. Apply to at least four (or more!) schools so that you can be sure that when decision time rolls around, you’re happy with where you’re headed in the fall.

Be choosy. Most schools require you to pay to apply. Instead of flinging money at every school you can find, be smart about where you apply. There are hundreds of incredible colleges and universities across the country that have no application fees, like Nebraska Wesleyan University, Baldwin-Wallace University, and Loyola University Chicago.

Be conscientious about deadlines. Colleges have a variety of deadlines, some as early as October, some as late as May of the next year. Be aware of deadlines and get in your applications and all necessary materials (transcripts, ACT scores, etc.) in on time. The worst thing is to work on an application for a week and then find out that you missed the deadline.

College is a match to be made, not a prize to be won. If you don’t think you’ll be happy and won’t be able to afford it, don’t apply to a certain school just because it’s highly acclaimed. Going to Harvard or Yale means nothing if you’re miserable while you’re there. You should go to a school that makes you happy, and that you know will allow you to be successful.