I’m among the first generation of my family to attend a four year college. I feel especially lucky to have had three older siblings go through the process ahead of me to blaze a trail, but there are still some things I wish I had known as I stepped out into this unknown territory.
1.) Finding the right college “fit” – a place where you will feel at home – can seem like a daunting thing. But it doesn’t have to be. I advise thinking about two things before all else – size and location. Are you someone who enjoys being among a lot of people? Or do you prefer learning in a more intimate environment? Would you like to go to school close to home? Or are you anxious to get farther away? Once you’ve thought about these things, then move onto thinking about the things outside of the classroom you can not live without. Are you a singer, a dancer, an athlete? Will your college life feel incomplete without the activity that is most important to you? Finally, when you’ve narrowed down those options, what are the schools that offer what you think you would like to study? (I say think you would like to study because I changed my mind three times before I settled on my major!)
2.) The college process produces some amount of anxiety in all students. While you might feel like you’re the only one feeling anxious about your grade in science or your test scores, it might be helpful to know that you’re not alone. One thing to remember: you can’t do anything about the grades you’ve already received, so don’t spend time worrying about them. Instead, concentrate on the classes you’re taking now – make sure they’re as rigorous as can be, and spend time doing well in them. As for test scores, recognize that they are just one part of your application, and that admissions counselors put scores into context.
3.) If you can’t physically visit a school, you can still learn a lot from its website. Is there a virtual tour? Take it! Do current students blog? Read them. If there’s an opportunity to visit the school through a “fly in” program or an overnight, definitely take advantage of it. It’s a sure way to find out if the vibe on a particular college campus is the right one for you. If you're a senior thinking of applying to Tufts, you can check out our fly-in program by clicking here.
4.) Recommendation letters are really important. Our admissions counselors may not have had the privilege of meeting you, so we rely on the people who know you WELL. That’s the key – make sure you ask a teacher who knows you well and can speak to who you are in the classroom. They should be able to tell us more than "she came to class every day".
5.) Admissions officers are interested in the way you spend your time outside of class. It doesn’t have to be about being the captain of a sports team or the editor in chief of the school newspaper. If you have a job or family responsibilities taking care of a sibling or grandparent, tell us about it AND how you’ve learned from it.
6.) College is expensive, no doubt. But there are various ways to fund your education. Look at what the schools on your list offer in terms of financial aid – is it need based or merit based? Is it guaranteed for four years unless your financial situation changes? What do the schools require you to submit in order to apply for aid, and what are the deadlines to submit? If ever there is a time to adhere to deadlines – this is it! Be sure to check out each school’s website to see if they have a net price calculator – with this you can supply some of your financial information and get an estimate of what your expected family contribution in a year will be. And if there are just too many terms to wade through, Associate Director of Admissions Meghan Dangremond has created a series of blogs to go through the basics of financial aid. Take a look by clicking here.
There are probably a lot of other questions you have about this process. Just ask! I and my colleagues are here to help. Remember – you’re not alone if applying to college is making you a little anxious. Do the best you can to enjoy the process AND your senior year.