Many students plan to attend college after graduating high school, but the process of applying can be very stressful and time consuming. Photo by Anna Maré.

The college application process is complicated and often stressful. Applying for scholarships, deciding which schools to apply to, visiting colleges—there are so many moving parts to the process. This stressful time can be overwhelming, and I wasn’t quite sure where to start when first asked the question, “Well, where do you want to go to college?” But as a senior nearing the point in the year when I will make my decision, I want to share the things I learned from the college application process that could be helpful to those entering this transformative stage of their lives.

Apply for Scholarships. Though this seems pretty obvious to many of those who are applying to college, I, and many other seniors I know, did not even start looking into scholarships until the end of last month. Having two older brothers before me who went through the process of filling out the FAFSA and interpreting aid packages, I thought I knew what to expect in terms of financial aid. Neither of my brothers applied for private scholarships and both managed to attend schools which would cause them to incur very little debt. Knowing this, I didn’t start applying for private scholarships until I started to receive some surprisingly low financial aid packages, and being late to the game with scholarships, to be quite frank, sucks.

This shock of small aid packages leads me to my point that nothing is guaranteed when it comes to financial aid. It cannot hurt to apply for financial awards through schools you apply to or through private organizations. There are scholarships out there for everything, so applying for scholarships near the beginning of senior year is something I cannot stress the importance of enough. Though I still am able to find some deadlines that are workable at this point in the school year, opportunities are much more limited.

Visiting Campus is Essential in Decision Making. As I began to receive acceptance letters from my schools, it was time then to figure out which school was really the one for me. Anyone can go to a university website and read the statistics on acceptance rates, diversity, or student involvement. But you can’t get that ‘feel’ of a school from a virtual tour; visiting campus is so vital in figuring out if you could see yourself living and thriving in that environment. I was always told, if you’re not sure a school is the right fit, visit the campus.
I was honestly quite skeptical in applying to one of my schools because of the location and distance from home. My dad encouraged me to and I ended up applying and getting in, so we drove the six hour drive up to the school to check it out. After staying the night with a student and attending a preview day on campus, I fell in love. I couldn’t really pinpoint why though; it just felt right—I felt like I belonged. The whole trip—setting foot on campus—changed my entire outlook on the school.

Your Worth is not Determined by your Choice of School. Many schools are labeled as ‘elite’ while others may be considered ‘safety schools.’ There are so many fantastic schools throughout the country that have low acceptance rates and are considered the most prestigious. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t great professors, bright students, and wonderful opportunities at other schools that are less renowned. Your worth is not measured by the selectiveness of your school, and it’s what you make out of your college experience that will determine your success.