Dear rising seniors: An open-letter to the Class of 2021
Dear Rising Seniors,
We are all hurtling towards one thing: student loan debt. That is the sad reality of our world. However, a college education is a common path towards a better future and upward mobility. While you stress over not knowing what to do to get ready for college, let me help by telling you what I’ve learned, so you can get the most out of your college application experience.
Q: When does the college process start?
A: Honestly, you should start during the summer before your senior year. My school actually gave us summer work for the college process including a Common App essay draft, a list of activities we did in high school and an autobiography to help the counselors get to know us. I don’t want to sound like your guidance counselor, but you should start drafting your Common App essay over the summer.
The Common App is the college application service used by most schools across the country. There are a bunch of essay prompts that you can choose from, and they’ll come up with a quick Google search. When you write your essay, avoid writing about something that anyone could see by looking at your transcript. For example, don’t write about how your grades dipped sophomore year and how you bounced back. That is something an admissions counselor can see by looking at your record. Even if you really feel the need to explain yourself, this should not beat out an essay about something important to you such as an ideological concept, personal philosophy or an anecdote that describes who you are or a life-changing experience.
Q: I heard that grades don’t matter your senior year. Is this true?
A: No! Colleges require that you send them your first semester grades. This means that grades matter up until you finish midterm exams. Even if you apply to schools early, your counselor will report your first quarter grades. This doesn’t mean you can slack off afterward, though. The threat of your acceptance being rescinded always looms over your head which means you should stay focused on your grades. Your second-semester grades aren’t as important; however, if your grades drop significantly, you run the risk of the school you worked so hard to get into deciding to reject you at the last minute.
Q: How can I juggle college applications with school work?
A: It’s very hard but not impossible. The advice I would give is just to take things one at a time. When you sit down to do work, focus on one thing. Don’t try to scatter your brain among all your school subjects and college. Drown out school when doing college essays. Drown out college essays when doing homework for school.
Q: How can I be prepared for the SAT?
A: The SAT, originally named the Scholastic Aptitude Test, is ever-changing. Fortunately, more and more colleges are realizing that the SAT is not a clear indicator of intelligence or college readiness. Nevertheless, colleges are businesses, and they will prefer to see higher SAT grades so that their SAT average for accepted students goes up. High averages increase the amount of funding they get from the government and private groups.
If you want help mastering the SAT, the famous Khan Academy hosts a free SAT prep service. Make an account on khanacademy.org/sat and start practicing ASAP. The latest you should take the SAT is in October of your senior year. I also recommend using Google to find full SAT tests from previous years, which come with the answer sheet. Taking the test multiple times will help you get a feel for what will be covered and also give you an idea of what your potential score is.
Q: What are the most up-to-date requirements?
A: Something we high school students are often told is how different the process of applying to college is now. Nobody can relate across generations to the college process experience, which doesn’t allow for consistent development of SAT mastery. Currently, students take an SAT with a max score of 1600 as per the requirements of almost every college/university. Students are also expected to write an essay of 250-650 words.
Other options include the ACT (American College Testing), another standardized test that incorporates science. Additionally, most colleges require supplemental essays to their own questions. If students apply to a “test-optional” school that doesn’t require the SAT or ACT, they are almost always required to write an essay as a substitute.
Based on their GPA and SAT/ACT scores, students can find acceptance projections through Naviance, the website utilized by many schools to organize applications. Students are writing these essays up until deadlines, likely a result of electronically induced procrastination – the double nature of technological progress. So many students are working last minute, in fact, that the Common App website can slow down, delaying submissions or even shut down completely.
I hope this burst any bubbles you might have had toward what senior year would be like. You might find yourself asking why all of this matters. Well in our world today, the job market is getting consistently more and more competitive. So competitive in fact, that fields of study at universities are beginning to fill up. For example, computer science and engineering are two of the hardest majors to apply to at any school, because so many people want to get into those job markets. Your later life will be determined by your job and your job, or any other work you might do is heavily dependent on what you choose to do in your post-high school life, namely, your experience in college. As it stands now, most businesses are looking to hire college graduates for their 9-5 posts. This makes it extremely difficult for people without a degree to make it in the average job market. Of course, there are other paths that don’t involve college, and I’m in no position to tell you where to take your own life, but even in well-paid professions that don’t require a college degree, raises are available for degree holders.
I want to urge you to be calm as you navigate through this very important stage of your life. Take it very seriously, but don’t change who you are over something that will last only four years. While the effects of high school and college will shape your life, they should not be the driving factor. The driving factor should be you and your own choices.