Applying to College: Advice From a Grizzled Senior

As I prepare to depart from college, and hundreds of thousands of high school seniors are applying for admittance to it, I feel I should extend a little advice in regards to application process based on what I know now.
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The other day a friend asked me about how I feel now that I'm a semester away from graduating from college. My visceral reaction was to say, "I want my money back," but in truth, well, I want my money back -- but also there's a feeling of reflection on where I was when I entered college and where I am now as I'm about to leave.

Just as a cruel twist of fate in Judaism required me to have my Bar Mitzvah the same year my voice box was squeakier than an unmaintained 1985 Toyota Tercel, we go off to college during a time when we don't really know ourselves. Applying to schools is the fun part. It's a blast to imagine yourself in different parts of the country, waving from a postcard while you traverse the mountains that I thought existed in the state of Texas.

Four years later, as I prepare to depart from college, and hundreds of thousands of high school seniors are applying for admittance to it, I feel I should extend a little advice in regards to application process based on what I know now.

First things first, do not pick a school strictly because it has one very specific major that you're interested in. I can't tell you how many aspiring doctors I met freshman year that ultimately became passionate art history aficionados, or how many future TV directors that discovered that their true interest lies in history. Once you get to college you'll discover that students usually change their major as often as they change their clothes. Go to a well-rounded school that can offer you a substantive education in several disciplines. Being stuck in a town you don't like, at a school you don't like, in a major that, after investing tens of thousands of dollars, you realize you don't like, is no fun.

Secondly, don't apply to every school in the country. It's easy to mindlessly check off school's to apply to with the virtual applications that exist today, but save yourself time and money by legitimately asking yourself if you want to go to a school before applying. If you don't submit the application confident that you would be able to matriculate there in the Fall with a smile on your face, don't apply. Your safety school is probably someone else's dream school. Don't clog up the application process by applying to schools that you know you'll be admitted to, but have no intention of attending. The luster of an acceptance letter from a school that you don't want to go to wears off after a couple of weeks, and when you're a freshman forced to live off eating god knows what you'll be wishing you had the hundreds of dollars you spent applying to colleges you had no interest in attending back in your pocket.

Thirdly, if you truly want to attend college, you're going to get in somewhere, so relax. This isn't like the movie 'Accepted' where a mass of high school seniors are forced to flounder hopelessly as a result of not being admitted anywhere. If you have the cognitive capabilities to read this blog post, there's a decent chance that a school out there will be willing to take you. But beyond that, if you don't get into the school of your choice right away, and have absolutely no interest in any other school, seriously consider community college. While it's no fun to tell your friends that you're staying in town to go to the local CC after you graduate, two years later, when you have an amazing GPA, a clearer idea of what you would like to major in, and plenty of money in the bank to pay for the great universities you have the opportunity to transfer to, you won't feel so embarrassed.

Finally, challenge yourself to think outside the box when it comes to admissions essays. One of the tasks you'll be presented with in college will be to take a general idea presented to you and be able to put a unique spin on it. When you approach a prompt for an admissions essay, look beyond the surface of what you're being asked and try to write something that the admissions officer hasn't read 20,000 times already. This means never, under any circumstances, writing an essay about someone in your immediate family who has had a significant influence on you. Trust me, it's been done by hundreds of thousands of people before you, including me when I initially applied to college.

So that's enough of my advice. I will now return to the fearful, panicked state you will feel four years from now when you're about to graduate from college.

Holy crap, I have to find a job.

Got any tips?

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