Before their final exams began, the HS junior class gathered to hear 13 seniors talk about their experiences applying to and being accepted into college. These particular seniors had been selected because they had had particular success or challenges as they navigated the college application process. They each had two minutes to share their top tips and takeaways with the juniors. Here’s what each senior had to say:
Em had to decide between two Ivy League schools. He talked about how to make choices between different schools, first warning the juniors what should not be part of their decision process, namely, prestige and where their friends were applying. He claimed that the top universities in the world will give you practically the same education, “The quadratic equation is the same everywhere, whether you’re at Harvard or at a university in the middle of nowhere.” He went on to say that published research shows that students from different universities who had the same SAT scores and GPAs earn the same salary, on average. Therefore, their future success isn’t dictated by the prestige of their university.
Em suggested that the juniors should consider fit and costs—especially as a “better” college won’t actually help them make more money later. They should ask themselves which university seems to have the best campus, location, atmosphere, and people—for them. “Join their Facebook group, their chat groups, and start talking to other people. Talk to your admission officers and ask for RIS alumni’s contact information so you can ask them for advice. Above all, you should pick a university that makes you feel happy and as if you belong there.”
Singrhu, who will be going to Rice University to major in engineering, suggested that if the juniors know what they want to study, they should “find a solid program and research it well.” She believes that a good student-to-faculty ratio is important and that even though small colleges may not typically have as many resources as big ones, that some small private universities do.
Wow-Wow shared the advantages and disadvantages of applying through Early Decision, or ED. She submitted her application to the University of Pennsylvania in early November and therefore had to withdraw all of her other applications and commit to going. Wow-wow recommends this approach if a student has a dream school that they want to get into, but she noted that the disadvantage is that if you get in, it’s binding—you have to go. She advises researching the school well, including the local community.
Iris applied to schools in Japan and explained that there’s a website that shows all of the available university programs. She also advised that the universities usually want all of your documents to be printed, signed, and mailed to arrive before the deadline.
Prim (I) talked about schools in Australia, which have a slightly different academic calendar. This means that the application deadlines differ and that some subjects don’t accept intakes until the first semester. Students can apply directly to a specific university (through their website) or work with an education consultant, which Prim recommends as “they help you through the whole application process for free and will also waive the university’s application fee.”
Air applied to medical schools in Thailand. She recommends taking the ILT and trying to finish it “in one go.” She also noted that applicants will need to take the SAT subject tests and provide a portfolio, which is limited to 10 pages. She advises reading through the guidelines carefully.
Prim (T) applied to universities in Hong Kong and shared those requirements, namely SAT scores and IB/AP scores. She suggested that the juniors focus on which courses they will need to take, especially specific IB or AP classes, as well as extra-curricular activities because the schools will ask applicants how those relate to the field they choose. Prim stressed that the interview process is very important and recommends asking the counselors for more information as well as contacting students at the universities.
Jasmine focused on UK universities. She used that UCAS, which allows a student to apply to five universities with one application, “so there’s no need to write five different essays.” It also has drawbacks as “you can choose only one field and the application deadline is in January.” She also believes that colleges in the UK tend to prefer the IB program “because they don’t have to convert scores.”
Brux talked candidly about the realities of rejection and the importance of having a solid back-up plan. His Early Decision application to Penn State was rejected, but that didn’t stop him. He had back-up plans through early action and regular decision. He said that “Rejections are not the end of the world. They happen to everyone. They can help to make you stronger.”
Maddox was forthcoming about students who have athletic aspirations. He did a college tour with his dad the previous summer and had contacted the schools and coaches beforehand. He visited 10 colleges but ended up applying to only one of them because “your mind will change all the time when you’re applying to colleges.” He wisely advised that “rejection can make you realize that other schools are just as good” and that “if you really want to play sports you will find a way, you don’t have to be on the team.”
Cooper also stressed the benefit of visiting colleges before applying; he visited 8 of the 10 he applied to. He went on to talk about the value of honesty in the college essay: “Universities will be asking, do we want this student to come to this college? It’s important to find something unique to you and that would be good for the college as a whole.”
Maren applied to both US and European schools, where the application process is different for each school. She feels that the biggest part of choosing the right school is doing good research and talking to the HS counselors. That’s how she learned about several schools and figured out which would be the best fit for her. She emphasized that a good essay will “show who you are and why you’re interested in going to that school.”
Lily wants to go to university in Korea and had just finished her applications as they are on a different timetable. She shared that applicants will need to take the TOEFL test and a Korean test, if they are not a native speaker. Students can apply to a maximum of six schools but should be aware that all of them require different applications and letters of recommendation.
Mr. Said wrapped up the presentation with one simple question. He asked the seniors to raise their hands if they believe the juniors should start working on their college research now. Every senior raised their hand. He went on to encourage the juniors to ask their counselors what they should be working on and reminded them that “if you can’t visit a college, you can do your research online.” He underscored the importance of talking to the college reps when they visit RIS and assured the juniors that “they will remember you and will start offering you things to get you into their college.” Above all, he implored the juniors to “start as early as you can. Use your time this summer to prepare and research.”
By Elisia Brodeur