I applied to seven colleges before December, while also juggling a challenging IB curriculum and a part-time job. How did I do it? With hard work, persistence, and a whole lot of luck. I was not only required by my job to apply to seven colleges, but I used it as a cushion to ensure that I was accepted into at least one college. And by applying early, I was able to enjoy my last year of high school instead of stressing. So here is my advice to help other students with applications, fees, and other obstacles they may encounter.
My first piece of advice to rising juniors, and even sophomores: start your college essays now. It may seem scary, but if you look up generic essay prompts online and do them, I promise it isn’t so bad. Many colleges ask about the same things: your leadership abilities, a time you were challenged, or how you are impacting the community. If you start typing good chunks of essays now, you will save a lot of time and effort in the long run, as you can simply reuse the essays later. However, some college applications have thrown total curveballs at me. I have been asked questions ranging from, “If you could create any class, what would it be?” to, “Give us your top 10 list.” Some colleges want to be unique and eclectic in order to truly see the applicant’s creative side rather than asking for a standard essay, so be ready for that as well.
You should also keep an eye out for when college applications go live for the year you are applying. One school’s application may open up in early July, while another is available in September. It all depends on the college, but it’s up to you to be aware. Many of the schools I applied to opened up in either July or August, allowing me to turn in two or three applications before my senior year had even started. This kept the ball rolling for my other applications, and I am proud to say I applied to all seven of my colleges before December—six of them Early Action. I have received acceptances from all six Early Action applications, which goes to show how much diligence and hard work pays off in starting applications early.
Avoid application fees
Many colleges charge fees to apply, but you don’t have to go broke to pay for your applications. This process is, in my opinion, much easier if you attend a low-income high school like myself. Upon demonstrating financial need, the SAT will give you four college application fees after you take the SAT. These can be faxed or mailed to any school that accepts College Board fee waivers. This may cover all of your applications, in which case, great! With application fees ranging from $50–$90 each, it’s good to save yourself some money. Another way to complete free applications is to apply for an NACAC Request for Application Fee Waiver. While I have not personally used this method, I know many people who received fee waivers this way. Lastly, check to see if your state has a free college application week. In North Carolina, every year high schools across the state take time out of class to apply to colleges, and a select few colleges in North Carolina are free to apply to during that week. Bottom line: don’t let finances stop you from applying to the colleges that are a good fit for you.
By following these tips myself, I’m having a shockingly easier time managing my senior year than my peers. Many of my classmates are balancing school, a job, sports, and clubs, plus college applications on top of everything. By checking college applications off my to-do list early, a large chunk of time I would have spent working on apps is now free time for me. I have taken this time to be more involved in school events, dedicate more time to my job, and even take up a new hobby: painting. (It’s not only a great stress reliever but also a way to make money with enough practice!)
With this advice in mind, I hope it’s easier for you to apply to colleges. If I was able to successfully apply to seven colleges early, save money, and have time to enjoy my senior year, you can too!