I want to start by saying that I am not an expert. Do not take my word as the final say and if you have questions about your case you should contact your college counselor or admission counselor. But, I have been through the college admission process the past few years and now I am on the other side of it. I applied to eight colleges (UGA, UNG, Belmont, Berry, Mercer, Georgia State, Liberty, and Covenant) and got accepted and offered scholarships at all of them. Granted, none of these were really reach schools, but I have ended up going to a school I really love and am really excited about! I am going to Berry College Honors Program as a Presidential Scholar. I just want to share my experience and some advice that I wish I knew when I was in your place.
First, a few general pointers. You should only focus on what you can actually do. By that I mean, don’t stress about which college you should decide on when you are a sophomore. Focus on what you can do and if it feels confusing or you are not exactly sure what to do: ask someone who knows (like your college counselor or a parent) and write a list. Go one at a time and cross things off. I found this time to be very stressful, but it helps to focus on what you can do at that point instead of worrying about everything you will have to do in the future. Another helpful hint would be to visit a school before you apply. I tour can really give you a good feel for a school so if are interested in applying to a school, go visit first if you can. Each application takes up time and costs money, so there is no need to waste either of those assets.
If you are a freshman or sophomore, my recommendation to you is to focus on your grades. These will be seen as part of your application and it is way easier to keep something good going than to try to dig yourself out of a hole. So, keep as good of grades as you can while challenging yourself with how hard of classes to take. If you can, also join and do 2 or more extracurricular activities. Try to find things that are different (like if you play a sport also volunteer or do an academic extracurricular) and something that you can do all four years of high school. And ideally, something that you can get a leadership position by your junior or senior year. But, don’t worry about this compared to grades and classes, because it’s not very hard to make a good-looking resume.
Junior year can be very stressful. Typically, this is your hardest academic year (and it was for me) but you also need to start thinking about college more seriously. For Juniors, I would say that all you need to do is keep your grades up, visit colleges, and take the SAT/ACT.
After interim week you will have a good jumping off point from the college trip so visit more colleges that you have heard about and are interested in. If they are in Georgia, just schedule a tour and miss a day of school. If you want to visit others that are farther away, I recommend going over spring break or another break to visit several in a row. I went with a few friends to visit several colleges that one friend’s mom had picked out for us and that is when I first saw Berry and my top school, Belmont. If you don’t know what schools you are interested in, talk to people—your parents, your friends, your parents’ friends, your friends’ parents—and ask them where they went to school and if they liked it. Then when you hear about a school and the description sounds like something you would like, look up the school. Every college has a website where you can look at what programs they have or at least see pictures of the campus. If it still seems interesting, go visit!
When it comes to taking the SAT or ACT, I recommend doing this the spring semester of your junior year. You know what kind of test taker you are so you can come up with your own strategy. I advise taking each one once in like January and Febuary. Wait and get your scores back, whichever test you did better on, take that one again a month or two later. I also used Khan Academy’s practice test to prepare before I took the SAT again, and that helped my score.
Senior year is obviously crunch time. By the end of interim week I would try to have a list of all of the schools you want to apply to. My list ended up being lots of different kinds of schools, but all (with two exceptions) I knew I could be really happy at. Those two exceptions are Mercer and Georgia State, which I applied to because they are the only beach volleyball programs in Georgia and for a second I thought I wanted to play beach in college, but then I realized that I would also have to play indoors so I ended up never really considering (or visiting) these schools. I used interim week to visit two or three schools and write my college essays. Don’t worry, you can go on winter Kairos and have an amazing time! Interim week really helped me figure out what schools I wanted to go to but also especially helped my get those essays done. Since I had written the essays I was able to get revision help after interim week and just have the easy (though time consuming) part of the applications yet to do.
Talk to your English teacher or Ms. Moffet about reading over your essay before you send it. Ask your college counselor, Dr. Reid or Dr. Rodgers, if you have questions about your application or resume or any specific questions at all. They are here to help you but they are not able to if you don’t ask them to. Look at each college’s website and write down their deadlines. I recommend applying early action as much as you can—I applied to all my schools early action and was done with applications by January. Early action lets you get them done earlier, and gives you more opportunity for scholarships. You may not realize, but college is super expensive and it may cost a lot of money to go to your dream school. Every bit of scholarship helps so make sure you look at the website and apply for scholarships.
Senior year was very stressful, but just try to prioritize college applications and take one thing at a time so that you will have options when you are deciding in the spring. The decision itself was also stressful for me but it is much better to have options than no options. And I ended up at a great school and I am really excited for the fall! I did not really enjoy this college application process, but it is well worth it because I get to go to an incredible institution that is a good fit or me. I will be moving out, doing my own thing, meeting lots of new people, and furthering my education. I wish you all the best in your search and hope you have learned something from this.