What I Learned about the College Admissions Process

Ethan Lee, Sports Editor & Business Manager

I really can’t believe this entire process is over. Maybe because for me, it was longer than most, stretching from the summer of last year when I started working on my application for the first time until I got my last decision in late March of this year. Or more likely because the whirlwind of emotions I had experienced during the process—namely anticipation, dread, nervousness, exuberance and exasperation—perpetually tugged on my heartstrings so much that the contrast between what I feel now—extreme boredom during quarantine and the absence of stress—is a little too severe and sudden… and almost surreal. But either way, now that college admissions season is over, I want to look back at what I did right and what I did wrong, and critique it all in hindsight. This is what I want to share with prospective college-bound students at Portage Central: 

To start, creating a realistic list of colleges you think you have a chance of being admitted at is a necessity. For more competitive and ambitious applicants, consider creating a list with three tiers: safety schools (schools you think you will almost certainly accept you), target schools (schools you think may accept you, but not completely guaranteed) and reach schools (schools where you pretty much have no chance at but just want to shoot your shot). Make sure you have a healthy balance of schools in each tier, because I’ve learned lessons on expecting the unexpected and always having a backup plan.

Courtesy of Brother Rice High School

When crafting this list, don’t just chase clout and go after rankings; schools are much more than that. Look and see if the college has a particular major and/or program that you’re truly interested in. Though cost may be the greatest factor, I would say that the second most important aspect would be the culture and vibe of the campus. Can you see yourself fitting in with the other students? Can you imagine yourself being there? An in-person visit may be the only way to find out, but it’s worth it.

Try to differentiate yourself from the other applicants. Demonstrate your passion for something, whether it’s playing football, the process of founding your club or the internship at a science lab you took during the summer. Admissions counselors want to know about your true interests, and what you will offer to their school if you enroll. They can also see through the fake stuff. Always. So cut it.

When I first heard the notion of writing college essays during the summer between junior and senior year, I scoffed. I would have months and months to edit and revise them before submission. Yet school, sports, activities and social life caught up before I knew it, and I was going through my eighth rendition of my Common Application essay a few days before application deadlines. In addition, many teachers, counselors and even friends and family will be glad to help read through and edit them. Giving these gracious folks enough time to do so should be a common courtesy. 

Lastly, highly consider applying Early Action to schools. This allows you to receive a decision some time in December or earlier, instead of waiting all the way until March. Yes, you will have to work and submit your application sooner (usually on November 1st), but it saves you a lot of stress and waiting time if you are admitted. Personally, knowing that I had a few options early on was reassuring enough for me to “relax” halfway through senior year. 

In the end, heed my amateur advice with a grain of salt if you wish. If I knew all the tips and tricks about this turbulent process, Harvard University would obviously be on its knees begging me to enroll on a full-ride scholarship—which, I will have to say with great regret, is not the case. Even if you follow these guidelines, the college admissions process will legitimately oftentimes feel random, especially at highly-selective institutions. Just remember that in the end, people will end up where they are meant to be. No one ever regretted what college they went to on their deathbed. Just go out into the world and forge your destiny.