Current juniors soon to face stress of college applications, decision

By Henriikka Niemi
Staff Writer

This time last year, I was worried about exemptions, senior overalls and my summer vacation, and had no clue about the direction my life would take after high school.

For all the current juniors who will struggle with this same decision, the most important thing is choosing the college that is the best fit for you – not your parents, not your friends, not your boyfriend or girlfriend. I know this message has been repeated, drilled into you and may sound cliché, but coming from personal experience the most important thing is finding a college where you will be happy.

Graphic by Sophie Nauyokas

The first step in the process is choosing which colleges to apply to; now is the time. Applications will be released around August and the essay portion even earlier, so the best way to take advantage of your summer is to start working on these apps as soon as possible.

Despite what you may have heard, although senior year is easier than junior year, it is still not a walk in the park. Adding college applications on top of homework, work, sports or extracurricular activities is not enjoyable and trust me you will thank me later if you get them done. When making a potential list of schools, take into consideration the academics, the size of the school, the setting, distance from home and other opportunities available.

When choosing schools to apply to, I recommend having a safety school, a reach or dream school and one or two somewhere in between. Even if you think you are dead set on one, you never know what circumstances will change your situation. There is always the possibility that you will receive an amazing scholarship from another school or fall in love with a different campus on a visit, so do not put yourself in a situation where you only have one option.

If you are worried about the cost, college applications are typically around $60 to $90 but this fee is paid once you submit. You can space out the payments to make it easier on you and many schools will even waive your fee.

Furthermore, visit every single school you apply to. Although you may hear how amazing it is from everyone who goes there or your parents who attended 20 years ago, there is really no way to know if you fit in unless you actually step foot on campus. Take the college tour, stay with friends who attend the same school and visit all the typical places college students hang out. Sometimes the atmosphere may be a deciding factor.

National college decision day, which falls on May 1, comes much faster than you expect, especially when you have been waiting for decision letters for the majority of the spring. Although many Texas schools send decisions in the early months of the year, other schools wait until March or early April, putting you in a time crunch for a decision.

As the deadline quickly approached this year, I was stuck between attending the University of Texas at Austin and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, both viable and great options. After visiting both campuses and seeking advice, I was still completely confused. I knew the decision my parents were leaning towards, but I was hesitant in committing.

You should definitely consider your parents’ advice; they have life experience and in many cases know what is best for you. Just keep in mind that ultimately the decision is yours and your parents will love you no matter what.

There was not one specific factor that ranked one school over the other in my mind, but I felt as though I belonged at UT. I was accepted to the honors program, I loved the campus on my visit and the city of Austin and UT have thousands of unique opportunities that I could not pass up.

In addition, I advise you to not solely rely on the college rankings list put out by U.S. News, Forbes or any of the others. There is a definite difference between the rigor and prestige of certain schools and programs, but a number on a list will not define your college experience. There is no “right” school and although highly ranked schools may give you an edge in applying for graduate school or your first job, what you do with your degree is the most important in the end.

Probably the greatest source of stress for me throughout the process has been paying for college and if, like me, you are unable to pay completely out of pocket, you should definitely consider financial aid when making a decision. In January after applying, make sure to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and CSS profile from College Board to supply your financial information to the colleges you applied to.

Furthermore, apply for as many scholarships as possible, both local and national. Even though $1,000 may seem like a small amount compared to the total cost, it can still go a long way and some scholarships are even renewable for four years. Check out the financial aid story by Enterprise Editor Elizabeth Sims in the last issue of The Sidekick for more information.

Finally, what I leave you with is the recommendation to do your research, manage your time, stay organized, talk to your parents and begin completing your items as soon as possible. This is the best way to make the process manageable and less overwhelming. Although at times stressful, senior year definitely flies by so make sure to enjoy it.