Applying to College Can Be Tough. It Shouldn't Be.

As the college application season winds up for the class of 2024, here's some guidance from someone who's been through it all.

Applying to College Can Be Tough. It Shouldn't Be.
Illustration by Kaiden Chandler.

By Sham Qarqour

Guest Essayist. Class of 2023

Editor's Note: This article was originally published in the May 2023 edition of The Current. As the college application season winds up, we're republishing this article to provide some guidance and help for the class of 2024.

When applying to college, you tend to get a lot of advice. Keep your grades up, join clubs and sports, volunteer. Have teachers edit our essays and get letters of recommendation before summer. Use the 4-5-3 ratio of 4 safeties, 5 targets and 3 reaches. However, when I applied to college, I found some things that made the process a lot easier, and I believe improved my chances at many schools. I hope you find of these tips useful!

1. Keep Track of Your Essays

Screenshot of a Google Drive folder containing subfolders for different universities.
Image via Google.

In your Google Drive, make one big folder to hold your college applications and essays, adding subfolders for each college. This helps you organize the different essays and materials required for each college. Each college folder should have an individual document for each essay, with the the topic and word count written for reference. This allows you to write our drafts of your essays, and copy and paste your final draft into Common App.

2. Watch Videos from Admission Officers and Alumni

Screenshot of TikTok college videos.
Illustration by Kaiden Chandler. Images via TikTok.

Listening to admission officers helps you understand what they are looking for. They even provide ideas on what to not write as they describe what topics are very popular and repetitive, helping you avoid writing basic or non captivating essays.

3. Visit College Campuses

Touring a couple colleges will help you decide what type of environment you would like to be in. For me I toured both open and closed campuses to decide which I preferred, in addition to city and suburban colleges. Even if you aren't interested in the colleges you tour, its good to see what type of campus you would want to live in.

4. Select as Many Options as Possible

Form asking how the student heard about Eastern Connecticut State University.
Illustration by Kaiden Chandler. Image via Eastern Connecticut State University.

Colleges love to have their ego boosted, so they want to see that you are very interested in them, and that you took the initiative to familiarize yourself with them. Putting down 3-5 options is an easy way to show them that you are very interested. Even if you didn't really talk to your guidance counselor about them, it doesn't hurt to put down that you did.

5. Put Yourself the Shoes of an Admissions Officer

Two people face across a desk in an interview.
Photo by LinkedIn Sales Solutions / Unsplash

In order to write something appealing for an admissions officer, you have to understand what they are looking for first. Put yourself in their place, and ask questions as if you were reviewing someone else's essay. What would I want to see? What shows that this student is going to be successful at my college? What is something I am sick of reading about, and what would make this application unique? Answering these questions helps you to target your writing and better formulate your essays.

6. Have a Passion Project

A beach cleanup in progress.
Photo by Brian Yurasits / Unsplash

Colleges love to see students being involved in activities unrelated to school. While many students talk about their extracurriculars, they tend to focus on clubs and sports. Don't forget to discuss activities that are completely separate from schools. That means something you did because you are interested and passionate about it. For example, if you started a club, you should discuss what you accomplished and how that club bettered you as a person. Other passion projects include newsletters, blogs, YouTube channels, or volunteering. It's very beneficial to include some type of passion project in your application in order to show admission officers that you have outside interests that you have taken the initiative to pursue.

7. Prepare for Your Interview

Two people face across a desk in an interview.
Photo by Christina @ / Unsplash

If you get an interview with one of your colleges, you'll want to prepare some points to discuss, as well as outlines of your answers to the counselors' questions. Research common questions through TikTok, YouTube, and Google. At the interview, avoid stating the "what" and focus on the "why." Your interviewer has your application and knows what you have done; the interview process helps the college to get a better picture of you as a person. Don't want to discuss all the things you did; focus on the reasons and motivations behind your accomplishments. Try to make the interview more of a conversation and less of a presentation.

8. Read Sample Essays from Other Admitted Students

A computer with a document full of writing.
Photo by Super Snapper / Unsplash

Using TikTok and Instagram, find admitted students who have shared their methods for success. This helps you to get more ideas on what to write and submit. I mostly used TikTok to which there are people who post their essays and stats. I found that helpful because it gave me examples of how to write and highlight certain achievements.

9. Be Specific in Your College Essays

A close-up of a fountain pen writing on lined paper.
Photo by Aaron Burden / Unsplash

When applying to colleges, make sure to take the time to write a good "why us" essay. These essays ask you to explain why that college is a good fit for you. For safety schools, you can quickly familiarize yourself with the college through their official website or by asking an artificial intelligence chatbot. You should do more research for your target and reach schools. Sign up for virtual open houses, go on tours, or call the school's student center. When writing the essay, avoid listing your favorite things about the college. Instead, focus on explaining how you would use the school's resources to strive in their programs. If they have a certain program you're interested in, explain why you are excited to be a part of it and how it contributes to your career goals.

10. Start Early

Sunglasses in the sand on the beach.
Photo by Ethan Robertson / Unsplash

You should spend the summer finding colleges you are interested in and making a folder of what they each require. If you can, start writing some of the essays in the summer too; this gives you more time to review your writing with teachers and friends. You should also fill out the personal section and questions Common App in the summer.

The Current