Get stories and expert advice on all things related to college and parenting.
What Matters Most in a College ApplicationPaige Buttels
At the end of high school junior year, college suddenly becomes an unavoidable conversation topic. Everyone you talk to asks what schools you’re interested in, beginning with your top choice.
This constant question contributed to my false expectation that, before even applying, I should know which school I would choose for any given combination of rejections and acceptances. After coming up with my list, I had a general idea of the places I liked the best but my list wasn’t in a definite order in my mind and I worried about that.
My college process had a rough start. Despite my initial plan to apply early to as many of my schools as possible, procrastination got the best of me. I applied to one school Early Action, one Early Decision, and finished the rest of my applications before the January 1st deadline.
The first few pieces of news I received were disappointing. I was rejected from my ED school and deferred from an Early Action school, leaving me anxiously awaiting good news. To say I was nervous is an understatement. Each rejection was a blow to my self-confidence, and as optimistic as I tried to be, the fear of not being offered admission anywhere weighed on me. I’d applied to a balanced list of schools, so this fear was partially illogical. However, I felt behind because most of my friends had already been accepted somewhere. In late January, a school got back to me earlier than expected, and I was able to relax because I was finally in to a college.
I was on a class trip in March when I received another email — a college’s decision was out. It was one of the schools that rotated through my “top choice” spot. This was big.
When I’d stepped onto this school’s campus, it felt comfortable. The info session opened my eyes to programs that sounded like they were made specifically for me. But, when they presented admissions statistics, my mindset shifted from enthusiasm to trying not to get my hopes up. I held back from getting too attached to the school, protecting myself from the letdown of rejection before I had even applied. Now here I was, about to log in and view their decision, and though I knew I should try to stay emotionally detached, my hands were shaking.
I’d learned from experience that I should be alone when I opened an admissions letter, so I walked away from everyone else on the trip. I got out my phone, typed in my applicant status password, and clicked on the “view applicant status update” button. It loaded for a moment. The update popped up, I read the first few words, and burst into tears. I called my parents immediately, crying as I told them the news: I got in!
I still had more colleges to hear from, but at that point my mind was pretty set. The other rejections didn’t hit as hard, the acceptances didn’t hold as much weight, and I declined waitlist offers. The second I got in, I finally let myself imagine life at that school. To some degree, I could’ve known that was the place I should go based solely on my own gut reaction to the news.
After hearing back from every school, I gave myself time before I finalized my choice. I didn’t tell anyone which school I wanted to go to because it felt very permanent. It’s challenging to come to terms with going to college at all, and you have to face it head on when you know where you will be going. During those weeks, I didn’t want to talk about college with anyone. I wanted to be sure and consider only my own opinions when making the decision. Thankfully, my parents respected this wish and gave me some space.
Don’t get me wrong, I was very excited about the school. At that point, there was no other school I saw myself attending. I wasn’t on the fence, but just needed time to wrap my head around it all.
In mid-April, I had a particularly tough day at school. I got home and had an essay to write and a math test to study for. I’m not quite sure why my bad day made me decide to finally send in my deposit, but part of it was that I’d known for so long. I was also ready for college finally to be something that excited me instead of stressing me out.
So, I sat with my mom on my bed and clicked the yes button. It felt great to be done and know I’d be attending a place that made me so excited. I’m glad that I didn’t rush to deposit right away.
Applying to college makes you vulnerable. You put in your best effort in school, and study hard to earn the highest possible test scores. You do your work early, but have to wait to see it pay off. You look at Naviance and try to estimate your chances based on GPA and test scores of students who got in. As you tour campuses, you try not to get too attached, and think, “I probably won’t get accepted anyway.” You put everything you’re proud of on an application, try to encompass your personality in an essay, and you get rejected.
You also get accepted. The second this happens, everything changes. You aren’t reaching for something you think you can’t have anymore. Colleges change from something you want so bad to something that wants you, and it impacts how you look at them. I wish I hadn’t put so much pressure on myself to rank colleges in order. I also wish I’d seen each college exclusively for what it could offer me instead of through a lens of self-doubt. I genuinely believe that things work out how they are supposed to in the end, and the college choice is no exception.
Our High School Graduation Gift Guide will help you show your love, pride and support with a gift that’s just right.