Follow The D.P.s: A Senior’s Incomprehensive Guide to the College Process

By Max Marinelli (Editor-in-Chief, ‘22)

As January approaches, the proverbial baton will be passed as the seniors finish submitting their regular decision applications and the juniors begin their college processes. Though there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to the application process, this article will work to compile the experiences of a collective of seniors, coupled with my personal experience, to provide a helpful foundation for the Class of 2023. Juniors, you will soon receive advice and feedback on your college search and application process from parents, classmates, siblings, counselors, and everyone in between. Please note, while a certain strategy may work for someone, that strategy isn’t the only or “right” way to tackle this process.

Before advertising my experience, I reached out to various seniors to find out what facets of the process they felt should be “universally” addressed. A couple of points were offered by nearly every senior, and these pithy pieces of advice were merely two words long, the first being a phrase simple to follow in theory but often difficult to adhere to in practice: “Don’t procrastinate!” This is not to say that you (and I’m referring to the juniors here) are “behind” if you haven’t made up your mind on where you want to go to school or which major you wish to pursue—in fact, I still haven’t figured out either of those things myself. Around this time last year, I nervously spoke with Ms. Andrea Pien, my assigned college counselor, for the first time, and I hesitantly expressed that I felt “behind” in my process. To my relief, she said that it was “impossible to be behind [at this point in junior year],” but it’s still perfectly normal to feel behind at one time or another. Take solace in the fact that even the professionals agree you’re doing just fine, whether you’ve mapped out your entire life or you can’t even name a single college/university. However, as the year progresses—and especially so during the summer—it’s imperative that you cultivate a productive relationship with your college counselor and start coming up with potential Common App Personal Statement topics. The summer is also the perfect time to build the foundation for your school search, as you have lots of free time and little competition for “brain space”—senioritis is real, so your future self will be grateful if you’ve gotten the ball rolling come September.

The second piece of two-word advice doesn’t actually regard the literal college search, interviews, or essays, but rather refers to the mental aspect of the process: “Don’t panic!” Perhaps these points could be called “the D.P.s”: firstly, don’t procrastinate, and secondly, don’t panic. Obeying the former certainly aids the successful fulfillment of the latter. Luckily for you juniors, panic probably won’t set in until next year, but there are various ways to avoid such mental strain. Rafeeul Jaman (‘22) advised: “[Senior year] is a stressful year, so make sure to prioritize your mental health—go out and do things that make you happy.” Taking breaks, though counterintuitive, boosts one’s mood and with it their productivity once they go back to work. One thing that I find tends to be overlooked by rising seniors is the reality that senior year bears witness to a lot of complex and time-consuming assignments in addition to college applications. Often, taking even a short break from a difficult math problem or an essay that I just can’t find the right way to start can work wonders once I return to the said assignment with a fresh mind. Raf’s push to “go out” is especially pertinent regarding taking breaks, as these breaks should involve movement, fresh air, and, when necessary, a level of social interaction.

Adity Kamath (‘22) echoed a similar sentiment about giving oneself some slack: “You don’t need to figure everything out before you get out of high school. Don’t beat yourself up.” Not only do you not need to figure everything out before high school’s end, but there’s also little to suggest that you will need to figure your future out by the time you graduate college. About a third of students switch majors at least once in college, and nearly 40-percent of students will transfer schools at one point in their college careers. Ms. Dickerson—though neither a senior nor a college counselor—works closely with dozens of seniors, such as myself, each year, and she wanted to put the college search in perspective: “Seniors will often have a dream school or specific picture in their mind of an ideal place. FCS students are really smart and adaptable, but they can get so hung up on one place or school that it blinds them to other places that could be great fits. It’s important for students to remember their own priorities and not be skewed by outside forces like name recognition or pressure from people around them.” It can be hard not to get bogged down by the countless numbers floating around when researching colleges—acceptance rates, standardized testing scores, GPAs, rankings—but don’t lose sight of both the tangible and intangible factors that truly draw you to a school. Carefully weigh the aspects of a school that you most prefer. Maybe you want to go to a large state school, or a smaller liberal arts college, or a university with outstanding co-op research opportunities; chances are, you value these facets more than the “prestige” or the average SAT of the school, so treat them as such.

In case this article has come off a little bit too lenient or permissive, I wanted to include some tidbits of advice about writing your essays and choosing a school when the time comes. As mentioned above, start (and ideally finish) your Personal Statement over the summer, and begin to establish the kind of school you’re looking for. This is most easily done by meeting with your college counselor, via Zoom or in person, to discuss your “deal breakers” and “deal makers,” from which point your college counselor can begin to recommend schools for you. Searching the web for just 20 minutes bi-weekly can seriously add up, too. I employed the aforesaid method after Andrea suggested it and it worked wonders. As your initial list develops and is eventually pared down to a “final” list, you’ll quickly learn that supplemental essays are your last, and perhaps most arduous, hurdle. Each college has its own supplemental question(s), so “don’t just use one supplemental essay for every single college,” suggests Jared Miller (‘22). Furthermore, Riley Roche (‘22) recommends that juniors “advertise themselves in their applications and are specific about why they want to go to a college.” Riley’s addition is particularly relevant regarding “Why Us?” essay questions, wherein it’s important both to display interest in the college by referencing specifics about the college while also conveying a personal connection to the school.

If you’re a junior reading this article and find yourself feeling lost, know that you’re not alone—and you’re not exactly lost, either. It’s practically impossible to be behind at this stage, as aforementioned, despite natural anxiety that may suggest the sheer opposite. Follow the two D.P.s and you’ll be just fine. Check your email daily, too—trust me. As a last note, please connect with your college counselors come the spring semester, for their insight is invaluable (and they’re writing your letters of recommendation, after all, so it’s best to let them get to know you as well as possible). Have a great rest of your junior year and an even better senior year! I know that all of you will amount to amazing things in and beyond college, so don’t sweat the small stuff and keep being the best you that you can be!