Looking Back On the College Process: Advice from an Accepted Student
- The Goods
- Published on Tuesday, 31 May 2016 15:57
- Carly Glickenhaus
The internet is rich with clichéd, generic, and questionable "advice" about the college admissions process. But what is it like to apply to college from Scarsdale High School? As a college-bound senior who has spent the last two years at the heart of this process, I wanted to give an honest account of my experience and offer some advice to students just embarking on their search. The dichotomy of the college process in Scarsdale is that it is intensely secretive and overwhelmingly public at the same time. Being so secretive creates a taboo around the college process, which only heightens the drama. I wish I had all the answers on how to make the process easier for everyone, but what I can do is share how I pushed through it.
Choosing which schools to apply to is the first step a student takes – and some believe these choices will determine the course of the rest of their lives. You probably nodded as you read that, because that's the consensus in Scarsdale but I don't think it's necessarily true. It often feels like college is at the center of our academic culture and scholastic goals. Applying to colleges represents the first active choice by the student to take control of their education and career path, but it will not determine your fate. Scarsdale's obsession with which schools students apply to makes students feel like their subjective "success" in the process will be the make-it-or-break-it-moment of their lives. For some it seems like the climax of our young adult lives, building an intense atmosphere where there is a real threat of burning out before we even get there.
Here's some of my advice for navigating the experience:
College visits: Don't visit schools with your friends. Most likely, you will know very few people on campus when you get there freshman year, so it is important to envision yourself at that school without the comfort and familiarity of a friend. You don't want their opinions of the school to influence yours. That said, your friends may play a very important role in your college search. When it came down to making my final school choice in April, I valued the input of my closest friends. They were able to tell me honestly where they pictured me best. While parents and deans are usually the prominent figures in your college process, it is your friends that see the way you learn in the classroom and how you act in social situations.
When visiting colleges, I advise you to "follow your heart." I promised not to use any clichéd quotes about journeys and paths, but scientifically speaking the "gut feeling" is a legitimate tool. The gut feeling might not come when you expect it, standing in the middle of a beautiful quad surrounded by gothic architecture with an acceptance letter in each hand. Look out for it when you least expect it. Mine came in a student panel on visiting weekend when I realized I could picture myself sitting down to lunch with any of the current students. When I met other admitted students that weekend, it felt comfortable and easy talking to them and a month later, here I am planning dorm decor with my roommate, a girl I met on campus that weekend.
It can be difficult not to judge a school based on who is going there, especially in Scarsdale. Scarsdale is not really a small town, but it definitely has that vibe during college season since the majority of SHS seniors apply to the same twenty to thirty schools. You are bound to know other people applying to School X, or past students who currently attend School X, and you may really like or actively despise those people. It can be difficult to remember that they are not a reflection of the whole school. Most likely, you will never see them there if you don't want to. No matter where you go, there will be people you love and people you hate. You are going to be a very different person at the beginning of the college process compared to the end, so don't be too quick to cross schools off your list based on who else in Scarsdale is interested in attending.
Applications: Write your college essays over the summer. As a varsity fall athlete with a demanding course load of AT courses, it was difficult to find time to write essays and I wished I had listened to my mother's nagging and finished more of them over the summer. I was busy working and traveling, but I kept my notes from the college info sessions with me and I took a few spare minutes whenever I could to crystallize my thoughts about what I liked about each of the schools on my list. This gave me a good head start. If you are participating in one of the exchange programs at the high school and plan to host a foreign student in your home between October and November, remember their visit will coincide with your deadlines for applying early.
For many students, there will be more applications to complete if admissions don't go their way in December. If you aren't prepared for this, you may spend your entire winter break writing essays, which can exacerbate the pain of disappointment. The main reason to write your essays over the summer is simple. When you're calm, cool and excited about the prospect of going off to college, you'll write a better essay than when you're under the gun, weary and discouraged in December.
Safety schools: Be careful with the word "safety." I still remember during senior fall hearing two girls tell each other where they were applying. One mentioned a college she was excited about and the other responded, "Oh, yeah, that's my safety." As the decisions were rolling in, I remember a junior asked me where I had gotten in so far. It was hard to avoid the question so I named a few of my acceptances. To one, she responded, "Oh, was that your safety?" We were standing right next to a girl who had committed to attend that school, making the situation awkward. I carefully told her "I am really happy because it would be amazing to go there." There is no reason for "reach" and "likely" classifications of school choices to be shared. Pick a "likely" school you are excited about and visit. Try to get excited about your admissions decision either way. I was able to name something I loved about every school on my list. Remind yourself that an acceptance would be amazing, but if you do not get in, there are many unique perks for all your options.
Don't let social media get you down: My generation's addiction to Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook diminishes the degree of privacy we can expect in our lives. Regardless, we resort to these platforms for entertainment and turn to them for confidence and validation in the form of likes. Social media provides that craved feeling of widespread recognition when you get that congratulatory letter, but simultaneously it magnifies self-doubt in the students whose moment to shine does not come on December 15th. It is easy for parents and teachers to advise kids, "Just turn off your phone; Don't look at Facebook," but for a generation that spends hours on these sites every day, the reality is that just trying to ignore it is not a practical solution. Go ahead, satisfy your curiosity, take a look as your news feed explodes with capital letters, exclamation points, and heart emojis of school colors on decision day, but remember that for every kid whose Facebook wall is being bombarded with congratulations, there is another kid sitting alone at their computer wondering what went wrong. Since the admission rate to some of the elite schools has fallen below 10%, many more students are disappointed than happy.
Keep your choices to yourself, especially during the early decision round, remember that you have no obligation to tell anyone where you are applying, except of course your dean who ensures that you application is sent out. Other than that, my advice would be to tell only the people with whom you genuinely want to share the outcome. True friends know you better than any admissions officer can, and they are not going to think any less of you because of the decision. I told the people who I knew I would call on decision day whether it was good news or bad, because they would be there for me either way. Inevitably, underclassmen and other parents, are going to ask you where you're applying regular decision, what your first choice is, and what your safety school is. It's okay to play dumb. If it's before a deadline, say you don't know yet, you're still figuring it out, but you'll let them know the news. If asked after the deadline, you can throw them a couple of college names to quench their thirst, and add that you would be really happy at any of them. If you say this enough, you may even realize that it's true.
Being denied or deferred early can be a blessing. The college process is like dating. Without being rejected by the cutie who turned out to be boring, dumb and is now prematurely balding, you may never have met your perfect mate. Without being denied admission to the school you thought would be ideal, you may never have found the one you can truly call home. There is also something to be said about applying to a slew of schools you can get excited about and having a few acceptances in your hands to reconsider throughout April. The tables are turned and you get to attend admitted students weekend and let the schools woo you and try to win you over to edge out the competition and win your love.
Finally, my strongest advice is to find your way to escape. For me, playing club soccer with girls from other schools helped. Doing community service by leading Midnight Runs put things in perspective as well, reminding me that I was lucky to even have the privilege of stressing about which of the nation's elite institutions would be the best fit for me. In Scarsdale, we have created an academic culture so focused on that one letter in the mail, the one moment of truth clicking "View My Decision" on your computer that it causes students to lose perspective on their high school years and focus only on the future. Remember, you have worked hard 18 years, so don't waste too much of senior year on college drama. High school is over before you know it.
Carly Glickenhaus, Scarsdale High School Class of 2016, will attend Georgetown University in the fall.