Listen up Juniors: The College Application Process Starts Now!
Sep 22, 2020 | By: Kathy Griswold Fine, PhD
Right now, high school seniors across the country are knee deep in college applications. As they navigate their way through what can be a grueling and arduous process, some may ask themselves why they didn’t start preparing for this moment, for many ambitious young people, one of the most important in their lives to date, sooner. As they are faced with writing essays that demand evidence of insight and experience, they may feel at a loss, even discouraged.
It is a fact: strong grades and high test scores are not enough to assure acceptance into competitive colleges and universities. Admissions counselors want to see that there is more to students, that they are critical thinkers and that free time was used in meaningful ways. FYI – binge watching Netflix & casually hanging out with friends do not count as meaningful.
Interesting fact: According to the Personal Qualities Project “After controlling for high school grades and SAT scores, follow-though in high school extracurriculars predicted graduating from college with academic honors better than any variable.” This work has been built upon by others, including, Angela Duckworth.
Essay topics appear on a myriad of topics, but regardless, being able to write about personal experiences with leadership roles, job(s), sports, clubs, teams, and volunteering will serve students well when the time comes to complete college applications. Experiences need not be numerous, but they should be indicative of depth or follow-through. It’s not about what is signed up for, it’s about how often one returns and perseveres.
Juniors are advised conduct a college Application Readiness Audit (see below) and ask themselves what they need to be doing so they feel prepared this time next year. They don’t want to start an application only to find that they must write a meaningful essay about something they never experienced.
Application Readiness Audit for the Class of 2022
Am I taking the most challenging classes I can handle?
Do I participate in school activities?
Am I socially aware (i.e. do I volunteer)?
Do I seek out leadership opportunities?
Could I respond meaningfully to college essay prompts? (see samples below)
When I pause to think about who I am, will I be satisfied?
As junior year is just beginning, it is a good time for students to ask themselves how they might respond to some of the following prompts from top colleges. This is small sample of required essay topics for 2020-2021. While my immediate geographical region dominates this list, themes and topics are universal.
Auburn University Describe a strong interest or passion of yours. How long have you had this passion, and why does it interest you? What have you learned about yourself through your involvement in this activity; how will this knowledge benefit you as a student at Auburn? Did you have a mentor, support person, or someone who encouraged your interest in this area, and if so, how? Cite a specific goal you achieved and how you achieved it.
Duke University Duke University seeks a talented, engaged student body that embodies the wide range of human experience; we believe that the diversity of our students makes our community stronger. If you'd like to share a perspective you bring or experiences you've had that would help us understand you better, perhaps a community you belong to or your family or cultural background, we encourage you to do so here. Real people are reading your application, and we want to do our best to understand and appreciate the real people applying to Duke. (250 word limit)
North Carolina State University Discuss any other obstacles and/or hardships that you have encountered that have affected you personally or academically and how you dealt with them (250).
University of Southern California USC believes that one learns best when interacting with people of different backgrounds, experiences and perspectives. Tell us about a time you were exposed to a new idea or when your beliefs were challenged by another point of view. Please discuss the significance of the experience and its effect on you (250).
Virginia Tech Describe a situation where you were involved or witness to an act of discrimination. How, or did, you respond? Do you wish you would have responded differently? Did this situation cause any change to happen based on this event and did you have a role in that change? What did you learn from this experience? (120)
The University of Virginia Rita Dove, UVA English professor and former U.S. Poet Laureate, once said in an interview that "...there are times in life when, instead of complaining, you do something about your complaints." Describe a time when, instead of complaining, you took action for the greater good.
What do you need to do to get ready?
After conducting an Application Readiness Audit and making necessary adjustments, juniors can and should engage in other meaningful activities that will get them closer to reaching their academic and career goals.
Suggestions include, but are not limited to:
join a new club, volunteer someplace that inspires passion
delve into what you want to do in college and beyond by completing career interest inventories and personality assessments
visit college campuses (in person or virtually).
While the internet abounds with free career and personality assessments, students who want to dig deeper and find applicable answers which they understand should feel free to contact me.