Saturday, August 25, 2007

College > high school, or, 6 ways to get there

So I was reading LifeHacker. Like I day. But anyway! Today, LifeHacker opened a post up for comments on how to survive your freshman year of college. Aha, I thought. How to survive college. Finally, something I know something about! I was all set to write my very first comment on that site. And then. I drew a blank. Yes, be sociable; yes, meet professors; yes, etc. The thing is, I don't spent much time thinking about how to survive college anymore. I'll be a junior this year; now, it's just my life. It's a beautiful life, but it's not an obstacle course. And frankly, that's a good thing.

BECAUSE. High school? That was an obstacle course. I distinctly remember sitting on the floor in the corner of a large bathroom stall between classes, trying desperately to finish The Great Gatsby, so that no one would see I hadn't finished it yet. And the anxiety! Good grief. What with the nearly-2,000 other students at my school, this weird cultural obsession with extracurriculars, and like 7 hours of class a day? Seriously.

I only ever wrote two articles for my high school newspaper, and they were both advice pieces. You know, because I was such a guru at 17. But I'm thinking it may be time to dust them off, because really, it's not the college students I'm worried for; it's the high school students. And now, with some distance, I can truly believe what I think I always knew:

Being interesting will always take you further than being perfect.

This applies especially to the college admissions process. I did everything I could to get into a good college, but I don't think I would have survived to experience college at all if I hadn't started letting myself have a little fun. I sent anonymous antique postcards to the University of Chicago admissions office, in yellow envelopes, addressed upside down. And it was like a joke, or a game, or a treasure hunt—and really? That's what all this is, anyway.

So in the spirit of new beginnings, and, of course, survival, here is a slightly modified version of my 2005 article on...

How to Survive the College Admissions Process

1. Do your research.
Just because you've never heard of the college doesn't mean it's not for you. When you start getting piles and piles of college brochures in the mail, look the colleges up online and spend a few minutes poking around. You might be surprised.

2. Stay ahead of the game.
Once you've made a list of everywhere you'd like to apply, go online and find out what the application process requires. Recommendations? Essays? Early deadlines? Make a list and tape it somewhere where you'll see it. Ask teachers (nicely) for recommendations as early as possible. If you start early, you won't panic later.

3. Don't be limited by essay questions.
The ultimate purpose of a college essay is for the college to get to know you as a person, beyond what the simple statistics can tell them. Write a variety of essays about topics you care about, and then just adjust them to the different essay questions. Don't freak out about identifying "role models" or "pivotal experiences." Your crazy life is more than enough to fill 500 words.

4. Stay organized
Even if that just means having a special drawer where you dump all your college stuff. As long as you can find it, you're fine. Also, make a folder on your computer right away for college essays and passwords for online applications. (Trust me. Keep a list of your passwords.)

5. Don't be afraid to be weird.
Remember, most colleges read thousands of applications. Think of your admissions officer, and then think about how to make that person laugh. And maybe think you're great.

6. And...
Visit colleges! Best excuse for a vacation ever! As a side benefit, it's also the only way to know where you really want to go, beyond the tasteful lies of those tricky brochures.
Almost 3 years later, I still can't tell you how many times I've been hoodwinked by brochures, so—beware. Advertising is a science. Also, I am gullible.

To sum up: college > high school. You're almost there.

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