Danny Licht, sous-chief
As the senior class prepares for Friday’s graduation, some soon-to-be alumni offer words of advice for the juniors who will soon be filling their shoes as the next graduating class.
Firstly, when it comes to essays, seniors implore juniors to start over the summer. Eva Zheng, who is “uber-excited” to study computer science and business at UC Berkeley in the fall, noted that first-semester is both difficult and important, and so juniors should finish their essays during the summer.
“Essays are really important so don’t do them last minute,” she said, adding that “when you become a first-semester senior don’t slack off because your first-semester senior grades actually matter if you’re applying to private schools.”
More harshly, Michael Yosef, who will be attending UC Santa Cruz to study public policy, said from experience, “Timing is going to be a huge issue…There’s a lot of work to do, and the sooner you can get that done, the better.”
Leah Weissbuch, who plans to study theater at the University of Southern California, urges juniors to limit the number of people who read their essays.
“Maybe have only one or two people who really know you well look at your college essay,” Weissbuch said, “because I had three people look at my college essay, maybe four, and I felt like some of the advice that some of the people gave me who didn’t know me as well wasn’t as good it would’ve have been if I would’ve stuck to [what I had before].”
This advice is consistent with that of Yale’s Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeff Benzel on College Board’s Big Future website. He recommends that applicants show their essays to a parent, close teacher or good friend and to ask him or her, “Does this sound like me?” Someone more distant might not be able to discern his or her true personality from the potentially inaccurate one portrayed in the essay.
In addition, Deborah Sparks, who will matriculate at Georgetown University to study international politics, recommends an even application of time when it comes to essay-writing.
“Don’t focus too much on one essay for one specific college that you think is for sure right for you,” she said, “because you might end up liking another school or actually writing a better essay that might not have taken you that much time.”
Having applied to 12 schools, Sparks wishes she had “applied to fewer safety schools.” According to her, “only one or two are necessary.”
Similarly, Yaron Ginsburg, who plans to study international affairs at George Washington University, advises juniors to “focus on a few colleges.”
“[Juniors should] just focus on the few schools that they’re very passionate about, that they’d be really sincerely happy to be at, and to just do their best to apply to those,” he said.
This idea of being passionate about a school rings true, however a bit differently, for Weissbuch, who told herself at the beginning of the process, “Wherever I end up choosing, that’s the place I’m meant to be.”
With that “que sera sera” mentality, she added, “You will get rejected places. Don’t focus on those [rejections], because then you will end up sad and crying in a corner. Focus on where you’ve gotten in. And manage your time really well first semester. And look forward.”
When it comes to finding the right school, the choice is wholly subjective. Prospective applicants should read as much about as much as they can, and they should listen to their intuitions rather than their friends’ and relatives’ hearsay opinions. Everyone, it seems, has conflicting opinions. For example, while Zheng “wanted to be away from SoCal,” Weissbuch is excited for the “excuse to learn how to drive” and to be able to “explore [Los Angeles] for what is has” to offer.
College Counselor Jill Lewis noted in an email that for many students one difficult part of the college admissions process is figuring out where and when to start. She recommends “touring colleges this summer” — any college.
“[Juniors should] take a look at big schools, small schools, schools they’ve never heard of or schools they have heard a lot about,” Lewis said. In addition, “they should contact the admissions office prior to visiting to set up a campus tour.”
As they do this, juniors should develop “a criteria list in terms of what matters to them in a prospective school,” she said. In addition, she recommends that juniors take SAT or ACT classes and essay-writing workshops, as well as begin to fill out brag sheets.
She said that some students wait to do all this work at once, right before the applications are due. “Do not do this!” she wrote. “Start now! Ease into the process and try to enjoy it as much as possible.”
Another way to get started with the search, Sparks said, is to figure out what one is interested in studying.
“Even though they say you don’t need to figure out what your major is or what you want to study,” she said, “I think it is really important to at least have an idea.”
In the college-selection process, many variables exist; it is important to find and understand one’s personal constants — his or her essential criteria — and to get started right away.
Weissbuch, too, offered some additional advice: “Utilize the school’s resources a lot…The College Center — Ms. Lewis and Ms. Chamberlain, who’s not going to be there next year — they’re really helpful, and they look over college essays.”
And even though the process can seem daunting, Weissbuch can be seen as an example for the payoff at the end of it.
“I’m really ready [for college],” she said. “I’m excited for a new place, and new friends — and to be done.”