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College Counseling with Natalie: The Common App

By Natalie Daniels

Last week’s column was a starting point for those interested in learning more about the college process. I wanted to put you in the mindframe of a scenario where you are the employer interviewing and researching for the perfect candidate. In this case, it’s college.

At the same time, you also are the employee trying to find the best fit for you. Employees always want to make themselves look good so that they stand out from other applicants. It’s the same with applying to college. You want to show that you are something special and that you have something to bring to the table.

With that comes college applications. These become more important as you enter your senior year of high school.

To start filling out college applications, the place to turn to is the Common App. Common App is a website that gives you access to apply to over 800 colleges and universities worldwide. When you create an account, you can add colleges to your list. These different colleges offer checklists for everything required when you apply and the Common App offers one universal application that you can use to submit to these numerous colleges.

Some of the requirements include:

  • Official transcript

  • Letters of recommendation

  • SAT/ACT scores (not required at all schools)

  • College Essay

Official transcript

This is a fancy word for a document of your grades cultivated into a grade point average from your four years of high school. In most cases, the better your grades are, the better chance you have at getting into the college.

But don’t spend your whole high school career worrying about your grades! I was always bad at math when I was in high school no matter how hard I tried. If you struggle in a couple classes, it won’t make or break your chance at college. As long as you continue to work hard, you’ll have as much of a chance as anyone else.

Letters of Recommendation

These can be from teachers, bosses, advisors, ect. They just can’t be from parents or family members. If you have a close connection with a teacher, boss or advisor, you can ask them to write a letter when you are applying. The letters highlight your progress in school, clubs or jobs you’ve been in and why you would be a great fit at a certain college.

I would recommend asking teachers as soon as possible for recommendations, possibly as early as the beginning of senior year. This will give them time to write a meaningful letter.

SAT/ACT Scores

Testing for the SAT/ACT often takes place junior year or the beginning of senior year of high school. Some schools require these scores while others do not. Especially now with COVID-19, SAT/ACT tests are less likely to take place, making most colleges remove these scores from required materials.

Testing was probably the hardest part for me with college applications. I’m a lousy test taker and every time I sat down to fill in those little bubbles, I could feel the anxiety pouring all over me. Even though I had an ACT tutor, I still didn’t have the utmost confidence in myself that I would receive a good score.

Fortunately, I did well and was able to use those scores for colleges. In reality, testing is not everything. More and more colleges are starting to think less of these test scores. It’s okay to feel anxious about taking them if and when the time comes. All you can do is your best. And study, of course!

The College Essay

Here is where you can really show your personality. You have between 250 to 650 words to tell your story. You can talk about experiences you’ve had, things that have changed you, why you are the way you are—the possibilities are endless!

You don’t need a somber story to make your college essay meaningful. For example, I wrote about a singing competition I lost one year, but decided to go back and I won the following year. You can write about an experience from your life, happy or sad, that changed you. As long as you’re passionate with what you’re writing about, you can create a rocking college essay!

From my experience, applying to college is not easy. It takes long hours, stress and lots and lots of crying. But I made it through! And you can too. In the end, the process is all worth it, if you decide college is the right path for you.

Natalie Daniels is an editorial intern for Dreamlette. She is a journalism major at Emerson College with a love of storytelling. Her favorite topics include entertainment, fashion, lifestyle, social issues, and music.

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