Stuff I Wish I’d Known About College Apps

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A Solo cup sign celebrating Centennial seniors Credit: Marjorie Hsu

Marjorie Hsu, Co-editor in Chief

Dear Rising Seniors,

As a recently graduated senior from Centennial, I want to give you my advice for what I wish I had known during my senior year and before applying to college. Many of you may feel uncertain about what you want to do for your future: whether it’s choosing the right major, taking a gap year, or getting a job, there are many possibilities. Being informed on these options, especially on the ones you’re likely to choose, can give you a head-start in discovering what you want. 

#1) Save Money: Whether you’re saving up for college or not, taking the time to develop savings for yourself will benefit you in the long run. When you turn 18, some of you may unexpectedly not have the financial support you expected or wished for. Or, perhaps you may want to be more independent and possibly save up for a car or any other future expense. Regardless of the goal, having a piggy bank or a bank account counts as savings and will help you. 

I’m not saying you should be a downright cheapskate, but just be aware of how much you spend. I have many friends who love spending on food or clothing. This is perfectly fine, and there’s nothing wrong with treating yourself, but sometimes they complain how most of their paycheck is gone within a week. If you’re uncertain on how much to save, a common guideline is using percentages. Some people use different percentages such as 50/50 or 60/40 as a rule to determine how much of their paycheck goes to spending versus savings. If you’re interested in getting more technical about it, there are many resources online that teach people how to budget using Excel or Google Sheets

#2) If you’re going to college, familiarize yourself with specialized vocabulary: When I started researching and applying to colleges, I was very confused on words like “Undergraduate” or “Grants.” In addition, I didn’t know the exact differences between a community college vs. a university vs. a private institution. Asking teachers or family members who’ve gone to college can help clarify these terms and provide more insight for what you may want. 

Students may receive grants from the government or an institution based on the student’s needs. Grants are like scholarships, where the money does not have to be paid back. What makes them different is the reason why and how students are awarded that money.  When students fill out and send their FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), the school may award the student the Pell Grant. The amount a student is awarded depends on various factors including their financial background. Grants can also be given by an institution to students who are majoring in a specific area.

The difference between a community college and a university is that community colleges will usually only have courses for certifications or associate’s degrees. Universities are an accumulation of different colleges under an institutional name that tend to be on one campus, and most of their courses are bachelor degrees. Depending on the university, they will also offer associate degrees or graduate programs. 

Sometimes colleges will have an application with an earlier deadline that constitutes an early decision instead of early action. Early decision is a binding agreement that the student will commit to that college if they are accepted. Early action means that applicants will receive an earlier response. Lastly, undergraduate degrees refer to associate and bachelor degrees, and graduate degrees refer to master and doctoral degrees. It is likely you will encounter more unusual words, but these are some basic terms that can help during the application process. 

#3) College Tours: If you can, absolutely do college tours. Of course, in-person tours are cancelled for the time being, but even virtual tours can really help give you a perspective on what the school prioritizes, how the dynamic is like, and what other opportunities they may offer. Most tours are often done by students, which can help get an insider perspective on why they chose that school. In addition, it can help you visualize if you can see yourself going there. Some colleges will also take tour attendance as a factor in your application because it shows your interest in the school. 

If you can’t go there by yourself, then it usually requires you and your legal guardian to take a day off of work and school to attend. Most tours tend to be hosted during weekdays in groups of people. Depending which day the tour is scheduled, the school may also offer free lunch and sometimes may include some merchandise with your visit. Every school tour will give information that explains financial aid, the application process, and what makes the school special. Pamphlets will include statistics that you may value such as: diversity, co-ed ratio, educational ranking, dining, class sizes, and more. Some colleges may also require freshmen to live in dorms or get a meal plan. 

Since most college tours are not being taken place until further notice, most colleges offer a virtual tour. They can be found on the college’s website, or by Googling. Some simulations will be like the 3-D mode of Google Maps or include a video. Here is an example of KSU’s virtual tour.

#4) Be timely: Not only is it important to be punctual with college application deadlines, it’s also important to be aware of their financial aid and scholarship deadlines. Some colleges will already take your profile and include your scholarships with your acceptance letter. However, some colleges only offer scholarships through another application after you’ve been accepted. Once you’ve been accepted, they will usually have their own email system set up for you, and it’s important to access it for important information as they may not send it through your regular email. Depending on the application, it is sometimes first come, first serve, so timeliness is key. 

#5) Connect with them through Social Media: Colleges are active on many social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Sometimes they will hold raffles, live streams, or updates that can help you stay informed and connected. They may also include helpful reminders for what deadlines are upcoming

#6) It’s okay to not know what you want to do yet: I’ve done four college tours, and at three out of four I was told that the most popular major is “undecided.” It’s okay to not know what you want to do with your life yet. It’s a big decision, and it should be given a lot of thought and consideration. By the time you’ve committed to a college and you’re undecided, schools will have guidance counselors to help students explore their interests so they decide what to pursue. 

#7) Whatever you choose doesn’t make you better or any less of a person: Whether you get accepted into an Ivy League school, or you decide that college isn’t for you, doesn’t determine your self-worth. Everyone has a different life story and preference for what they want to do for their future. Don’t be afraid to reach out to others for tips or advice about college or life in overall. Explore and educate yourself on the possibilities of what you want. I wish y’all the best of luck.

Sincerely,

Centennial Alumni Marjorie Hsu, Class of 2020