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What No One Tells You About Getting Into College

Diverse+International+Students+Celebrating+Graduation
Diverse International Students Celebrating Graduation

Diverse International Students Celebrating Graduation

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Diverse International Students Celebrating Graduation

Akhila Reddy

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Having just been through the application nightmare that is senior year, I’ve learned many things about the college application process that I wish I’d known before I sent out my applications. Here’s what I have to say about the terrible, long, exhausting process:

Disclaimer: Many of the things I’m going to say are only going to apply to some of the more selective private schools. If you qualify for automatic admission to UT or another school like it, there’s not much more to do other than keeping your grades up.

1. Expect to be disappointed 

A cynical tip I know, but one that I’ve found to be horribly true throughout this entire process. Private schools use something called ‘holistic admission’ which means they can evaluate you as  person instead of just objectively going off the numbers. There are obviously pros to this, but what ended up happening to me, and to many people I know, was being blindsided by rejections from schools that we expected to get into.Every school I applied too, my SAT score and GPA were well above the average, but at many of those places I got rejected, some of which, I know I was qualified for. There is no pattern to acceptances or rejections. I personally got accepted into Rice and wait-listed from Harvard, but rejected from Boston University, with almost the exact same application and essay. 

The best way to put it is to imagine the perfect college application with the perfect grades and test scores and community service as  a ticket to the lottery. Getting into the really selective schools is akin to having that ticket then chosen for the lottery, improbable and almost entirely unpredictable.

2. Practice for Standardized Testing Early

No one enjoys practicing for multiple choice tests, but it’s essential you ace your SATs. In all honesty, it’s one of the easier parts of putting together a college resume. The SAT is not a measure of how smart you are, it is a measure of how prepared you are. With enough practice, anyone can figure out how to game the test. The same questions start to pop up on every test, and relatively quickly, you begin to see patterns that allow you to score extremely well on the test.

The way I prepared was to set aside one summer, and just practice with the dreaded Blue Book, the book of 12 SAT tests, and do one whole test each weekend.

 Available at:

http://www.amazon.com/Official-Study-Guide-2016-Edition/dp/1457304309

 

 

 

 

3. The PSAT is the most important test you’re ever going to take

The wonderful thing about the SATs is that you can take them over and over again, with basically no penalty. Some colleges even suuperscore, taking your highest score in each individual section over multiple settings.

You only have one shot at the PSAT, and acing it is the best way of being ensured college money. If you qualify as a National Merit Finalist (you first have to score past a certain cutoff, and then turn in an application ), basically every public school in Texas except UT Austin will pay for your college. Baylor also gives National Merit Finalists full tuition. These full rides are invaluable, and basically mean that I’m going to graduate debt-free all because of a single, standardized-test. It’s the largest merit scholarship available.

4. If you’re planning to go to graduate school, it doesn’t matter where you do your undergrad. 

For those planning to enter the workforce in four years, there’s value in paying for private schools and getting a degree from the most prestige university possible. For those that are planning to go on to graduate school, law school, or medical school, you undergraduate degree will be a footnote on your resume in 8 years. It doesn’t matter if you do your undergrad at Harvard if you end up at UT Austin’s law school; you are simply known for your UT Austin degree when entering the workforce, and vice-versa.

Furthermore, grad schools care very little about where students choose to do their undergrad degree. Obviously an applicant coming out of Harvard or some other Ivy League school has an advantage, but at the end of the day, GPA and letters of recommendation are the deciding factors. In fact, larger, more prestigious schools can actually harm an applicant’s chances of getting into a good grad school, as it may be more difficult to keep grades up or find opportunities when in such a competitive environment.

5. When thinking about college, obviously think about the next four years, but don’t forget to think about your life afterwards

This is perhaps the hardest piece of advice to take. When I was initially shopping for colleges, I was only considering how the next four years would be, whether I would have fun, what the food was like, how the dorms were. But along with that stuff, I needed to consider which college would get me where I need to go after the next four years of my life. I have a pretty clear idea of what I want to be, so it was easier for me to make a decision, but it’s something that everyone needs to consider.

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What No One Tells You About Getting Into College