I’m going to say something that will go ahead and invalidate all the advice I’m about to give: I was not worried about my college application at all when I was in high school.
I would like to say that his came from a place of Zen-like acceptance of my path in life, but I really just had too much other stuff going on. There were competitions and plays and goodbyes to friends that I’d known for years and years. I was also trying to eke out A’s in all my classes and somewhere in the process, every now and then, actually enjoy senior year. I knew that I was a good student with good grades who worked hard.
Remember: Harry and Ron never turned their essays in on time either.
So I knew I would get into college somewhere. I felt like the whole “finding the perfect college” thing was too much pressure: I knew I’d take my best shot, and if it didn’t work out, I would find somewhere that was. And I think that’s an okay mentality to have: do your research. Find where you belong (hint: it’s Furman). And if you get there and it doesn’t work out…take a gap year! Work for a while. Don’t let the college-making process overwhelm you.
So to that end, I think the best advice I can give is just to relax a little bit. There’s a pretty big industry built around getting into college. Those SAT prep books aren’t going off the shelves if you’re not worried about the SAT. Take a deep breath, and know that if you’re reading an admissions blog about how to get into your school of choice, you’re a few million light-years ahead of the bell curve.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t take college applications seriously – I double-checked all of mine, got the reference letters, the whole nine yards (actually, “the whole nine yards” isn’t the best expression to use, because there was absolutely no athletic talent involved in getting me into college). But as best I can remember, every adult I knew was slowly ratcheting up the pressure on where you were going to college from August to May that senior year. Then they’d sprinkle in the questions about where you’re headed and what every step of your career path is afterwards.
Remember, starting your own college is still a viable option. Also I just realized that the high schoolers reading this probably never saw this movie. So I guess this is what my parents feel like when the Andy Griffith Show comes on.
Then your classmates turn on you. The first person to get early-accepted somewhere breathes a sigh of relief, and everyone else in your class starts hyperventilating – why haven’t I heard back yet? What if I don’t get into my top schools? What if I don’t get in anywhere? There’s always the one annoying kid who has to mention every fifteen minutes they got accepted to wherever. And, without a doubt, there will be the kid who gets accepted and their entire wardrobe transforms into collegiate sweatshirts overnight.
I’m not a part of the team that determines who gets into Furman, or who gets scholarships (this fact is always lost on parents I give tours to). And, truthfully, applying to college was four years ago for me – so I am sure a college freshman could give you a much sharper account of their process and how it works now.
Old Ben, giving priceless knowledge to the next generation, before I become one with the work-Force at the end of this year.
I do, however, have some advice from the other end of things. Having come to Furman and found organizations I love, and then risen to leadership positions within said organizations, I’ve dealt with a fair number of applications and read my fair share of essays, and so on and so forth. So here’s some tips from the perspective of someone who’s had too many applications to read through and too little time to do it.
I’m on the editorial board of the Echo, Furman’s literary and arts magazine, and have been since my sophomore year. I’ve probably reviewed somewhere around 300-400 submissions of art, poetry, short stories, essays, etc. in that timeframe. In reading all those stories, a few things are critical, as cliche and trite as they sound: be yourself, and open explosively. You may have a life so adventurous it puts the Odyssey to shame, but if someone has to read twelve paragraphs to get there, you’ve already lost them. Open strong, and open honestly. A good rule for anything in life: at the very least, be memorable.
Here’s another movie reference you young’uns won’t know. And admittedly this GIF reference would work a lot better with the music.
I’m also in charge of improv at Furman, which is as much of an organizational challenge as you’d expect. In improv tryouts, callbacks, and open practices, one rule reigns supreme: it’s expected that you will fail. We just want to see how people handle it. I remember how nervous I was during my interviews for Furman (all that stuff about not caring went out the window as soon as I put on a sports coat and The Real World™ was staring me down in the face. I am sure that I flubbed some of those questions, or that something on my application wasn’t the strongest.
But you are human, and more importantly a high school human. The only group of people who are expected to make more mistakes than high schoolers are college kids. So deep breaths. No one expects you to have a perfect application or perfect answers or perfect anything. When we have callbacks for improv, we intentionally give people games and situations we think they are poorly-suited for. To be fair, I think admissions interviews are a much more professional environment than improv tryouts, but I think the philosophy is the same: even if you don’t have an answer for the hard questions, did you give it a good shot? The things on your application that come up short: how do you handle that?
Pretty appropriately, there’s a misspelling in this GIF. Wear protective headgear, kids.
So insomuch as I’m qualified to give advice on this, don’t be worried so much about what “the right answer” is. Interviewers and essay readers have heard the same cookie cutter right answer a million times. Memorable is more fun than perfect. Whether or not you can handle a challenge is more interesting than whether or not it was a challenge at all. You can turn every stuttered answered in an interview or school year that your grades weren’t so great into a motivating story.
Or, hey, if all that stuff fails, just name drop me. That’ll get you in for sure.