Folks, it’s that time of year again. Announcements are popping up on Facebook and Twitter, proud families are purchasing gear, and high school seniors are suddenly realizing that they have seriously got to get a job. Yes, you guessed it: it’s COLLEGE DECISION TIME!
The difficulty of making this choice varies largely between people. Some applied early, got in, and were home free. Others still don’t know where they want to go, and are watching the clock with apprehension, dreading the inevitable. Many see this choice as the be-all, end-all, which will determine their whole lives and careers and futures. What they don’t recognize is that they have already made many decisions already.
The first decision made was criteria. What, exactly, do students look for in a school? For Bethesda-Chevy Chase senior Molly Lo Re, that question was easy. “I decided I wanted to go somewhere where I’d actually learn something,” she says. To her, that meant rigorous academics and international study abroad programs, as well as distribution requirements. “As a person who doesn’t quite know what I want to study, I think that’d be a good option to explore fields and topics,” Molly says. She also values freshman seminars and senior projects, and schools that place an emphasis on them. “That’s something that will engage me in school and make me feel like I’m working towards something,” she says.
For other seniors, however, the answer was not so clear. Montgomery Blair senior Ellie Musgrave knew what she wanted to do for a living, but how she’d get there―and whether her parents would approve―was another question entirely. So, when looking at colleges, she had a simple plan. “I wanted to make my parents happy and keep in mind what I want to do,” Ellie says. To fulfill this plan, she applied to both schools that only had art programs and schools that had a more well-rounded curriculum.
Regardless of where they were planning to apply, the application process was a rough experience for most, especially those who weren’t sure where they wanted to go. Like a lot of seniors, Molly didn’t know where she wanted to go, and so applied to twelve schools. She has some words of wisdom to offer: “Don’t do that.” She also recommends deciding definitively where you want to apply: the number of applications she did depended on the number of supplements the application required and on the amount of time she had. All in all, her list of colleges to apply to numbered about thirty. Luckily, they were listed in order of importance to her, so when her time ran out around Christmas, she wasn’t devastated. “You just had to take your hands off the wheel at some point,” Molly says.
Ellie, on the other hand, doesn’t understand why people apply to so many schools. “I know people who applied to 15 or 16 schools, and… you only go to one school,” she says. In her opinion, applications to schools that are ‘safety’ or ‘reach’ schools are a waste of time if you don’t really want to go there. Ellie applied to six schools, which she was interested in mainly for arts programs, and of the applications process, she just says, “It’s about deadlines.” She evaluated what she had to work with―what essays she could write, what portfolio pieces to submit―and went from there. Also, she says, “I kept in mind which schools I couldn’t afford.”
For many seniors, financial reasons influence their decisions strongly. As Molly says simply, “It’s going to come down to money.” College-bound seniors know the importance of a college education, but they also know what it costs. “You can’t really go into it without coming out with debt,” Ellie says. The rising of tuition rates at many top schools poses a serious concern to college-bound high-schoolers. “A college education is its own little economy in its own little bubble, and it’s growing exponentially,” Ellie says. Financial aid is, therefore, one of the most important criteria to consider when applying to schools. Also important, according to Ellie, is good career placement, or colleges that help you get jobs in your desired field after college. “It’s a sense of continuing achievement,” she says.
Next year, Ellie will be attending the Pratt Institute, which is nationally ranked for its art and design programs. She also considered a number of schools closer to home―Pratt is in New York―but, she says, “I wanted to branch out and get out there.” After being accepted, she visited, and loved it. “I could see myself there,” she says. Molly, on the other hand, hasn’t yet decided where she will attend school. “At this point, I may just decide by putting all my colleges on a dartboard and seeing what I hit,” she says. She visited all of the six schools where she was accepted, and will have to make up her mind in the next couple days.
One thing Molly is fairly certain of is what she’d like to study. After doing a program at the Folger Library in the fall of her senior year, she has decided to pursue English as a major. “I think that’s something I’d like to explore,” she says. Ellie will most likely major in photography, although she would also like to study graphic design and communications.
Ellie has a lot of advice to offer those who are frightened of or worried about the college applications process. Do SAT prep. Take the SAT multiple times. (“Just do it,” Ellie says). Keep your grades up. “Don’t screw up your junior year,” she says. However, the most important advice she says is simple: don’t stress. “Start thinking about it early, but don’t start worrying about it early,” she says. “You’ll end up doing something great regardless of where you go. It’s all a lot more fluid and a lot less permanent than people might think. If you put your mind to it, you can pull it off…and it’s a really good feeling. Not being in high school is a really good feeling. Your last year of high school should be something you enjoy.”
Molly agrees, saying simply, “Have fun in high school.”
Article by Zoe Johnson, SAC correspondent, sophomore at Blair HS