Health & Family

Countdown to College: Students recount lessons learned the hard way

I asked a number of seniors how they felt about the entire college admissions process they’ve just completed. I wondered what lessons they learned and what they would be eager to share with rising seniors now. What struck me was how similar their responses were to what the college admissions representatives have been saying for a long time.

Sabrina Battiston, a senior at Hickory Christian Academy, found the final decision-making process the most stressful. She was in the very pleasant position of having lots of interesting choices, but she found it hard to choose.

“One may be a great option financially or logistically, but the other one might be your dream. If you're lucky, you'll find a school that fits both. If not, I would have to say that you should go to the school that you just can't stop thinking about. I did and I've never looked back on my decision.”

Sabrina ended up turning down a full-tuition offer from the University of Pittsburgh www.pitt.edu. She liked the school, but after visiting twice she decided that she liked many of her other options more. “It was hard not to allow the financial incentives to seal the deal, but in my heart I knew there were other colleges that were much better fits for me academically and socially.”

Sabrina also turned down Cornell, UCLA, University of Virginia and UNC Chapel Hill because Notre Dame captured her heart and her mind. “There is something indescribable about Notre Dame. I got it. I got the feeling every student wants to get when they walk on a college campus. You know, that feeling that you belong here. I just knew Notre Dame was home.”

Sabrina felt the essays were the most challenging part of the process. “There are so many different essay prompts and you need to share different facets of your personality in each essay. It was particularly challenging because so many of the colleges I applied to had such early deadlines.”

When I asked her and many other students what advice they have for rising seniors, they were very quick to say “Start early and don’t underestimate the amount of time you’ll need to spend on your essays.”

Sabrina also shared this: “Admissions counselors read numerous applications and essays every day. At some point, they all begin to sound alike. If you want your essay to stand out, you don’t need to use huge words or make up anything spectacular, your essay simply needs to come across as being authentically you.”

The most important messages seniors want their younger counterparts to hear are: 1) focus on fit; 2) start early and 3) use the essay to set yourself apart.

It’s funny how much that advice sounds exactly like what colleges tell their applicants.

Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. Send questions to: lee@collegeadmissionsstrategies.com; www.collegeadmissionsstrategies.com

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