How to navigate the college application process


Izzy Castilla (12) works on her college applications.

The entire college process is all about making huge decisions, and this task can be overwhelming to many students. As the college application and decision process for the Class of 2021 comes to a close, I’d like to give my advice and help future seniors have the smoothest, least stressful experience during this exciting time.

My first and arguably best piece of advice is to start early. Yes, it may be hard to think about school over the summer, but your future self will thank you if you start doing work your summer before senior year.

The summer before senior year, I created a Common App account and familiarized myself with the setup of the website. I also looked at the Common App essay questions and decided what topics would be best for me to use.

Obviously, writing essays was not my ideal way to spend summer, but it was helpful to be prepared when applications opened.

Another thing that helped me out when applying was deciding what I wanted in a school. Some very important things to consider are the size of the school, how far from home it is, and the school culture (school spirit, sports, social scene, etc.).

If you can’t visit a school in person, find virtual tours on college websites or watch Youtube videos. This can be very helpful in the decision-making process because it shows what the campus is like.

Casey Craffey (12), who will be attending Northern Arizona University to continue her academic and athletic career in swimming, also recommends figuring out what you want in a college before applications drop.

“Since I knew I wanted to swim, I had to start looking early and evaluate all my options at a lot of different schools,” Craffey said. “I also knew I wanted a bigger school and to go somewhere warm, so that helped me narrow down my decisions a bit.”

Another tip is to talk to older students who already went through the whole process or are already in college. This can help give a new perspective on things, as it is a first-hand experience, rather than reading a school website.

“Since both my older sisters are in college, whenever I have a question, I just text one of them. It’s super helpful because they’ve already been at college for years, and I know they won’t sugarcoat anything,” Ethan Demas (12) said.

But deciding where to apply is just the beginning. Yes, it is obviously a crucial part of the process, but the most important (and exciting) part is deciding what school you are going to attend.

Learning everything you can about each school is the best way to find what is right for you. Lots of schools have information sessions online where you can meet with an admissions counselor and current students about specific programs. Learning about different parts of each school can help you decide if you want to apply or not.

Obviously, the best way to decide if a school is right for you is to visit it in-person. In my experience, there were schools I thought I was going to love based on everything I’d seen on the internet, but once I actually got to campus, I realized it was not for me. This is truly the best way to determine if you can see yourself being a student at that school for the next four years.

“When my sisters were visiting colleges, I would go with them on their tours. I feel like this helped me realize what I liked best in a school, and I got to see if I liked the schools we were touring,” Demas said.

Also, make sure you talk to your parents about the important facts of applying to college, such as cost, travel and safety. Look at the cost of tuition for each school, and make sure to complete the FAFSA and apply to as many scholarships as you can.

Remember to take into account traveling to your school. Is it a manageable drive? Will you have to fly? Will you bring a car to campus with you?

While this can be a scary time in your life, remember that this is the beginning of a new chapter. The college process is very enlightening, and this experience will all be worth it in the end.