Organized Chaos: My Wild College Application Experience in 12 Stages

In most stories, there is a pit so deep that the protagonist of the story sees all hope as being lost. My college process was no different. And on one February evening, I had reached the exact point that I made it my goal to avoid. Yet there I was, late at night, on the University of Maryland-College Park Under Armour webpage, aimlessly scrolling through mens’ t-shirts. This black one looks nice and is on sale, but the wordmark on this one looks tough. Oh, and I gotta avoid that ugly throwback turtle logo. All the while, I was trying desperately to change my mindset, to rationalize the inevitable – a college career at UMD.
That may seem overly dramatic, and it is, but at the start of the college application process for me, this was the nightmare. Maryland is a solid university, but since 1) it was the state school and 2) most of the students from my high school went there and 3) I felt uninspired by the campus and 4) it felt like a pipeline, avoiding UMD became one of my strongest motivations throughout high school and in the early stages of the college process. Plus, I had two “dream schools” that not only seemed like perfect academic (and athletic) fits in Texas and North Carolina, but both seemed attainable from an admission standpoint. Even aside from those, I sent out applications to Penn State, Southern California, and Northwestern, just to add more options (while also piling on more essays to write).

Now that I’m at the end of the college process and have chosen to go to Northwestern, this memory seems like one that would’ve gotten lost in the shuffle, but in recounting the past years of college searching, I am wowed by all of the twists and turns that happened through this whirlwind of a process. So to reflect on one of the strangest and most intensive stages of my life, and maybe even look for answers where there could just be none, I’m looking back at the highs, the lows and everything in between of my college applications process. My goal through this reflection is to give an unfiltered and authentic look into my experience, and I hope that it entertains but also sparks its own discussions about the intricacies and “wow” moments of the college process.

 

Stage 1: Elementary School Exposure

Going back to elementary school, I never gave colleges much thought other than reading the coverage of college football and basketball teams (and getting mad when ones like Louisville and Mizzou got upset in March Madness). My dad worked at a University of Maryland campus for a while so I had some Maryland pride, while I also liked the Virginia Tech school spirit that my kindergarten gym teacher proudly exhibited during class. By fifth grade, which I spent in a magnet program, I remember wanting to go to one of the top schools in the country, namely Harvard. My dad later gave Stanford as a more sporty alternative to the Ivies, so that became my top choice.

Leaders (by % chance I thought I would attend the school): Stanford 60%, Harvard 20%, TCU/Baylor 10%, UMD 10%

 

Stage 2: Middle School Interest

Around seventh or eighth grade, I became obsessed with the college process and regularly checked out and perused college reference books like Fiske Guide to College and The Insider’s Guide to the Colleges. At this point, I knew I wanted to go with journalism as a major, and I used websites to find rankings for the top schools in this field. North Carolina stood out to me once I found out that it was both a prestigious public university and a top journalism school, and it was after finding UNC that I really extended my college search beyond the Ivies and Stanford. Using all of the information I had read and compiled, I made a spreadsheet of my top 16 schools and entered tons of statistics and tidbits, from school colors to cost. It was also at this time that I knew that I’d prefer to study outside of Maryland, though UMD was still on my radar.

Leaders: North Carolina 50%, Stanford 5%, Florida 10%, Virginia 10%, Penn State 10%, Maryland 10%, Georgia/Indiana/UCLA/Davidson/Penn 5%

 

Stage 3: Formulation of the List

Near the end of junior year, my grade started meeting with our counselors to kick off the college process and decide on schools and overall strategy. Having attended a sports journalism camp at UNC the previous summer and being blown away by the campus and the program, I had no hesitation in putting North Carolina as the clear-cut number one. I also had a solid number two in University of Texas-Austin, as my trepidations over the distance were eased over by the academic fit and my parents’ acceptances of it as a college choice. Both schools were sports-centric, had strong academics, were located in warm weather locales and were safely within the “target” category given my SAT score (which I knocked out after one tenuous August full of studying) and my GPA. To give perspective to those who have gone through or are about to go through the college process, my SAT was a 1520 and GPA was 4.0 unweighted and 4.71 weighted, marks that I felt were reflective of the work I had put in and that would position me well for my top schools.

Penn State and Maryland were my two safeties, as they were less selective in their admissions but also had strong sports journalism, and schools such as Florida, Georgia, and Virginia were also in consideration. Vanderbilt was a late addition because my dad wanted a private school to use as a comparison financially and there was a good number of merit scholarships (and, of course, warmer weather). Most of all, I was excited to get the process started.

Another interesting component at this stage was the prospect of running Division 1. For a good bit of my running career, D1 seemed like the next step up and progression and a big honor, but having running as nearly a full-time commitment pushed me away at times. From a logistical standpoint, there was a lot of conflict between running and newspaper in my schedule and that figured to only increase in college, and I felt adamant that journalism would be my priority in college. At the end of junior year, I emailed all of the coaches at the schools to which I planned to apply and received generally the same response – get the times down and keep in touch. Since I wanted to go to a big school, the possibility of walking-on was much more realistic than a scholarship, so I had to weigh the time commitment even more (though I got letters and Instagram DMs from schools such as East Carolina, Navy, Miami, Oklahoma and UMBC, I wanted to choose my school based on academics, so I didn’t pursue those opportunities). But similarly to school, I took the perspective of just giving my best in running and seeing how it all would shake out.

Leaders: North Carolina 50%, Texas 20%, Maryland 10%, Penn State 10%, Vanderbilt 5%, Florida 5%

 

Stage 4: Putting Together Applications

My college application strategy (which was shaped greatly by my parents’ advice) was to be proactive and get the majority of my essays and work done over the summer when I was most available. That strategy would enable me to turn in most of my applications early for Early Action or Priority deadlines, helping my admissions chances and ensuring sooner decision dates. In our AP Lang classes, we wrote one essay based on one of the Common App prompts (which most schools used), and during July I wrote five more so that I could have a bunch to choose from. The topics ranged from my various projects to the birth of my brother Christopher to a cross country race to a Magic School Bus, and I had an army of readers and editors to help me along the way. Once the school-specific essay prompts (supplementals) came out, I set to work on those, with two UNC essays, three Texas essays, and one apiece from Vanderbilt and another late addition, Southern California. I also thoroughly researched scholarship opportunities and honors programs at the schools and made a list of all of the essays those required (another three at UNC, three at Penn State, two at Texas, and one at Vanderbilt). I preferred writing essays over the SAT prep of the previous summer given my own background in writing, though it was certainly a grind at times.

Leaders: North Carolina 40%, Texas 30%, Maryland 15%, Penn State 10%, Florida 5%, USC 5%

 

Stage 5: Final Touches

By late September, I was polishing up my final essays (special thanks to Mrs. Starr for reading the vast majority of the 25 essays) and poring over each application detail meticulously. When my mom called off plans for a Vanderbilt visit on Wootton’s homecoming weekend, my dad suggested that I switch to a different private school known for its journalism, Northwestern. Though I had left it out of my early considerations because of the low admission rate (only five students out of 84 had gotten in from my school the previous three years) and the Chicago weather, I didn’t have to write many additional essays and didn’t have to pay the application cost, so it only widened the net I cast.

In the final week of October (days before the Nov 1 early action and scholarship deadline for many of my schools), I had officially sent in my six applications. Interestingly, Penn State sent me an acceptance notice a couple weeks before, but I spent a good couple weeks on their exotic and intellectual honors college prompts, so it felt like a full six applications. Turning them in gave a strange sense of relief and finality, and I was officially done with the strenuous work required of college applicants. The crazy part was over, I told myself. Now all I had to do was hear back.  

Leaders: North Carolina 40%, Texas 30%, Maryland 15%, Penn State 10%, USC 2.5%, Northwestern 2.5%

 

Stage 6: Eternal Wait

As a cross country and long distance track athlete, I should have understood the word “endurance.” But the wait before hearing back from my Early Action schools (UNC, Texas, UMD, Penn State honors) felt like an unbearable eternity. I did get a taste of the decisions experience as a spectator when the Early Decision results came out for a couple of the students at my school, producing ecstasy from some fortunate enough to get into the Dukes, Northwesterns, and Columbias of the college world, and discouragement from those who received the deferment notice. But having not been in their shoes, I couldn’t relate to the immense stress they felt receiving their decisions. Yet.

Unfortunately, I was introduced to the website-that-must-not-be-named, the site that takes full advantage of all the stress and nervous anticipation of college applicants and their families. Okay, I’ll say it – College Confidential. Now, I had easy access to something that could tell me the days decisions would come out and I could be the expert. But instead of giving me actually useful information, it gave me the perception of control and didn’t amount to much more than daily visits and a ton of speculation that may or may not have actually been anywhere close to accurate. On the plus side, College Confidential was a guilty pleasure that helped me cope with the strung-out January weeks of anticipation. But at last, those weeks came to an end.

Leaders: North Carolina 40%, Texas 25%, Maryland 20%, Penn State 10%, USC 2.5%, Northwestern 2.5%

 

Stage 7: First Wave, Part One

On January 25, the day UNC and Maryland came out with their decisions, the whole day was ticking down to one moment. On a road run with my close friend Joe Pohoryles, I broke down my chances for the day – a 55 to 60 percent chance of UNC given my experience at sports journalism camp and close test scores, an 80 to 85 percent chance of Texas, and a 95 percent chance of Maryland. Joe, who also planned to go into sports journalism at applied to UMD, Texas, and Northwestern, was less confident in Texas and he said that it felt like something was up this year. For Michigan, around eight girls were accepted early action and zero boys, including one with a perfect ACT, and Texas in particular had been later in its announcements. But there was nothing to do now but see how the chips fell.

At five PM, I was milling around my kitchen, waiting for the email announcing a change in the UNC admissions portal. “This is the moment you’ve been working for the past four years,” my mom said eagerly, and multiple family members asked for updates throughout the evening. Finally, around six I got an email and rounded my parents and brother Nate into the office to check the decision. I couldn’t believe that the decision had been made, and every mouseclick I made was with the greatest degree of care and precision. With all of us crowded around the desktop computer, I opened the UNC application portal. I was greeted with a picture of the UNC monument, with a link to the admissions decision below. I clicked the link.

I am very sorry to tell you that we’re unable to offer you admission to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.”

I reeled back and assured everyone with a monotone “that’s a no” to make me feel like the decision hadn’t impacted me at all. There was a silence as the words started to sink in. “I know this decision is not the one you hoped for, and I very much regret having to deliver it,” it read. I felt confused. UNC was my dream school, the moment I’d been waiting for, and it was a no? My parents were shocked as well, but they were encouraging and told me to look forward to the things to come. Later in the night, I opened my second admissions decision, UMD, which I sarcastically preceded with “now I hope I don’t get in to this one.” I actually did get accepted and to the honors college, but aside from providing a fallback option, the Maryland acceptance felt like little consolation.

In the first couple days, the UNC rejection wasn’t too difficult to take. From poor cross country and track performances to relationship issues, I had already been through a lot of disheartening circumstances in high school and college rejection packed much less of a personal punch. After all, I still had schools to come up, including an exciting option in Texas-Austin. But each time I heard about a fellow student at my school getting in felt like a punch to the gut, and I tried my hardest to not let jealousy creep in. From my Carolina gear to my well-documented visits, I felt like I wanted it more than any of the other students and had done everything I could to bolster my case, yet it wasn’t enough. It also felt so strange to have a school I had circled in my college book for over four years suddenly be erased from consideration. And my college basketball rooting interests (and ESPN “favorites” page) changed dramatically in the span of a few days.

Leaders: Texas 75%, Maryland 15%, Penn State 5%, USC 2.5%, Northwestern 2.5%

 

Stage 8: First Wave, Part Two

The word on the street was that Texas would come out the following Friday, and indeed it did. After the UNC rejection, my concern grew slightly about the Texas application, not in the least because I knew about ten other guys in my grade who applied (many of whom applied for the same communications school). But I still felt that based off past acceptances, overall school selectivity, and my own essays and scores (my SAT was 120 points over the accepted average), I was still over a 70% for Texas. I also thought Joe and a couple of other guys like James Barberis and Brian Myers would get in easily – these were well-qualified, passionate candidates for admission. Though I was worried about how financial aid might shake out, Texas was my clear number one and my Longhorn hopes took the place of my disappointment from UNC.

The tension was palpable throughout the school day, and even as Joe and I stood in line to get our parking passes, our minds were on the Texas application. When both of us were relegated to the inferior Rockshire parking lot, Joe replied with a “hope this isn’t a sign of things to come.”

Fast forward to around 8 pm. I was on my couch watching a 30 for 30 episode on ESPN, but my mind and laptop browser were on the Texas decision. Finally, the decision was in. With my brand-new laptop flipped into tablet mode, I tapped on the keys to see the good news. And then…

We are unable to offer you admission at this time.

“I think I got deferred. Wait. No. I didn’t get in,” I reported to my dad. That finally broke our composure. “This is ridiculous. It’s Texas-Austin!” My dad (an MIT graduate) was equally incredulous, wondering aloud if the whole college process was warped. This time I went straight to anger, with the 30 for 30 going on unwatched a couple feet away. My whole perception of my college hierarchy, with Texas and UNC at the top, was crumbling down.

I checked my phone and at the home screen was a text from Joe – “any news?” I responded with a “did you get anything”, followed by his reply “I did. You?” followed by my reply “you first” followed by his reply of a thumbs down emoji, soon succeeded by my response of a “I got rejected too.” From what he could tell, none of the boys he knew had gotten in. I was salty about the decision to say the least, but having someone in my corner felt reassuring. And during our long run together the next morning, it felt freeing to air our grievances and commiserate together. Some of our discussion was hyperbole – “just saying, if I go to Maryland, I’ll have to rethink my life this whole summer” or “I’m gonna make Texas wish they had admitted me, oh wait…”- but the companionship was meaningful to me. Having another person there also helped each of us to give perspective to the other even if we couldn’t see it ourselves, and I left knowing we were in it together.

Having already withstood the blow of UNC, the Texas loss didn’t sink me all that much more. But it seemingly assured my next step – the University of Maryland at College Park. With Penn State costing a good $25K a year more than UMD for comparable academics and USC and Northwestern as reaches and extremely expensive ones at that, UMD seemed like the last college standing. A day after hearing back from Texas, I got an email notifying me that I wasn’t being considered for a USC merit scholarship, which realistically took it out of contention. In reaction to the rejections, I hastily put together and submitted an application to University of Florida, a school I’d considered before my counselor advised me to cut down on safeties at the end of my junior year. It was probably too late for much merit aid, but I was running out of options and fast. Appealing Texas was a brief option for a while, but with the merit aid window evaporated and my chances at an honors program at the huge public school gone, I decided against it.

To replace the constant College Confidential checking, I started looking closer into the University of Maryland website. I talked to Colin SyBing, one of my mentors from my freshman year of running, about the honors program and various questions about campus, which helped me get a better sense of some of the options available. I also looked into the dorms and amenities on campus and added their teams on my ESPN account. My mission – to erode my anti-Maryland mentality, one day at a time. I hated that it felt inevitable, that I was like Charlie Brown whiffing when the football is pulled away by the whole college process and that I felt that I could’ve done so much less to get into Maryland, but it was important to reframe my situation in the best way possible. Another frequent page on my web browser was the UMD gear page, though I ultimately decided to wait until all the decisions were in to load up on red and yellow Terp gear. My strategy was just to wait it out, and make the best of whatever cards I was dealt.

Leaders: Maryland 80%, Penn State 12%, Florida 5%, USC 3%, Northwestern 1%, Texas 1%

 

Stage 8: Emergence of Penn State

In early February, the tides started to turn. Midway through an indoor track meet, I found out that I was accepted to the Schreyer Honors College at Penn State, one of the most prestigious in the country. The admission also came with a sizeable merit scholarship that would last throughout my four years. In addition to a Provost’s award for GPA, the financial aid package was already around $10K for my first two years and $12K my last two. The scholarships helped make Penn State worthy of a meaningful visit, and maybe even a fighting chance in the battle against Maryland.

In late February, I received even better news. My dad came up with the idea of checking with the communications school to see if they had any merit scholarships, and they responded by sending a scholarships form that I eagerly filled out and submitted. After I returned from my after school run, my mom greeted me at the door.

“Did you see the email?”

“No,” I replied and then ran to the office. I pulled up the email attachment and saw the award – $6K for the first two years, then $7 for the last two. Now, the cost had dropped from $46K to a much more manageable $30K, and it was even within the ballpark of Maryland. “Thanks to the scholarships, I think Penn State is affordable,” my dad concluded happily. Being the sports fan that I am, I turned on the famous Jerry Maguire clip and yelled along with Cuba Gooding, Jr. – “show me the MONEYYY!!!”

About two weeks later, I traveled up to State College with my parents for a visit run by the Schreyer Honors College. I had already been to Penn State with my grandparents for a day trip the previous June, but this was a more intensive and intimate visit that I hoped could give Penn State’s case the push it needed to convince my parents. And it went as well as I could’ve hoped – the program was extremely well-run and gave an authentic sense of campus, my parents learned all that they wanted to know from the faculty, our meeting with the communications school recruiter answered our various questions, and my practice with the club running squad went as well as a road run right after a scoop of ice cream could have gone. Sitting at an Olive Garden on our trip back down to Maryland, my parents and I raved about all the aspects we loved about Penn State and how it was a fantastic fit. Of course, my excitement manifested itself in a couple hours of online shopping, and I had my Penn State shirt, hat, and sweatshirt all ready in the “shopping cart” until all of the decisions were in.

Leaders: Penn State 75%, Maryland 20%, Florida 2%, USC 2%, Northwestern 1%

 

Stage 9: Second Wave

Going into the final weekend of my college decisions, I was exactly where I wanted to be. I had my school, Penn State, and best of all, it was out-of-state. It was also feasible, unlike the regular decision schools that I would hear back from, so my expectations for change were low. And after the weeks of disappointment from the college process, my self-esteem for my prospects were humble to say the least. Just three more decisions, and then I can be a Nittany Lion.

March 22 marked the first meet of my senior track season, a home meet against Churchill, but the buzz was also around Northwestern’s decision coming out that evening. After pulling away with a late win in the boys’ mile, I checked my phone and saw an email – “Your Admissions Decision is Out.” Having just topped a rival school in the mile, I was feeling confident and had nothing to lose, even though my 800 event started in just a few minutes. “I’m gonna open Northwestern” I told Joe as I sat on the bleachers with my phone. Joe probably didn’t think it was the greatest of ideas, but he didn’t stop me and stuck around to see the result.

As I opened all of the various links and typed in my passwords on my phone, I reminded myself that for the first time of all of my college decisions, I needed to expect the rejection. It was inevitable. That’s why I froze when I saw the letter.

“Congratulations and welcome to the Class of 2023 at Northwestern University. It gives me great pleasure to inform you that you have been admitted to the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications.”

My eyes couldn’t register a single word, until it stopped at “congratulations.” I wasn’t euphoric. I wasn’t screaming in joy. I was shocked.

“Wow. I didn’t see that coming,” I said aloud in a voice so monotone it could be confused for an automated speaker. Nothing set in. My mind was blank. It felt so wrong too – I’d never really considered Northwestern as a viable option, and Joe certainly deserved it more than I did given the effort he put into his application to the school. I stepped down to the track, with undoubtedly a huge boost of adrenaline and energy.

My reaction felt like a concrete dam about to burst – as time went on, small cracks would form and my acceptance of the decision would trickle like water. I was careful not to tell anyone, but by the end of the meet, a bunch of teammates clapped me on the back and were jumping up and down. In my cooldown with Joe, I said that I didn’t even know if it was my top option, given Penn State’s viability and Northwestern’s pricey cost, and that Northwestern messed up big time in not letting him in. But as we had throughout the whole process, our mentality had to be looking forward and seeing what would happen.

By my car ride home, I was ecstatic, with music cranking on my car’s stereo. Telling my mom and dad was an awesome moment, and they were nearly as surprised as I was after having seen all of my previous rejections. Telling my grandmother was also an awesome moment, though the news seemingly only validated her expectations (she was the one who wanted me to apply to Stanford, after all). My newspaper teacher, Mrs. Starr (a Northwestern alumnus), was the most excited and texted me that she was in literal tears. But with all the excitement, I was careful not to keep my hopes high until hearing back from financial aid a week later. It all set up for a thrilling finale.

Leaders: Penn State 45%, Northwestern 45%, Maryland 10%

 

Stage 10: Final Month Frenzy

In the last stages of the college process, all I could think about was money. I didn’t want to get my heart set on Northwestern, then get gut-punched again when the price tag showed up to be $80K (as was projected from the website). I still told people that Penn State was my top choice, but my excitement for Northwestern was building.

I checked financial aid every waking hour from the Friday that it was supposed to come out until the Sunday morning that it actually was released (bringing my old friend College Confidential into the mix once more). Then, in the High School room at my church, I opened up the tab and saw the package. It was enough to cut the price almost in half, and while it was still double UMD’s cost, Northwestern wasn’t eliminated yet. I jumped up and down and high-fived my friend Sam White, who like me had endured a UNC rejection a couple months earlier. My parents were relieved to hear that we were getting some aid and we booked a stay at Wildcat Welcome for mid-April, just weeks before college decisions were due.

I entered Evanston, Illinois with high expectations and ready to get my heart set on the school, and Northwestern didn’t disappoint. The journalism school was impressive, the campus was beautiful with a view of Lake Michigan and the Chicago skyline, and the atmosphere seemed like a perfect fit, no rationalizing necessary. I could also run with the club team, which was a huge draw considering Chicago winters. This time, I went to the campus store and loaded up on gear. I may not have been officially committed, but I knew where I was going.

Leaders: Northwestern 90%, Penn State 9%, Maryland 1%

 

Stage 11: Decision Time

April was a frenzy, with a trip to Florida coming just hours after I arrived back home from Evanston. But once I convened with my parents to talk about my decision the following week, the verdict was in and there was little debate. My parents were all-in on Northwestern and saw it as feasible and worth the cost, and even though they were sad to see me go halfway across the country, they acknowledged that it was my time. Minutes later, I officially accepted the Northwestern offer and completed the college process. I was a Wildcat!

Leader: Northwestern 100%

 

Stage 12: Reflection

There aren’t enough hyperboles in the dictionary to adequately put the college admissions process into context. When one moment of clicking a link can determine where you will spend your next four years and your life path, is it even possible to downplay the weight of that moment? Running and applying to college may be the only things I’ve experienced that have been bizarre enough to turn my perspective a full 180, and the sensations I felt, from anticipation to shock to euphoria to jealousy, have never resonated stronger with me. For one half of the process I felt like I was given the short end of the stick, and for the other half I had the complete opposite perspective. It left me with so many questions, and the only one I feel that it really answered was “where are you going next year.” Like…

Is the college admissions process broken? For me, it’s difficult to extricate the result from the process itself – I easily could’ve gone to Maryland or Northwestern, but the college admissions process is what it is regardless. As far as admissions, there was the unique instance of a college cheating scandal at one of the schools I applied to, plus a lawsuit levied against my two top choices, so it would be easy to just put out there that the process is rigged. But I know that there are tons of talented and meticulous people in the admissions rooms, and to say that their goals in finding students not aligning with my intentions as a prospective student means that they are the ones who are flat out wrong is foolish. Issues such as legacy, affirmative action, and demographic preference are hot topics for debate, but likewise, I think most colleges are fair in letting in deserving candidates.

But to answer the question, yes, I think that the college process is broken. Not from the schools as much, but from the students. A flawed perception of the college process and pressure to achieve a desired result is reason number one. I come from a competitive school, and I saw firsthand that the way that students perceive failure in the college process is extreme and how self-esteem can fluctuate with every result. The starkest example for me was myself. I felt like each rejection, even though it may have been for a variety of reasons that may not even reflect on me, was a personal mark against me, and when I got into Northwestern after rejections from North Carolina, Texas and Florida, I thought to myself “yes, so now people won’t think I’m dumb.” And that’s the wrong, warped mindset – even for a moment, I put my self-value on something so variable and arbitrary as college decisions. A lot of that has to do with my own perspective of the college process at the time, but I find these same struggles from other students as a product of the cutthroat, high-stakes culture surrounding the admissions process. A key thing to keep in mind that I’ve learned to diffuse this tension is that it is more about what you do once you get to college, not which one you get into.

How did all of those acceptances and rejections play out the way they did? Well, anything from my perspective is speculation, and my process turned out to be wilder than I could’ve imagined. Divine intervention aside, I think a lot of external factors were in play, such as the competitiveness of the field of applicants in some of the schools that rejected me and demographics (especially with out-of-state public schools), but I also think that with certain universities, the focus in finding applicants was varied. Where one school might value my focus in journalism throughout high school, others may be looking for a more balanced resume or not even give as much of a priority in admissions to journalism. There are also differences in how a given college perceives your application (how much it stands out) and whether it receives significant backing from one or more application readers. I also feel that there are so many of the people that I know that would’ve succeeded at the schools that didn’t accept them and that decisions aren’t always indicative of fit, and for each reason that seems like it could sway a decision, there are so many more possible factors as well.

Did I do the college process right? There are some small changes I wish I would’ve made to my college application strategy (applying to Florida earlier, adding a couple more schools just for the excitement of it), but overall I think I struck the balance of putting myself in an optimal position in the college process and doing what I enjoyed in high school. When I thought I was destined for Maryland, I griped that I could’ve done so much less work and gotten in, until my mom pointed out that a lot of my activities and choices, like running, newspaper, volunteering at summer camps, and trying to get a high GPA, didn’t have “looking good on a college resume” as a major consideration. Following passions would be my foremost piece of advice to high school students, because without it, the genuine quality of a student’s application that most schools value would be difficult to imitate.

One reform I would’ve considered as far as my own actions is to be more supportive of and compassionate toward other students throughout the whole process, whether that be through the stress of writing essays and completing applications, receiving rejections and deferrals, or having upfront discussions instead of harboring feelings. There’s no way to strike a perfect balance and not upset the unwritten code of conduct, but care and support goes a long way.

As you can tell from this reflection, I’m quite relieved to have completed (survived) the college process and would rather get a dental procedure done than look at an SAT review guide. The process was rough, but it could’ve been a lot worse and without the support and perspective of my family and friends, I would’ve had a really tough time. Take out the highs and lows and the stress in between, and the college admissions process stands out to me as the time in my life where I have thought most introspectively, both about my past and my future. And while there may have been bumps along the road, the college admissions process benefited me in two major ways – 1) getting to go to college and 2) having some wild stories to tell.

2 thoughts on “Organized Chaos: My Wild College Application Experience in 12 Stages

  1. Wow you really have been through the college application mill.! I knew you were going through a rough time but it’s great to read about it in hindsight. Also, I do remember saying to you that God had good plans for you, plans to prosper you! I knew I was right when I said it and it’s really great that His
    plans turned out to get you into such a great school and also one that you only considered giving a 1% chance to at the beginning of your search. GA

    Like

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