I’ve been waiting for college for a very long time.

I started looking at schools when I was in the sixth grade. My school made us take a class called seminar where we learned important life skills like how to type the letter “T” over and over or use the correct form of there, their, and they’re. One day in the middle of the school year, our teacher told us that we needed to start caring about school NOW, because colleges looked at middle school grades. While I’ve never heard of a school besides Penn State doing that, I immediately raced home and started looking at colleges.

My parents told me I didn’t need to worry. Being twelve and angsty, I didn’t listen and proceeded to develop a list of schools, so when I say I’ve been at the college process for a long time, I mean it.

Over the years I’ve developed about as much knowledge as your average guidance counselor, and now on the other side there’s a lot of things I wish I knew.

One. Do not get your heart set on a single school.

Beginning in my sophomore year I fell in love with Vanderbilt University. I desperately wanted to attend to the point where my friends used to tease me on how much I talked about it. Going to tour other schools felt pointless because my heart was so set on Vanderbilt.

I love my school now and I wouldn’t trade it for the world, but when I arrived on Syracuse’s campus I hardly gave it a chance. I had just toured Cornell in the blistering cold of an Ithaca November, and all I wanted was to get through the last stop on our trip and get home.

Words can’t describe how much I regret that.

Two. Every school deserves a chance

This one is sort of a continuance from my last point. Maybe your parents really want you to tour their alma mater, or maybe a school seems too close or too far away. Give every school a shot. You genuinely never know what a school is like until you step on campus.

I used to love Miami University of Ohio. It had everything I wanted in a school- enough prestige that I felt my tuition was worth it, scholarship opportunities, greek life, proximity to a major city, and enough brick to make Harvard jealous. This school was in my top three, just under Vanderbilt and Syracuse, but when I stepped on campus I felt like I was being slowly choked out. There was soo much brick I feared I’d get lost, it was more than an hour away from Cincinnati, and it was immediately clear that everyone on campus was very worried what people thought of them.

When I toured George Washington University I had a near opposite experience. Starting out my college list I was sure I needed a “strong campus feel in the heart of a city” (as I told everyone). I had hated the elevator campuses of NYU and Emerson, so the fact that George Washington lacked a strong campus feel scared me. On that trip I toured American, GW, and Georgetown, and I truly fell in love with DC when I was at George Washington University. Doing something as simple as scheduling a tour can completely change what you think you’re looking for in a school.

Three. Don’t let your stats early on dictate where you think you can go.

If your GPA is not where you want it to be to get into the school of your dreams there is always time to improve. I honestly did not care very much about school in freshman year, but when I decided on where I wanted to go to school I brought my GPA up five points. Schools love to see progress in students because it shows you work really hard and you’re only going to keep working harder once you get there. There is always time to change your resume and build yourself into a character colleges are happy to have.

Four. You don’t have to be in every club.

Being super involved is great if you genuinely love what you’re doing and feel you can be a valuable member of a group while still doing well in your studies. Being over-involved is a fast way to get burnt out.

There was definitely points in my high school career where I got over-involved, taking three different music lessons, or being in multiple shows while running a nonprofit, or signing up to lead too many clubs. At the end of the day, when you over-involve yourself, its more likely than not you will have to drop something. Colleges would rather you have three or four things you do really well or you’ve been a part of for a long time than have you be in five thousand honor societies and you don’t even go to any of the meetings.

Five. Know that you will end up where you need to be

It’s pretty rare that your first choice school is the one you get into, can afford, and agree on with your parents. My mom always told me growing up that God will put you where you need to be. I shrugged that off as something cheesy she would tell me to make me feel better, but it is true. Maybe you do get into your dream school and you love it. Thats amazing. But you might also find yourself blooming at a school you never considered, or wanting to transfer from what you thought was the right fit. That’s great too. At the end of the day, your experience likely won’t be perfect, but it will be what you need to grow and develop as a person.

If you’re applying to colleges this year or in an upcoming one, the best thing you can do for yourself is to get started. College is daunting, and its important to take everything a little at a time. Don’t save anything to the last minute because you will regret it. (However it you do, you’ll live. I’m living proof)

Good luck and thanks for reading!

P.S. If you’re starting your applications now, check out my college playlist on spotify and follow me so you don’t miss a thing.

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