Opinion: Lessons learned: College admissions process reflection


Art: David Tomz

Aug. 1: I open my inbox to discover a lengthy email from my college counselor, filled with deadlines and tasks that will haunt me for the next few months. I quickly close the tab and go on with my day, trying to avoid the one thing I cannot seem to get my mind off of — college application season.

This was the beginning of my senior year. I was terrified of what was to come, mostly because of the stigma associated with college applications. I knew the next few months would push me to think critically about myself, although it was impossible to realize just how much I would learn along the way — and from writing about a car accident no less.

The most important question I kept returning to was: How could I tie an invisible string through the themes of the last four years to create an essay that would represent me?

When I started on my Common Application essay, I had zero clue where to begin, beyond the stereotypically “basic” topics like a pivotal moment in a sports game or a family tragedy. 

I had to set aside a large chunk of time just to sit with my thoughts. I considered why I was drawn to classes like Advanced Placement U.S. History or AP Psychology and what specifically about the humanities field appealed to me. I thought about why I had dedicated so much of my life to dance, passion projects and volunteering. 

To find out more about myself, I started bouncing ideas off of those who know me best. I considered my activities and groups I have been involved with to determine whether there was an angle I could take that would tell a story but also represent something more meaningful. 

I also thought about major life events, which was how I came to the idea I ended up using. My essay was centered around a car accident that happened almost exactly a year ago. I used this event as a hook, and went from there, discussing my immediate response and what that illustrated about my character, and then connected that to what I have done outside the classroom.

How could I tie an invisible string through the themes of the last four years to create an essay that would represent me?

This was the first time I had truly spent time reflecting on my life and how who I am as a person has been shaped by all of my experiences. I began to see threads connecting the different aspects of the past years of my life, which was something I could not see before this. 

Reflecting on my life also shaped my thinking regarding what I want out of my college experience.

I had held preconceived notions that attending a small school in a rural area would hold me back from success by concealing me from the “real world.” 

However, I began to realize that maybe a small school could expand the scope of my opportunities, as it would allow for more individualized attention from professors. Additionally, I became more open to the idea of a school in a rural area once I realized the location of a school is what you make of it, and for me, a school is much more defined by its people and the environment they create than the physical landscape.

All it took for me to reevaluate my values was one virtual webinar in late fall. Everything the admissions officer said seemed to fit what I was looking for: academics, community involvement and many students with the same major as me. Most of all, I loved the sense of community I felt at the school. As far as I could tell, the school was built for me. 

Whether the school is actually a good match, I will have to wait and see in the fall. But I am grateful for the college application process because it taught me to keep an open mind regarding my future, and allowed me to better understand how everything I’ve done fits together. Above all, I discovered that accidents happen. Find the silver linings when they do.