College Applications: What I Wish I Knew Then

Library TakeoutTeens D.C.

College Applications: What I Wish I Knew Then

Maggie Hankins, now college-bound, shares what she wishes she knew during her high school years

written by Maggie Hankins, Teen Aide at Petworth and Teen Council member from 2018 - 2020. 

There’s a lot of uncertainty right now about what college will look like (all zoom classes? On campus or remote? Will the university have a testing program for COVID-19? How many tests?) but one thing’s for certain: I’m going to college! 


The application process was long and difficult, but the lead-up to it matters more than you know.

This is by no means a comprehensive guide and I am not an expert. These are just a few things I picked up throughout high school about college applications that I wish I knew, things I should have worried about earlier and things I had no business worrying about. 

Without further ado, what I wish I knew about the college application process (broken down by grade):

9th grade:

  • Don’t worry! Focus on your grades and enjoy it!

10th grade

  • I took the SAT in the summer between 10th and 11th grade. It was annoying spending that time studying, but it really paid off! Junior year is hectic enough without having to worry about the SAT on top of it all. If you can afford to take the test more than once, take it in the summer between 10th and 11th. If you can’t, start studying during that summer so when SAT School Day rolls around you feel prepared.

11th grade

  • Start thinking about what you’re looking for in a college. Below are a few questions to ask yourself:
    • Heavy presence of Greek life, no presence, or somewhere in between? 
    • Liberal Arts or Research University?
    • Big school with lots of resources or a smaller, close-knit community?
    • Does your school offer free mental health or counseling?
    • Are there affinity groups on campus? What sorts of resources do they offer? Are they all grouped together (meaning a general space for all BIPOC) or are they separated to allow for more individualized experiences?
    • What does housing look like? Is it guaranteed for all 4 years? (It really should be! If housing isn’t guaranteed for all 4 years, seriously consider whether you want to and can afford to go to that school!)

12th grade

  • Start writing early and often! And write a lot!
    • The biggest thing no one tells you about the application process is just how much writing you have to do and just how much time you spend re-writing. I wrote 5 drafts of my personal statement and there were major changes between each.
    • The additional essays may have weird prompts, but they aren’t intended to trick you.
    • Your admissions officer is trying to get to know you to see if you would be a good fit for their school, so being honest with them and being yourself is key.
 

The library is here for you whatever stage you’re in. From using the library to access JSTOR and Encyclopedia Britannica (it’s very helpful for essays and you’ll thank me later, I promise) to the SAT and ACT prep books you can check out to Lynda, Universal Class, and Mango for improving yourself and learning new skills, the library is full of resources to help guide you through this process.