It’s that time of the year again. The long-awaited moment of truth when you feel that your dreams are either heard or crushed. Mine were crushed last year when I got rejected by all the US colleges I applied to. But it opened another door to me when I grabbed my gap year by the horns and spent this extra year getting to know myself.

But the time has come again, and it feels like deja vu. Rejected. Waitlisted. Accepted. Which will it be this year? Normally, US and European colleges release their admission decisions by the end of March. It’s not a nice wait. But here’s a few things of what applying to college can be like:

1. It’s f*cking expensive.

The application fee for one college can cost up to $90. Mine were between $60 to $90. But that’s not it. T

here’s another fee to send test scores too! As an international student, I had to pay $19 for each TOEFL test sent to an institution; $12 for each ACT sent to an institution (if I sent more than one test score, I had to pay double or triple that cost), $12 for all SAT scores sent to an institution, and $17 for my IB grades to be sent to an institution.

The costs don’t stack up too high when you apply to a handful of universities; but if you’re a millennial, you know that applying to competitive colleges is no joke, and you’ll probably apply to several more just to increase your changes. I applied to several this year and, needless to say, the costs made my heart hurt.

2. Applying for financial aid is hard.

When I applied last year, I was still working on financial aid papers up to the end of February. I had to fill in the CSS Profile (or the FAFSA for US citizens) – which asks in great detail about every past, present and future income, profit and expenditure in your household; my parents spent a great deal getting the needed papers; and I had to check the financial aid requirements for each university to ensure I had completed everything. The worst thing that it was a long, tedious process not just for me, but also for my parents.

Note: My perspective is that of an international student. I believe that there are many opportunities to get aid, not just from the university, if you’re applying for college aid in your home country. This means that you can be eligible for aid and grants that are not necessarily as complicated as the main one.

3. Your dream school will not always be your dream school.

Last year, I had the mindset that I would become an Ivy League girl. Asian, top grades, several top-notch extracurriculars, I was convinced I would make the cut. I didn’t, and with a crushed ego, I re-evaluated everything I had worked hard for.

I re-applied to college this year with a renewed sense of what I was looking for in college. Even though I had the extra time to think about how I fit into college before it actually happened, I believe this can apply to anyone: your dream school shouldn’t be fixed. Things change, people change, and you will change. More importantly, whether a college is your ‘dream’ or not shouldn’t define what kind of education you receive, because you will define it.

4. Always be open-minded. 

Applying to competitive colleges is becoming more like a reality Hunger Games for many of us. The best thing that you should do is apply for a range of different colleges: reach, fit and safety colleges. And keep your eyes open for other ones that may not necessarily fit with that profile, e.g. a small college in another country. You never know what you may discover in the application research process.

Being open-minded is also key when admission decisions roll out. Whichever college you get into, it should be a celebration. And if all reject you and you find yourself in a gap year – embrace this year to invest in all the things that you set aside during school. There are no wrong or right choices, so there’s no reason why you should close yourself to a fixed path.

5. It’s a chance to get to know yourself.

Despite the amount of work required for college applications, something that has helped me get through this process is by looking at the opportunity of growth within the application. When it comes to writing essays for each of the colleges – spend all the time you need to work on it. Researching, brainstorming, thinking, drafting and writing. Repeat. I realized that writing these essays in itself have helped see who I am.

When I compare the essays I wrote the first time I applied, to the essays I wrote for this year, I have become such a different person. My writing style and interests have changed to suit the passions that make me glow the most. Additionally, researching about a university’s programs has helped me see what the colleges really have to offer, and what courses I would probably be interested in.

All in all, it’s easy to see the admission process as a stressful and tedious task. Sending your profile and writing essays for other people to judge on your ‘worth’ is not exactly a fun game. But you can turn it around and make it your time to learn more about yourself too.

-Michelle

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