What I Wish I Knew Before Applying to College

Two students walk in Washington Square Park

During my senior year of high school, I dressed up as the Common Application for Halloween. Let’s face it — applying to college can be scary! Toward the end of my junior year, I felt like I was thrown into a world that I knew nothing about. College applications are long, complicated, and time intensive, and before applying I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Fortunately, I was able to quickly learn about the process as I completed it. Thankfully, I ended up getting accepted to my dream school!

Now I am starting my junior year at NYU, and I’ve worked as an Admissions Ambassador for almost two years. In this time, I’ve learned much more about the college application process and have reflected on my own application experience. Looking back, there are a lot of things I would like to have done differently. 

I can't change the past, but I can help others going through the application process by sharing some of the things I wish I knew when I was applying to college.

A student smiles with a pen in her hand

Making a College List

I had a one track mind when it came to choosing the schools I would apply to. I knew I wanted to apply to NYU, but unfortunately I didn’t pay much attention to the other schools on my list. After I sent out my applications I realized that I wasn’t enthusiastic about some of the schools I applied to, and I wish I had applied to other schools. 

Although it worked out in the end, I could have saved a lot of money, time, and effort if I had done more research in the beginning of the process.

If I could do things differently I would have thoroughly researched each school I applied to. I wish I had gone on a few more campus tours, or attended a few virtual information sessions. This would have given me more information to help me determine whether each school would be a good fit. I would not apply to any school I couldn’t seriously envision myself attending. Students often ask me what they should be “looking for” on my tour, and I always reply with a question:

Can you see yourself here?

You should be able to imagine yourself in the environment of each institution you apply to. This will save you from wasting money and time applying to colleges you aren’t truly interested in going to. It will also help you craft a better application. On your “Why NYU?” essay, for example, you can discuss how you envision yourself grabbing a $2 NYC bagel and coffee before going to your Writing the Essay lecture in Silver. You’ll show that you’ve done your research, and you’re enthusiastic about going to the school!

Crafting the Application

Did you know that the Common Application has been open for over a month? When I was applying to colleges, I didn’t realize the Common App opened so early. The Common Application opens every year on August 1st, which for most students in the US is during the summer. I wish I knew that I could’ve taken advantage of those valuable summer months as I was developing my application. The summer is a great time to schedule college tours, narrow down your list, and even start your application. Even before the Common Application is open you can start getting your application materials together. Ask your teachers for letters of recommendation, start working on a portfolio, and draft your personal statement. This will help lighten your load for the fall semester of senior year. 

You 'll have more time to edit your application, apply early action/decision, and apply for scholarships.

My senior year was incredibly hectic. Partially, that was because I did not start my application soon enough. It was also because I did not know the value of a good planner. I somehow survived high school without ever touching a planner, but now I’m not even sure I would remember to put my shoes on before walking out the door without mine. As a major procrastinator, my paperback planner has helped me avoid turning in many essays and projects at 11:59 PM on the night it’s due. I wish I had a planner in high school so I could better keep track of deadlines and nightly tasks. It would really have helped me avoid turning in my applications on the due date.

Two students smiling

Scholarships

If you haven’t already heard — college is expensive! While most NYU students receive some form of financial aid, it can never hurt to have more money. My aunt, who is a college counselor, even recommends her students who have received full scholarships to apply to outside scholarships as well to help pay for indirect costs of attending college, like travel and food. As I stated, my senior year was hectic, and I didn’t spend as much time as I would like applying for scholarships. Scholarships are literally free money! Make sure to schedule in extra time to apply for scholarships, big and small. This could save you a lot of money in the long run.

The Most Important Tip

If you’re still feeling confused or overwhelmed by the application process, it’s okay! There are many things I could’ve done differently to improve my applications and experiences senior year. But even though my process wasn’t perfect, I got through it and so will you! While you’re tackling the arduous task of applying to college, just know that no matter what happens you will do great things. If you need help, don’t be afraid to ask for it. You can contact our admissions hotline at 212-998-4500 with any questions you have or email admissions.ambassadors@nyu.edu to speak to a current student. Now go forth and apply!