As most of you may (or may not) know, I’m heading off to college at the end of August. I’ll be packing up and flying to New York City, where I’ll be a freshman at my dream school, Barnard College in Manhattan. Since I’m at the end of the college application process, I wanted to share everything I’ve learned from the past almost three years of work that has brought me here by doing a six part series on applying to college.
Note: I’m not an expert in any way, shape or form. My advice may not get you into your dream college – it’s just what worked for me!
Today, I’m starting off with what my experience was, and what my background was going into this process.
meet willa: the dreamer and planner since birth
I’ve been dreaming of college since I knew what it was. So, this means that I’ve been thinking about where I want to go since I was just as young. I looked back at my application to my middle/high school the other day, and in my letter, I wrote about how I wanted to go to Columbia…and now I’m going! But, this also means that I put a lot of thought and planning into my college application process. Looking back, I think it was the reason I was so successful in my application process.
I went to a public all-girls school for 6-12th grade, and my school focused heavily on college preparation. I was blessed to go on college visits from the time I was eleven until I was seventeen, touring various campuses all across Texas and Louisiana. I also had a college counselor and a scholarship coordinator in addition to my regular counselor, so I had tons of support and guidance throughout this process. And I was so, so, so lucky to have them. I’m going to share some of the tips they shared with me throughout this series as well!
Both of my parents went to college, and I have an older brother who is also in college right now. This means that in my family, it was never really a question of whether or not I’d go to college (if I wanted to, of course). It also means that I have parents who have a background in the process, even though it’s incredibly different now than it was when they applied.
I had tons of support in my journey. But I think that success in college applications are about more than who you have cheering for you – it’s about you and the kind of work you put in.
building my wishlist
My idea of the kind of college I wanted to go to has evolved so much over the past eight years. For a long time I was completely against going to an all-women’s college. I wanted to go to a giant school. I wanted that “college experience” that you see in movies – of big schools, football games, the whole nine yards. But, there are a few things that didn’t change when it came to my wishlist: a big city – particularly NYC, and out-of-state.
When I hit high school, I started really narrowing down my wishlist. At the time, NYU was my number one school. The idea of being so in the city was so appealing to me, and I thought that it would be an incredible place for me. By this time, I’d completely thrown small towns out of the question, after multiple visits to small-town Texas schools. I also decided I didn’t really want to go to UT. (My reason: I HATE THE COLOR BRICK THEY USED FOR THE ENTIRE. SCHOOL.)
When I was a sophomore, a girl I swam with at my school freshman year was starting her freshman year at Barnard. It was the first time I’d ever heard of the school, and the more I talked to her about it, the more I thought it may be a good fit for me. So, the summer after my sophomore year, I went on a life-changing trip to Barnard, where I did a week-long summer intensive. I took a class in Modernism in New York City, I lived in a dorm (I had a horrible corner dorm), I had a roommate, I used communal showers (they’re not that bad, I swear), and I ate cafeteria food. I had my class in Milbank Hall every day, and I spent my afternoons doing my homework in Butler Library on Columbia’s campus, or on Barnard’s lawn, or in my dorm room. I went shopping in the city with my roommate and got milkshakes and cheesy fries at ten at night from the Seinfeld diner. It was heaven.
I came away from that week sure that Barnard was the place for me. Gone was NYU and the idea that I wanted an “immersed” campus (my term). I decided a big school was not for me, so out went state schools. I decided I could do an all-women’s campus, but it had to be in a big city. I also decided that a liberal arts education was a priority to me.
And that became my wishlist (plus some other things):
- in a big city
- small campus
- liberal arts-focused
- small to medium student body
- coed or all-women’s
- strong study abroad program
- small student to faculty ratio
- academically stimulating
picking my schools
I applied to nine schools. I had one in-state safety, and the rest of my schools were out-of-state. I applied to seven colleges on the east coast, one on the west coast. My in-state school was that only one that was public.
It turned out that my wishlist really narrowed down my choices. Fun fact: most liberal arts colleges are not in big cities. So, rather than googling “liberal arts colleges,” I went city by city. I thought about where I’d love to live: NYC, DC, Boston, Philadephia, and I went city by city, finding liberal arts colleges nestled in the city, or a very short train ride away. I was diligent, and I only put schools on my list I could see myself at – schools that got me excited. Once I had a list of about fifteen schools, I took this list into a meeting with my college counselor, who basically told me, “great list.” He took a few off the list and added two. (I later took one of them off.)
From there, I whittled it down even more. I knew I didn’t want to apply to more than ten schools, so I was brutal. I narrowed it down to the following list:
- Barnard College
- Boston College
- DePaul University
- George Washington University
- Lewis & Clark College
- Northeastern University (my top choice for the fall semester of senior year)
- Simmons College
- Wellesley College
- University of North Texas
I slaved over my applications. I picked the teachers I wanted to write me recommendations, and I brainstormed my essays for hours. I wrote, rewrote, and cried a bit over my personal statement. (Seriously – I rewrote that thing an upwards of twelve times.) All of my schools except for two had multiple supplemental essays, so I knocked those out one-by-one and edited them for hours.
I applied to every one of my schools Early Action except for Wellesley, Barnard, and GW. This meant my applications were sent off by November 1st. Those other three were done by January 1st.
Then I waited.
I heard back from all of my EA schools in December, which is both frightening and fantastic. I got my first acceptances that month and I was so, so excited. I got into Simmons, DePaul, UNT and Lewis & Clark, and I got waitlisted at Northeastern and Boston College, which broke me a bit. Waitlisting = you get rolled over into Regular Decision and are considered again.
So I wrote Letters of Intent to Northeastern and Boston College, got another letter of recommendation from someone outside of school, and sent those off in February for Regular Decision consideration.
Regular Decision came out in March during my Spring Break and right after. It was tumultuous and crazy and a whirlwind of emotions. It was two weeks where I was constantly refreshing my email and drove home every day praying I had an acceptance letter in my mailbox (two of my schools notified by snail mail).
I was incredibly, incredibly lucky with my decisions. I didn’t think I would get into Barnard, Wellesley, or GW, and Northeastern was a maybe. But, somehow, I got into every one of my schools, including my Waitlist schools, which actually made my choice so much harder. I think this is mainly because the schools I picked were mostly not reaches for me – in fact, about half of my schools were safeties, and the rest were possibles. I was really realistic with my strengths and weaknesses when it came to picking my schools, and knew that I was not going to get into “Ivy League” schools, so I didn’t apply.
This was one of the easier parts of the process for me. I looked back at my list and scratched any school that didn’t give me enough financial aid (which was a huge part of my decision), or a school my heart wasn’t 100% in. That left Barnard and Wellesley, and from there, it was just a choice of NYC or Wellesley, MA?
And that was easy.
Barnard all the way. <3
So that’s my application story! I have five more parts to this series that will be coming out over the next two-ish weeks covering different parts of the process:
- What’s the right school for you?
- Pre-application preparation
- Making a decision
If you have any questions about my process or anything along the way, feel free to comment down below, send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org), or a tweet (@WillasRamblings) and I’ll be happy to reply.