🗣 Finding Our Student Voice 🗣 The UnifiEd Student Voice Team Blog Surrounding Student Life
I can’t believe how quickly time has passed. It feels like I was excited about my first college letter only yesterday (like Kaitlyn is dealing with now, which she writes about in her own College Preparation...
Blog). Now, I know that these letters are just advertisements and that the sense of importance that I felt when I checked my mailbox daily was all based on a lie. (Now, I’m not even applying to any of the schools that most frequently contacted me, but this is by pure coincidence). I first started realizing the truth when I asked myself, “who is this mysterious Office of Admissions, and why do they specifically want me?” Sure, I was extremely naive and gullible before, but those letters were necessary for me to start taking the idea of college seriously.Each day after receiving a letter, I would excitedly log onto my laptop and research everything I could find out about the institution. From this, I learned how to narrow down the kind of college that I wanted to attend and the one that I saw myself thriving in. First, I knew for a fact that I did not want to attend a huge school. This crossed off larger schools like the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. These may be great schools, but they were just not well suited for me. Next, I realized that I wanted to move away from Chattanooga, but stay within driving distance of home. With this decision, I crossed off the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and Chattanooga State Community College. I also knew that I wanted to attend a school with a great science program, which emphasized research and global learning. This actually introduced some schools to me instead of helping me narrow the list down- schools I am applying to now. Some of these schools are Agnes Scott, the University of Alabama at Huntsville, and Vanderbilt.
The number one thing that got me to this stage in my college application process was research. Over these past two years, the website Niche.com has become my best friend. After a new college came onto my radar, I would first check Niche to see if it was worth considering. This website gives general information about application deadlines, acceptance rates, average test scores, GPA, cost, academics, etc., but it also has a section where people can write reviews. Sure it took some careful weeding through pointless comments, but it would give me some firsthand insight into specific details which I usually would not have considered (like the social environment, sense of community, dorm quality, meal plans, etc.). Of course, I also consulted each school’s website to find all the direct facts and watch their virtual campus tours, but Niche was also a valuable source.
After this necessary stage of research, my next move was to attend some on-campus college visits! How exciting, right? But there’s a keyword: on-campus. Given the current circumstances (a global pandemic, if you haven’t been keeping up), many in-person visits have been put on hold for the past year. Typically, a college tour would be led by a student, who gives information based on their own experience at school. Still, without these student-led tours, it has been difficult to truly understand the type of environment and experiences that each college offers. You can only learn so much about a school from their website, so I feel as if I have been missing out on a large and significant chunk of what truly makes a school unique. In addition to this, it’s hard to know what schools I want to commit to if I’m missing so much vital knowledge.
Without in-person visits, I tried to keep my options open. Being open-minded about all the different schools on my list (and believe me, this number was high) meant that I would not be missing out on any particular college. When I first got all those letters, as I mentioned before, I was sure to carefully research each university because I was scared that I would skip over a potential dream school. Later, I learned that this was a waste of time. Before summer started, I was ambitiously planning on applying to over ten schools. I desperately wanted to keep my options open to ensure that I would be happy, academically challenged, and financially stable wherever I went. Now, in the midst of filling out these applications, I’ve narrowed my list down to five. I realized somewhere along the way that the quality of the school doesn’t mean that it’s a good fit for me. Besides, the application process can be lengthy and strenuous, and I’m glad that my list is down to five.
Even though I have worked hard enough to be content with my current progress, I still feel like I’m missing something. A lot of the application process is centered around sureness. Every step of the way, I felt like I needed to know the exact type of school I wanted to attend, be sure of my major, and know the specific career I wanted to pursue. This, clearly, is not the case, and teenagers aren’t expected to have their whole lives planned out, but I did experience a lot of doubt. I am lucky enough to have a general goal in mind (study either chemistry, physics, or astronomy, eventually get a doctorate, and teach at a college), but going into my senior year, I had many questions and concerns about how to actually apply to all these schools, pay for my education, and ultimately achieve these goals. I definitely still have more questions, many of which I will figure out as I go through life, but I wish I would have been more confident and prepared to start 12th grade.
However, I was one of the lucky ones. Many of my peers still have absolutely no idea what they want to do post-secondary and are going into senior year blindly. I wish that there were more resources available for high school students of all ages to experiment with different options to have more of a plan after graduation. Based on my experience, I think that much college and career readiness information is explicitly aimed at seniors, which would make sense in theory, but it often makes kids feel rushed to make decisions. If we were exposed to that knowledge sooner, I think that more people would have a better idea of what they specifically wanted to pursue. So far, the Fall semester has been filled with copious amounts of stress and hard work, with all of my college applications piling on top of my existing pile of schoolwork and extracurriculars. Still, I am grateful for all of the support that I have received along the way. No matter where I end up, I am incredibly excited to move to the next stage in life, learn true independence, and study on a higher level (no matter how daunting it sounds).