A Guide to Cliff-Jumping: Handling Senior Year Stress

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by Avery

My senior year of high school felt like walking closer and closer to the edge of a cliff.

I pictured graduation as the point at which I would jump off, not to certain death or anything quite so drastic, but into a whole new world to learn to navigate, a huge gaping unknown. While I was terribly excited for the jump, the idea of losing the feeling of my feet on the ground I was so familiar with was a little stressful.

Senior year can be terrifying, super fun, super tense, exciting, or confusing. It can seem to take forever or whiz by scary-fast. Handling all of these feelings can be extremely hard, not to mention that if you plan on going to college, you will have an absurd number of details to keep track of.

The stress I experienced didn’t come from my schoolwork, but from logistics—the worry that I couldn’t “get it all done” in time. Myself being a pretty poorly-organized individual, I probably made these details harder to manage than they had to be. So, dear reader, please learn from my mistakes!

Senior year stress seems to come in two main phases:

First: Securing your parachute, getting snacks for the road, arranging transportation, quadruple checking your parachute…Sorry to bring back this cliff metaphor, but bear with me.

This is college/future-related stress. It’s when there are always more details creeping up on you. You’re busy as heck touring colleges, writing application essays, applying for scholarships, etc. This time requires a lot of decision making as well as hard work, which can be a lethal combination. Here are some suggestions for handling this death-by-details stress:

  1. Keep a calendar of your deadlines and requirements. At the beginning of each week, make goals of what you need to accomplish, and write out the specific steps necessary. Give every task a few extra days to account for slow “processing”.
  2. Keep track of who you need to talk to. Maybe it’s your counselor or teachers. Remember that these people are very busy around this time, and you may need to give them extra time to accomplish tasks like sending your transcript or writing letters of recommendation. Waiting for others (such as your counselor) can be one of the most stressful things about this time. But remember, once a task is out of your hands, you can’t do anything else about it, so just let it go. Chances are, there are better places to channel your energy than worrying whether or not your transcript has arrived at a college. (That said, it’s okay to send a follow-up email if the person has not responded within a reasonable amount of time – sometimes people need a reminder)
  3. Consider setting aside a few hours each week for “future planning”. What this means will differ for everyone. Maybe it entails sorting out your graduation requirements. Working on remedial coursework or online classes. Some folks are planning on working straight after high school, which may require less planning. Still, you can always polish up your resume or start the job hunt now.

Second: “Phase two stress”, as I’ll call it, is more like walking towards the edge of the cliff. It’s the time when you realize high school is ending soon. And life is about to change. You may be battling restlessness/“senioritis” (a lack of focus and extreme boredom at school) as well as a desire to cling to what you know. I guarantee that most of your peers are equally frazzled by this, so talk to them!

Oh yeah, and this is when you start receiving letters back from colleges if you’re going that route (maybe this is like picking out the specific ledge you’ll jump from… Maybe we can let this metaphor die). Be proud of every acceptance you get, you worked hard for that! Try to take rejections in stride, too, even though it may sting terribly. And remember, a rejection isn’t always about you, per se. Schools have to make quotas of certain demographic categories so try not to take a rejection too personally.

I think the best way of handling this stress is to spend time with people you care about. Take time to appreciate the good people in your life and take time for relaxing too. Try to put future-thoughts out of your mind for an hour each day. Your decision making abilities may improve after having a little time off.

So, yes, this is a bizarre and scary time, but all that being said, I really did enjoy much of my senior year. I had less homework, fewer classes, and more time to spend with my friends and family. After making the decision to take a gap year and deciding on my college, I was just so excited! Hopefully you can get excited, too.

As spring rolls around, breathe in that sweet scent of freedom…graduation is coming, and so is your senior summer, which might be one of the best times ever.

College Admission Essays: An Introduction to You

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by Lillie

Writing essays can be hard, especially when it’s an essay that will impact the rest of your life. When I sat down to write my college application essay I didn’t know what to say.

For some essays I had already written a previous essay that matched the prompt so I just read it over and turned it in. On other essays I wrote whatever came to mind. My essays weren’t bad, they just weren’t good. More importantly they didn’t reflect who I am or my ability to write very well at all. So as someone on the other side of that essay, I want to give you some advice.

  1. First and foremost take your time. Think about the prompt and brain storm what you want to write about ahead of time. This way you have more time to draft your essay and to receive critical feedback.
  2. Make sure your essay sounds like you. Ask yourself, “does this sounds like something I would write?” If it helps you, ask a few people who know you well. The people who review your essay want to know who you are and one of the best ways to do that is to show them your voice.
  3. Another thing that helps them get to know you is your topic. What are you writing about? Whatever you chose make sure it reflects who you are as a person, what makes you unique. It doesn’t have to be something big like starting a non-profit organization or meeting the president (though it can be), you just have to write about something you care about and why. Why is the ticket here, this lets the administrators in on what you’re passionate about and who you are. Your paper doesn’t have to list all of your good qualities, let the rest of your application speak for itself, it just has to reflect a part of who you are.
  4. It takes more than you to review. When it’s time to revise your paper it can be tempting to read through it yourself and proclaim it to be good enough, it’s uncomfortable to have people read your thoughts, especially people who know you. The other end of the spectrum is being so cautious that you have too many people reading your essay – while it’s always good to get some external advice you need to make sure that your paper is still your own. I’d say to have two or three people look over your essay before you revise it (after your own initial revision of course). Take in all of their advice and see what fits with your voice, what clarifies your ideas, and and improves your grammar. Overall. just think “if I were to implement this how could it make my paper better?” You may need to switch some things around completely in the end but having a strong essay is worth it.

Maybe you’re reading this and wondering if all of this really matters, maybe you could just wing it – after all that’s what I did and I still got into college right?

It’s possible for you to wing it and still do well but honestly I probably would have had a lot more financial support and less academic skepticism, if I hadn’t and if I could go back, I would rewrite that essay. If you skipped everything I wrote and just came down to here for some reason (and I wouldn’t blame you if you did this is getting pretty long) I’d like you to remember to put yourself into your essay, that’s what the whole point of these essays are- for the college to get to know you.

Check out some of these helpful links for some more advice and tips on writing a great essay!

Randy Levin – College Application Essays that Set You Apart

5 Tips for Writing a Personal Statement

Big Future – by The College Board

Dos and Don’ts in Writing College Application Essays

Writing the Successful College Application Essay:  Tips for Success

College Prep Guides: Writing an A+ Admissions Essay

Don’t apply to 13 schools. Just. Don’t.

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by Avery

I don’t know why I did, or more accurately, I don’t remember how the list got that long. It seemed like, oh, choices are good. The more schools I apply to, the more choices I’ll have about where to go! Well, sort of.

While choices are good, too many choices are not. Not to mention that too many colleges on your list means too many college applications. And too many frickin’ application fees.

For your own sanity, I’d suggest keeping it around seven. It is better to rule out a school early, not to wait until you’ve cried, sweat, and strained over an application. Of course, it’s important to have a balance among the schools on your list between competitive schools and ones to which you will very likely get in.

Keeping your list short(ish) will also make writing your college application essays easier.

So much seems to rest on getting that essay right. It’s one of the only parts of your college application that is personal; the rest is mainly numbers and figures such as your grades and test scores. While it can seem like one of the more stressful components of a college application, it doesn’t have to be. Try to have fun with it (haha)!

Tons of schools use the Common Application, which can be a huge burden off your shoulders when it comes to keeping things organized. The Common Application requires just one essay (of 600 to 1500 words) to be sent to all the schools, though individual schools may require other additional essays.

This essay amounts to a couple of pages, which isn’t really that many pages considering how much the prompts require of you. Given the limited space, you should keep your writing concise and clear.

Despite the brevity required of the essay, the prompts on the Common Application are pretty open-ended, so you’ll have a lot of leeway in tailoring your essay to your life and your experiences. This year’s prompts are the same as last year’s, and include topics of personal failure, challenging ideas you disagree with, your transition from childhood to adulthood, and meaningful places. They ask about you, so you should write about you.

As for content, I’d suggest writing about something that isn’t directly school-related, unless you have something very unique and/or poignant to say about your experience at school. But given that the essay is intended to give an admissions committee more of an idea about what makes you unique, it is more compelling to read about something more personal.

When writing, keep your style relaxed but polished. Write like yourself. Don’t overuse a thesaurus, but make sure you use proper grammar, spelling, and appropriate language for an academic setting. Use colorful and descriptive language (think about how many essays the admissions committees read…Think about how you can make yours stand out). Also, get feedback from at least three people, and proofread the heck out of your final draft before you send it off!

Tons of colleges have a standard “Why do you want to come here?” type question. Here’s a secret: you really only have to write one, with variance. If you are applying to many similar schools, this is especially true. Maybe you like the size, the availability of research opportunities, and the sweet marching band at all the schools to which you’ve chosen to apply. Once you put these common traits into writing, you’re halfway done. For the rest, state clearly what draws you to each school specifically. Remember to send the right version to the right school!!!

One last thing: a calendar is a great tool for keeping yourself organized with your college apps. Give yourself ample time to get everything done, but also give yourself deadlines and stick to them. Seeing a full list of all you need to do can be daunting, but it’s better than finding “surprise” tasks later!

Okay, here’s the actual last thing: If you need help brainstorming, editing, or whatever else, I’d love to help! Shoot me an email or message and I’ll get back to you soon 🙂 .