The best advice often comes from someone who has recently gone through an experience that you are just beginning.
That’s why, as the school year draws to a close and a new crop of high school sophomores and juniors get serious about the college application process, I am filling today’s column with advice from a couple of seniors: Emma Skelton, who will graduate next week from Lindale High School, has been accepted at Baylor University, where she will major in health science studies, and Chandler Harrison, soon to graduate from Robert E. Lee, is headed to Washington and Lee University, with plans to major in business administration.
We were privileged to assist both Emma and Chandler as they worked through the college application process, so we were very interested to hear what had helped them most during those months — and what they would want to tell younger students starting down that road.
Start early. Both Emma and Chandler did a lot of the heavy lifting as juniors — narrowing down possible schools, taking the SAT, preparing a college-ready resume and requesting letters of recommendations and starting application essays.
Emma said by the time the application period opened in August, she was ready to get started, and she finished her applications early in her senior year.
“I did so much in my junior year that I was able to have a much less stressful senior year,” she said. “I could enjoy it more.”
Chandler chose to go the early-decision route with his top school. He learned right before Christmas of his senior year that he had been accepted at Washington and Lee, eliminating months of waiting and doubt — and a tough decision between schools in the spring.
Visit the schools you’re interested in as soon as you can. As juniors, both started visiting the schools they were seriously considering.
Chandler said a visit to Washington and Lee the summer between his junior and senior years really sold him on the campus.
“I wasn’t sure I wanted to go there, but when I got on campus, that’s when I really, really liked it. I knew that it felt like the place I belonged,” he said.
Emma said a trip to Baylor her junior year convinced her to go with it over her other top choices, Texas Christian University and Southern Methodist University.
“I liked the other schools — they’re great schools — but I just clicked at Baylor,” she said.
Get organized. Every application and scholarship has many moving parts. To keep everything straight, Emma created folders for each college to which she was applying. She also set up several automated deadline reminders, on both her phone and her computer, so she would never miss a due date.
Build a resume. Although you can get through the process without a resume, having one makes it much easier. A good resume, with all your pertinent information in one place, also saves time and effort when it comes to applying for scholarships, Chandler said.
Find a sounding board. This is a big decision — probably the biggest you have made in your life. So involve your parents, of course. Beyond that, Emma and Chandler both vouch for the value of having another interested adult provide feedback and guidance. An older friend or sibling, a trusted aunt or uncle, a favorite teacher, a college adviser — anyone who can help you sort through the pros and cons of each campus, and is willing to hold you accountable on deadlines, is a valuable ally.
Donna Spann is CEO of Capstone College and Career Advising in Tyler. A college adviser for 11 years, Donna leads a team of professionals who take a personal approach to advising that helps students navigate through career and college exploration, admissions, financial aid, and find the college that’s right for them. Have a question for Donna? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. You just may see your question answered in a future column.