College Applications

I applied to college in 2016 for the Fall 2017 semester, but I also had the chance to observe my brother applying to college in 2018, and my sister's college search (she will apply in 2021). Here I compiled some perspectives on the process. If you are concerned about my credentials, I will discuss them at the very bottom**.

  • Act early and plan in advance so you don't end up panicking.
When I was not accepted to my dream school (The University of Chicago) in December of 2017, which was all I could think about before, I panicked and ended up filling out about 7 additional regular cycle applications. But because you are often considered for the best scholarships only if you apply "early action" (not to be confused with "early decision", where you commit to a school if you are accepted), or before a certain deadline in the fall, I ended up really considering none of the schools I applied to in this second cycle.

Therefore, I recommend focusing just on the first deadline your school might have. This may be called "early action" deadline, or if your school has a rolling (i.e. continuous) application process, where you can submit whenever and receive an answer several weeks later, I would focus on the first deadline for the most prestigious scholarships.
  • Think realistically and apply to schools strategically. 
You should be applying to all schools early or before any scholarship deadlines (so ideally you should be done by December), but how do you know what schools to apply to? Be honest about your expectations, priorities, financial and family situation.
    • Do you find it important to stay close to family and how often will you want to come home during the semester?
If you're going to be home every few weeks (which is totally okay), maybe it makes sense to choose a school only a few hours away from home instead of having to consider flight or high gas costs, as well as the time it will take you to go home.
    • How much can you and/or your family afford to spend on college or are willing to take out in loans?
Your FAFSA application will tell you your EFC, or Estimated Family Contribution, which will affect how much "free money" you'll get from the government. Consider smaller schools with great scholarships programs.
    • What are you interested in now and what could you be potentially interested in besides this?
If you are dead-set on a particular program, by all means, consider only that program at various schools. But if you are less certain, make sure the schools you consider have multiple things you are interested in - a particular major can turn out to be different than expected, and it's usually better to change majors instead of transferring schools entirely. For example, not all schools (even large state schools) offer engineering programs, so if this is a potential interest of yours, make sure its offered where you apply.
    • What are your chances of getting in?
There are lots of programs for high schoolers that might tell you the chances of getting into a particular school, but often a quick internet search or word of mouth will tell you the same thing. Categorize schools into three groups: 'a bit of a reach', 'on par with my academic performance', 'definitely will get in'. Apply to only a few schools in each category. I think the magic number is 6: 2 of each category. Applying to this number instead of many more will help you save money on application fees and time that you would have spent on essays that you would rather use to do anything else. Also, you will be much more motivated to produce only 6 quality applications, instead of 10 or 12.
    • Small school or big school?
Larger schools tend to offer more opportunities (i.e. more clubs, sororities, majors) and have more money for their programs, although this isn't always the case. However, you can be easily overwhelmed, and you will have a lot more competition for these exact same opportunities). At a smaller school, there might be less programs or student organizations, but you can often do many more different things at once, and it is easier to stand out of the crowd if you work hard, because that crowd is, well, smaller.

Choosing a Roommate

Choosing a roommate can be very daunting, and involves putting yourself out there (you will probably face rejection, but that's more than okay, as I will explain).

First, I would like to rank ways in which incoming college freshmen might find a roommate - I have listed these in order of most to least common based on my experience and those of my friends:
  • Through a college roommate finder.
This is a roommate-finding portal offered through your university, that resembles the most basic form of online dating. You will probably be asked to create a profile, and write a few sentences about yourself, and will likely fill out a questionnaire about your habits (when you get up, when you go to sleep, what times you study, how clean you are, etc.).

Then, you will be able to view others' profiles - often an algorithm tells you how their answers matched up to yours. You can message them too! Don't lose hope when someone that looks like a great fit for you does not respond, or has already found someone. If they ignore you, you now know they aren't right as a roommate, and if they have found someone but you get along well, this doesn't mean you can't hang out when you get to campus. Keep looking!

Keep in mind that this feature is only available to students who have already committed to the university. So if you decide super early, there will be less people in the portal, but you might also have people with a similar "early bird" attitude. Also, my university gave students who registered in the portal earlier or committed earlier first choice for rooms, which can be a real benefit of being ahead of the game. Don't let this stress you out though! If you're not sure about a college, it is always better to take your time to make sure you are happy with your decision.
  • Through a college-centered social media page.
This is becoming a popular way to find roommates with large Facebook groups being created for those admitted to a particular college's incoming class. You might find students posting about textbooks and trying to find a roommate, and the benefit here is that you likely have years of social media to look through that will tell you exactly what sort of person they are.

The same general advice as for the roommate finder applies, although keep in mind that finding a roommate means you both will have to create profiles on the roommate finder in the end to match up in the university system.
  • At a college orientation.
I would definitely not plan on doing it this way, as trying to find a roommate at a college orientation can just make your day more stressful than it needs to be. Instead, focus on doing things that will help you get ahead before starting the semester i.e. getting your ID, meeting with a professor you are interested in researching with, ironing out a *perfect* schedule, etc.

However, since universities love creating smaller groups for orientation (10-50 students), you could meet someone that you really click with. You might even talk about being roommates. If you find your soul-roommate this way, go right ahead since this method of finding roommates has created lots of college best friends! But beware! It might be worth exchanging numbers first, talking a few more times, and checking their social media, before you make such a commitment.
  • Someone you already know (personally or through someone else).
Although I know many people that do this coming out of high school, I highly advise against this.

The reason I advise against this is that there is a 95% chance that college will change you and having someone from your hometown, high school, or someone connected to your family or friends 'back home' could be a great comfort at first, but will also prevent yourself from getting out there and meeting people. And when you inevitably do so and realize that you are not a part of the same crowd you hung out with in high school, it will just become awkward with your roommate.

Instead, if you know someone going to your college, keep their number, and hang out in the first few days of college. This can be a great way to get a larger group together in the dining hall or at a welcome event ("double-date" with both of your roommates, for example). And if you find after a year that you and your friend from back home really would be great roommates, I apologize, but now you won't have to worry about next year!

**My own story/credentials

When I applied to college, my first round of application consisted of  these schools (I already discussed my irrelevant second round): Northwestern University. University of Chicago, Purdue University, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Illinois State University, and Southern Illinois University Carbondale (my final choice).

I was accepted to all but the University of Chicago, but I really only considered the last two. In retrospect, while these might not have as good of a name recognition as the others on my list, I found that I really appreciated being in a smaller department with professors who had more time for me.

As a result of being a high-achieving student (>3.5 GPA, >32 ACT, >1400 SAT), I was able to be considered for the highest merit scholarship offered at both ISU and SIU (which I both received after going through the rigorous interview process). In the end, many opportunities were awarded to me at Southern and I am lucky to have wonderful relationships with many of the professors who taught me throughout the years.

I have had two wonderful roommates in my three years living in university housing, of which I shared a dorm room for two years.

I met my first roommate through SIU's roommate finding portal. She was the third person I messaged, and we quickly exchanged phone numbers and texted for a couple weeks before meeting up in person (as we both lived near Chicago, we met up at a mall with our moms). After this meeting, we decided to become roommates and finalized our choice in the portal. We met up another time the summer before college to pick up some furniture at the local IKEA, splitting the items among the two of us. Although she moved off campus after only one year to share an apartment with mutual friends, we are still friends and regularly talk! I think our matching percentage was something around 90% - I realized that I could not talk to her before her morning coffee however, and that she loved to decorate for Halloween - something I tolerated before shouting out "No more pumpkins!" one day, now an inside joke among the two of us.

I met my second roommate through mutual friends at college and we were part of the same scholarship program, so we had met before, although we were not particularly close. We both needed a roommate for sophomore year, however, and we knew that we could both be neat enough for the other. Unlike with my first roommate, we decided to keep our room pretty separated down the middle (my first roommate and I had bunked so as to have room for a couch in the room), but we quickly became very close, so that it was an easy decision to share an apartment in university housing the following year. We chose to have separate rooms , which at that point, I really appreciated (and shared the apartment with two other girls). However, we still made sure to spend time with the other person and had tons of fun - now we talk regularly while I am away studying abroad

I realize that not everyone is lucky to have such a great experience, and is best friends with their roommates after starting out as strangers, but you do not have to become best friends, or even friends, with your college roommate. In fact, being so close to my first roommate resulted in us not speaking for three days when our friend group fell into some bad drama, that has since been resolved, as we are much older and mature now. So focus on finding someone that is the right level of tidy for you and that will have respect for your personal space and stuff!