Cougars and College: Advice for College Hopefuls


Makayla Erickson (she/her)

Students have to make difficult decisions regarding their future.

Around May 1, college-bound seniors may find themselves beginning to reap the rewards of this year’s grueling admissions. Whether or not you are still waiting on decisions, are weighing the pros and cons of potential schools, or have already accepted an offer of admission, soon-to-be undergraduates are busy making plans for both the near and far future.

Reflecting on the application process, it’s easy to want to forget the hardships, excitement, and inevitable heartbreaks as quickly as humanly possible. I know I’m more than ready to move on from the many, many supplemental essays, suspense-ridden emails, and gut-wrenching anticipation of checking application portals. After dedicating months to crafting the perfect application profile and patiently awaiting decisions, it’s time for the fun part: actually going to college!

However, though I am far from a college admissions expert (you’ll need to make a trip to the College and Career Center if you’re in search of that), I feel I’ve gained some valuable insights through my own experience that may be beneficial to freshmen, sophomores, and juniors alike. Having made it through the trenches of application season, there are so many things I wish I would’ve been aware of as an underclassman that might’ve helped ease my worries.

Last year, The Claw’s emeritus Opinion Editor Nicole Kennedy wrote an article titled “Cougars and College: Tips and Tricks for Picking a Major,” so I figured I’d share an updated rendition geared toward future applicants. Whether you’re already wrought with anxiety over the prospect of college, or you’re simply curious about what’s in store, here are some pointers for Campo’s younger college hopefuls:

1. Let go of the “It’ll look good on college apps” mindset. ASAP.

Throughout my high school years, it feels as if my classmates and I have been utterly haunted by this simple, yet undeniably burdensome, phrase. When considering signing up for a club, joining an athletic team, participating in community service, or starting another extracurricular activity, it’s rare that this statement wasn’t muttered by 1 of my peers. “But it’ll look so good on my college applications.”

Yes, it’s true that extracurriculars are an important part of any application. Colleges want to see that you’re a committed student, both in and out of the classroom, so demonstrating unwavering interest in a variety of activities can be a green flag to admissions officers. Presenting yourself as a dynamic applicant will show the admissions committee that you will be a contributing member of a diverse campus community; it’s important to show that you would make good use of the opportunities at any school. However, extracurricular activities are not the only thing that matter, nor are they always the most important.

High school is the ideal time to explore your genuine interests, talents, and passions. If you’re constantly scrambling to build an extensive list of extracurriculars to bolster your application, you may find yourself quickly burnt out and exhausted, ultimately harming your application more than it might help. Though there’s absolutely nothing wrong with exploring lots of different activities, finding a few meaningful extracurriculars that satisfy your interests can be far more beneficiary, both to yourself and your application.

Instead of attempting to garner a vast array of activities and awards that will “look good on your app,” consider using your time in high school to identify and explore your passions. Whether or not you continue your extracurricular activities post-Campolindo, taking the time to get to know yourself and displaying dedication to a cause or interest will serve you well in the long run.

2. Don’t pigeonhole yourself in a college list of top schools.

When building your college list, it’s easy to become blinded by the glamor of the most popular and prestigious schools. UCLA, NYU, Northwestern, Harvard, University of Michigan, UC Berkeley, and other sought-after colleges fill the hopes, dreams, and Naviance “Colleges I’m thinking about” lists of a multitude of Campo applicants. Whether you’re attracted to the prestige of academics or the social environment of a school, many people tend to build similar, if not identical, lists based on the popularity of particular universities.

While these are all incredible schools and are sure to provide a great educational and social experience to attendees, they are not the only options. There are thousands of universities in the U.S. alone, all of which have unique attributes that could contribute to receiving the best education for you. Although the shiny exterior of certain schools is undeniably attractive, some students might be best fit for different environments based on their aspirations, learning styles, intended major, and social expectations.

As an intended dance major, I ended up extending my college list to include schools that had competetive dance programs, often exploring locations and environments I wouldn’t have thought to consider otherwise. I figured out early on in the process that being in a strong dance program was 1 of my top priorities in picking a school, so I built my list surrounding that goal. For others, you may find that a smaller, private campus is a better fit for you. Or, you might choose to apply to less academically rigorous schools in order to have the social experience you desire.

It is also important to consider alternative options to your #1 choice. If you dream of an urban school like NYU, it may be worth your while to apply to other schools in New York City with a similar atmosphere. The brand name is not all that matters, so finding alternative options that accomplish your educational goals and accommodate your needs can be a valuable exercise.

3. Sometimes, things are out of your control. And that’s okay.

This application season, many universities received record-breaking numbers of applicants, driving acceptance rates lower than they’ve ever been before. Harvard’s acceptance rate fell to 3.19%, the lowest it’s been since the school’s founding centuries ago, according to CBS News. Due to COVID-19’s impact, which caused some graduates from the classes of 2020 and 2021 to postpone college, current seniors were forced to grapple with unheard of competition.

Even when you have an impressive GPA, high standardized test scores, thoughtful essays, excellent teacher recommendations, awards, and a diverse array of extracurricular activities, admissions officers can still say “no.” In fact, they often do.

It is far too easy to feel as though all of the hard work you’ve put in over the past 4 years amounted to nothing. Particularly for those who have certain schools they’ve dreamt of attending since childhood, rejection can be utterly devastating.

While it’s completely fine, and even healthy, to dwell in your disappointment for a time, it is also important to trust that you will end up in the right place. It can be daunting to choose a school for the next 4 years while still in high school, but transferring, changing your major, or choosing an alternative path are always valid options.

In the end, I like to believe that your path will carry you to your intended destination. Although choosing a university can feel like a monumental decision at the age of 17 or 18, the years you spend in college will amount to a small moment in the grand scheme of your life.

With that said, good luck to all those applying for and pursuing a college education in the future – know that you are worth so much more than the response an anonymous admissions counselor might give you.

And to the class of 2022 – I sincerely wish you all the best in your future endeavors. Whether you feel steadfast in your plans or are still unsure of what you want to do after graduation, we all have endured so much to get to this point. I hope you can be proud of all that you have accomplished.