College Fever

College Fever

Written by Oscar Scholin, Journalist

April. The month many high school seniors receive their college admissions results and then agonize (or not) over which college they should attend. Also during this time, many juniors begin their own foray into the realm of college applications by taking their first ACTs and SATs. But what do these tests and their results mean? And what about the daunting task of applying to college?

Well, for starters, let’s talk about the standardized tests, the dreaded ACTs and SATs. The SAT is short for Scholastic Assessment Test and is written by the College Board, who also writes the subject tests (SAT IIs), AP exams, and the PSAT. The ACT, which stands for absolutely nothing, is its own company. While I won’t go into detail on the minutiae of the tests, the major takeaway and most common misconception is that you have to score perfectly (1600 for SAT, 36 for ACT) in order to be accepted into any highly selective colleges. This is absolutely false. While a perfect score can’t hurt your application, the lack of one won’t kill your application. Just do your best!

Okay, so maybe you’ve taken your SATs or ACTs and are ready to move to the next stage in the college admissions process: the application itself. The ubiquitous question asked by parents and students alike for ages is what is the secret formula for getting into my top college? Unfortunately, there is none (and whoever discovered it would be the wealthiest person on the globe), so just be yourself, as cliche as that sounds. In terms of the actual admissions process, there are several components and some vary depending on the exact school you apply to, but the main components include your personal statement, which is an essay that colleges use to learn about you, your test scores (ACT, SAT, optional subject tests in areas you would like to specialize in), and sometimes an interview that aim to discern what kind of a student you would be and whether or not you would be a good fit at a school. Similar to test scores, the key to success in the application process is just being the best and truest version of yourself that you can be.

But, how “fair” is the college admissions process (especially after the college admissions scandal at some of the most prestigious schools in the country, including Stanford, Yale, USC, Georgetown and others)? The general application system, in terms of “fairness,” favors the college over the student. For example, in order to gain the highest chance of acceptance, many students will opt for Early Decision or Early Action. Aside from submitting your application earlier and hearing your results sooner, ED and EA are restrictive, in that you can only apply to one college during that time. And unlike in EA, ED is binding: if accepted, you are required to attend. What ED and EA mean is that you can only pick one top school to apply to, and if you don’t get in, you can’t apply early to another college. In fact, the main reason ED and EA exist is because colleges want a guaranteed particular incoming freshman class for planning purposes, not for the best interests of the students. Thus, the process of college applications becomes a chess game of strategy: you must choose your school carefully (if you do at all) for EA and ED because you only have one early shot (although some schools offer multiple rounds of ED).

Ultimately, though, if college is in your future plans, you will find a college that you like and that fits your interests and personality and that likes you back. What really matters is that you like the school you attend and that your experience there expands your horizons, and most importantly —  in the immortal words of Steve Jobs — “Stay hungry. Stay foolish.”