The College Application Process—Lessons Learned!

By Ethan Tyler ’20

In an attempt to learn about the college application process I developed an interview questionnaire then proceeded to bother my friends until they responded. I thought it was best to interview some seniors who had just gone through the application process.

The desired outcome was to learn more about the much anticipated and seemingly daunting college application process, then share the information to help others. Sorta like a therapist, I wanted to help the interviewees put what they went through into perspective.

I learned that most students feel relief once they’ve actually sent out their college applications, whether they get into their top choice or are still waiting to hear.

I initially thought that the rigor of the college process would leave the seniors sour about all they had just gone through. Plus I wondered, why would they want to spend time answering these questions.

But I was relieved to see how well my interview queries were received. Some of the participants even appreciated my asking these questions. According to one of them, “Answering these questions allowed me an opportunity to reflect on what just happened, and all that I went through,” while another commented, “Answering these questions was cathartic.”  A third senior said, “I didn’t really think I had a lot to say, but once I got going on the interview, I realized I had learned a lot and had a lot to share.”

A couple big takeaways: (1) just about all the participants commented on their friends being the most important part about what they’ll miss about Strake Jesuit, and (2) the majority of interviewees believed it’s better to do applications, or as much as possible, the summer before senior year.

Since the interviews with the seniors went so well, I thought it might be a good idea to reach out beyond the seniors and get some insights from some Strake alumni currently freshmen in college. The recent SJ alumni, despite already being at college and loving where they landed, said they don’t miss high school but they do miss their SJ friends and community.

1) How has the 2019 college application process been for you? (If appropriate: How many offers have you to date? Have you committed to a college as yet?)

1st response: “Since I was looking to compete in D1 athletics in college, I didn’t apply to many schools. Because of this, the college application process hasn’t been very strenuous for me. In regards to college athletics, I was offered to run track at four different universities (Georgia, Texas A&M, Stanford, and Harvard). I committed to run track and the University of Georgia last November.”

2nd response: “For me, the college application process has been quite stressful since August of 2018. It had its peaks and troughs, but other than that, it has been quite good. I finished all of my applications on time and did not have to go back and change anything. I am just glad that it is over and I am onto the next chapter of my life; graduating!”

3rd response: “the college application process has been tedious, but rewarding thus far.”

2) What has been the most difficult part of the college application process for you?

1st response: “The most difficult part of this process has been simply filling out the applications. Specifically, the parts of the applications that require you to write multiple 100-200 word responses. They become repetitive and tiresome after you’ve written a couple of responses.”

2nd response: “The most difficult part of the college application process hands-down has been the major essay on every application. Why is it the most difficult people ask? Well, it is so stressful thinking of a topic to write about or even know where to start. You hold back stories and topics over others. But once you find that story or something you want to share to that college, you begin to hesitate because your mind will try to think like an admissions person as to whether they will like it or not. Then, you begin writing about it, drafts and revisions are going to be the main part of your essays. It comes down to keeping it at the word count and still conveying as much of your story as possible. It also came across my mind as to why I am sharing this huge part of my life that changed who I am as a person to some person I have never met and who will probably have a say in deciding my future. The major essays are what shows your true character and self outside of what high school grades and test scores do for you.”

3rd response: “Figuring out what you want in a school besides the degree you are planning to pursue.”

3) What has been most surprising about the process—(good or not good)?

1st response: “Learning that each college has a special agenda each year when it comes to accepting students has surprised me. For instance, when I visited Harvard I had a one-on-one meeting with one of the admissions faculty. During this meeting, he told me that Harvard looks for well-rounded individuals, not just people with extremely high test scores, despite popular opinion. Also, I realized a lot of Texan students were denied entrance to the University of Texas (including me) and Rice because these institutions were looking to accept more out-of-state students.”

2nd response: “The most surprising thing that has come out of my application process is the number of schools I actually applied to and the amount that I got into. I applied to 11 schools, all ranging from state to state and what my choice of major would be. I got into 9 of the 11 schools I applied. Not only am I happy but almost surprised because every person going through the application process dreads the admission part of it all and thinks that they are not good enough for the school.”

3rd response: “The most difficult part of the application process is having the self-discipline to start all of the supplemental essays for each institution.”

4th Response: “in general it (the process) hasn’t been too surprising, other than the lack of acceptances Strake student received from the University of Texas.”

4) What is your best lesson learned? And, knowing what you know now, what would you do differently if you had another chance?

1st response: “My best lesson learned came from a summer essay workshop I took at Strake. During the class, Mr. Kubiak told us that we should try to make our essays as unique as possible because thousands of other students will be writing on the very same prompt that you’re writing on. I don’t think I would do anything differently in the college application process. Although, I would study harder and longer for the SAT and ACT if i was given the chance.”

2nd response: “So I have two lessons to be learned here. One comes from me and that you must start these applications as soon as possible because it will drag on for the year if you keep pushing it back farther and farther every hour of every day of every week. I went through that, and that I was stressed out of my mind throughout my senior year because not only was I trying to finish applications and stay on top of my grades at Strake. The second lesson comes from my father who has taught me a lot. He said through the applications is that you be yourself. Do not try to be someone you are not but show the real person inside of you. To be completely honest, I wouldn’t change anything if I had another chance. Because through all the stress and hard work, that’s how life is going to be in the future, and it takes quite a toll on your life but you got to take it and fight back.”

3rd response: “Knowing what I know now, I would have taken more SAT Subject tests along the way. Keeping in mind that a majority of elite colleges require such tests it is easier to take the tests directly after you take the course rather than relearning the material.”
4th response: “When it comes to the more competitive schools or at least the schools you are reaching for, it’s really important to take the essay writing process seriously.”

5) What advice would you like to share/impart with the class for next year? And what inspiration/message would you like to give to your own class, the class of 2019?

1st response: “Be diligent in studying for your ACT and SAT. Studying everyday may not seem worth it at the time, but when your applying to that one college and you start second guessing whether or not your scores or good enough then that studying will all be worth it.

“To the class of 2019, be proud and courageous in where your next step in life may lead you.”

2nd response: “My advice for next year’s senior class is that you try to get these applications done as fast as possible if you want to have a good senior year. Senior year will not be as easy as people say and these applications will just add to the stressful lives we live as high school students. Once you get those applications done, you only have to worry about school and you have been doing that for most of your life.

“My message for my class is that maybe you did not get into the school of your choice or didn’t get that right major. I want to tell you that everything is going to be alright. There is always time for transfer schools or find that major in grad school. Just know that it is not the end of the world and wherever you go will be the best decision you make for a while!”

3rd response: “To the underclassman my one piece of advice is START EARLY. The more you can do over the summer, the easier your senior year will be.

“To the Class of 2019, I’d remind them that perseverance is fundamental to success. Things may not go your way but it will work out in the long run.”

4th response: “Don’t worry about where your GPA currently stands or where you’ve been accepted this far, just continue to do your best through the admissions process or as you proceed to get your degree.”

6) How much of an effect did sports and other extracurricular activities have on your application? Did you mention them when you applied?

1st response: “For me, a lot. Besides the school’s that offered me to run track for them, I applied to UT and I did mention that I ran track and I mentioned several of my accolades.”

2nd response: “Sports and other extracurricular activities for me at least did not have much of an impact for either they have it as a club thing or their program is top of the line, and I knew I could not make it.
I did mention them when I applied at least to show I did something else other than academics and how I use my free time in high school.”

3rd response: “Sports played an interesting role in my admission process; however, I did not specifically write about them in my applications.”

4th response: “Sports can be a big driving factor in some of your college applications. Universities love to see a well-balanced and well-rounded student, so it’s really important to mention any and all your extracurriculars in your applications.”

7) Where in the US did you decide to apply? What made you choose this place?

1st response: “I was interested in running track at the four schools mentioned before because they either were excellent academically, athletically, or had a combination of the two.”

2nd response: “I applied to schools in mainly three states. I applied to schools in California, Texas, North Carolina. To name a few, I applied to Baylor, Southern California, and the University of North Carolina. I chose these places because of the weather, first of all. I am not a person who deals with the cold very well. Second, they were the best schools in their respective state, and I knew I was capable of getting into them.”

3rd response: “A good school to pursue sport interest or be close to home. For me, if not a good school to continue to play lacrosse at, I wanted to stay close to home. Most of my applications ended up being in-state schools or big reach schools that I was genuinely interested in.”

8) What in the schools that you chose were most important to you besides academics?\

1st response: “Since I would be running track at the place I would commit to for the next four years of my life, the community of athletes and coaches had to be a supportive and caring place for me.”

2nd response: “What was most important to me besides academics when I chose these schools is how I would fit in with the weather, people, and even the food there as well as their club sports if they had any. I dislike cold weather with a burning passion. The location gives me a good sense of what I am dealing with for the next 4 years of my life. Food is an obvious one in that a boy has to eat well. Lastly, sports are my life ,and if a college has a club team for water polo, it is already a good spot for me.”

3rd response: “The only other factors that mattered to me besides academics were climate and athletics.”

4th response: “Being close to home, having clubs I may enjoy, how nice the campus is, and how I might fit in as part of the community at those schools. For some students, it’s very important to decide if you want to go to a big or small school, but that didn’t really have an effect on my selection process.”

9) How did you feel during the process, and how do you feel now that it’s over (if it’s over)?

1st response: “The process was exciting. Some parts of it I would like to do again like the visiting the college, but other parts I’m glad I don’t have to go through again like the make-up work from school.”

2nd response: “During the process, I felt good and bad through most of it. There were times that I felt good that I finished this or that. Then there were times that I felt horrible because I kept telling myself to finish this application or finish this short answer. Now that it’s over, I feel good that I got it all in and got my admissions letter, but it doesn’t stop there. Now I have the stressful choice of choosing where I want to go to and that is the most daunting thing on my mind since this second semester started.”

3rd response: “The process, as a whole, is extremely daunting and can seem like an insurmountable obstacle; however, starting early and developing a game plan will relieve pressure in the long run.”

4th response: “it was really nice to get the essays done early so that the applications didn’t feel as tedious. It was annoying to have them hanging over my head when I procrastinated, but now that I’m done I’m happy that I got all the ones I wanted done.”

10) Most likely you’ll miss your family, your pet, your hometown, agree? But What will you miss most about SJ?

1st response: “I’ll definitely miss the unique community that Strake Jesuit is. I’ll miss seeing all the people I’ve been learning and growing with for the last three years of my life.”

2nd response: “What I will miss about Strake Jesuit is all the friendships I made over the years. I feel like four years was not enough to know the people who became my best friends or those I was just getting to know. Another thing that I will miss is the teachers. They were always there for me through the ups and downs. When I am in college, I feel like I will not see my professors as much as I did at Strake. There will be less help from them and more on me which hurts, but it has to happen.”

3rd response:  “To be entirely honest, I will miss Strake Jesuit very little. I feel that the school has grown out of touch with both its students and overall mission.”

4th response: “what I’ll miss most is the community, especially the relationships that’s I’ve formed in the 2019 class. And also the family I have in the lacrosse team. Jesuit has been really good to me, so I’m sure I’ll end up back here from time to time, but I will never forget the people that I’ve been with here.”

Insights from former SJ students…now freshmen in college:

Do you miss SJ?  What do you miss most?  What don’t you miss?

1st response: “I really love my university, my major is very specific (Maritime Administration) and so it is a perfect fit!”

2nd response: “I love Furman a lot because of the rigorous courses and being a student athlete. It’s a challenging school, which I enjoy.”

How is the academic challenge of your university/college? —Very challenging or not too challenging?

1st response: “Challenging, if playing sports or doing another extra curricular such as debate or quiz bowl”

2nd response: “Yes! It’s a challenging school, which I enjoy.”

Did Strake Jesuit do a good enough job preparing you for your college/university academic rigor?—How about social life, did Strake do a good job preparing you?  How about dealing with cultural diversity issues and opportunities?

1st response: “I feel like Strake Jesuit prepared me for the academic rigor at my university. As long as you do homework and study it’s fine. Jesuit was honestly harder, and there was more of a workload. I was very social at Strake Jesuit and still am so didn’t need to worry about being prepared to be social. I feel like there were never any cultural issues among my peers and me.”

2nd response: “Strake Jesuit definitely helped me prepare for school. Many of the courses I need to take as prerequisites for my major I was able to take at Strake and have a head start on the rest of my class. Strake Jesuit didn’t really help socially, I feel my social skills had been developed before Strake which made it easy for me to make friends and get acclimated.”

How about religious knowledge and preparedness to help others in real life?

1st response: “Strake Jesuit really showed me how to be a man for others and helped me to be able to help my peers with their real life problems.”

2nd response: “The religious knowledge I gained while at Strake Jesuit has definitely impacted my life mainly the importance of doing everything for the greater glory of God (AMDG).”

What are 2-3 top things you think Strake does well?

1st response: “Form boys into young men, prepare us for our next step in life, show us what it means to be a man for others.”

2nd response: “I think most of the professors at Strake Jesuit and their diverse course list are the two best things academically, but the overarching thing I learned from attending was how to be a good person and more selfless, which is much more important in life than (academic) education.”

What are 3 top things Strake could improve upon to better prepare students to succeed in college or life after Strake?

1st response: “A lot of my public school friends were able to complete a full semester’s worth of college ‘dual credit,’ and there was only one dual credit (Philosophy, I think) whereas at public school there was A LOT more dual credit. Another thing that strake could do is have more options at career fair. And also stop letting in as many people. Keep the grade capacity at 250.”

2nd response: “I think strake has done a phenomenal job preparing kids for college but the one thing I think should be improved is incentivizing the students to be more social and to stop worrying so much about grades and test scores. This includes attendance at different extra curricular events.  Overall I will always cherish my time at Strake Jesuit and keep the friends I made there for the rest of my life.”

Note: I would like to thank the participants for answering the questions for this article. I was amazed and impressed at the responses, and I am grateful that ALL the participants took time out of their busy schedule to respond in writing or let me interview them. The process of writing this article reassures me that the Jesuit motto “Men for Others” is alive and well and will continue to serve the SJ community and our wider humanity as well. Ethan Tyler ’20