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Seniors struggle with applying to college, receive teacher assistance

The frenzy of applying to college can become overwhelming for students who give themselves many options of schools. With tasks like financial aid, scholarships, applications, recommendation letters and essays to complete, the list of things needed to finish can be long.

For senior Sejoon Jun, this was especially true as he applied to 24 colleges. Jun admitted early applications to four schools, three for early action and one for early decision. Therefore he started the application process in late July and early August.

“I definitely knew which [schools] I was applying to at the end of junior year,” Jun said. “Like a normal human being, I was overwhelmed even with applying to one school, and I definitely didn’t think that I was going to end up applying to 24.”

To stay on top of things, Jun said his parents were a crucial factor. They helped him with his essays and brainstorming ideas as well as filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

“Although my parents went to college in South Korea, they knew about the college application process here in the [United] States, which was how they were able to push me to stay on top of my game,” Jun said. “Also, my mother is good friends with other mothers who have sons that went to prestigious colleges. She took in advice through their experiences.”

Jun had a lot to complete with 24 college applications but does not know where he is going yet. For senior Daniel Schroeder, however, he only had one school on his mind.

When Schroeder was starting his application process, Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) was his top and only choice. His eye had been on it since middle school, as he knew he wanted to major in architecture. After learning he had been rejected, Schroeder lost track of where he wanted to go.

“I wouldn’t say I was on top of [college applications], but I wasn’t a mess. I’d say I was controlled chaos in terms of the process,” Schroeder said. “I guess I didn’t really start [applying] until September, and I mean holistically. I really didn’t do anything to set me up for success last year, which I regret, but hindsight is 20/20 so I’m trying not to sweat it. I did early decision to CMU, and then went [to CMU] for an on-campus portfolio review, but after I got rejected I decided to apply ED II to Washington University.”

Schroeder put in a lot of hard work to apply to CMU. He was required to complete an architecture portfolio of around ten pieces, and had to sit down for a portfolio review to defend his submission. While the creation process was his own, Schroeder relied on teachers like Bob Allee, Brad Mann, and Gwen Struchtemeyer, as well as mentor Nick Peckman and friends for advice on his portfolio and essays.

This reliance on others for help was also a huge factor in senior Zainab Ibitoye’s application. She applied to Washington University (WashU) and was accepted early decision one.

“At first I was so overwhelmed with everything I didn’t know where to start,” Ibitoye said. “I didn’t know where I wanted to go; I didn’t know what I wanted to major in; I didn’t know anything. I would say that I was confused the first month of school, but after that, I really just did anything and everything I could regarding colleges.”

Ibitoye had to write about 10 different college essays and asked for recommendation letters in advance. She suggests students write the common application essay first, as it was a good starting point for her and is required by most schools.

As with Schroeder, Struchtemeyer was also an essential part of Ibitoye’s college application process. Struchtemeyer wrote a letter of recommendation, gave tips for Ibitoye’s essay and enlightened her on what worked for students in the past.

“Mrs. Struchtemeyer [was] 110 percent [essential]. I don’t think I would’ve gotten as far as I did if it wasn’t for her,” Ibitoye said. “She helped me so much I don’t know how to stress it. She seems to know everything about college and college app[lications] and what admission officers look for. She is amazing; she was so open to helping.”

While Struchtemeyer was helpful to both Ibitoye and Schroeder, Struchtemeyer is not able or required to help every student. The guidance counseling staff, on the other hand, writes a recommendation letter for every student and helps with sending transcripts, and other essential tasks.

RBHS counselor Dr. Jordan Alexander said most students need procedural assistance with college applications, and therefore the counselors help students recognize the general process involved: completing applications, sending official transcripts, completing the FAFSA and applying for scholarships.

“Some students need information about early action, early decision and related issues,” Dr. Alexander said. “Others need help determining a good fit in terms of academic standards and likelihood of acceptance.  When we have specific knowledge or experience with a particular school, we share that as well.”

With only eight counselors specifically assigned to around 100 plus students based on last name, it can be hard for the staff to complete what is needed.

“With caseloads as large as 100 or more seniors each, counselors are certainly busy during the weeks preceding the big application deadlines, Oct. 1 and 15, Nov. 1 and Dec. 1,” Dr. Alexander said. “We request that students give us two weeks notice prior to their deadlines to write the best letter possible. When students do this, we are usually able to meet these deadlines and write solid letters for them. It’s certainly a challenge, but we realize that this function is an important part of our job and we are happy to assist students in their college application process.”

The college process can be different for each student, but with help, Schroeder said writing the essays and organizing his work was easy but time-consuming.

“At times I was spending more time on those applications than I was sleeping. But the hardest part is just interpreting it all,” Schroeder said. “Every college wants something specific from their applicants, and all of it is tucked away behind loads of websites filled with a lot of advertising. I don’t think I’ve submitted anything and said to myself, ‘oh yeah, I think that’s what they wanted.’ All of it is just uncertain.”

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1 comment

Maddie February 25, 2019 at 3:20 pm

College admissions are stressful and, as a junior now, I’m anxious about how to start the process and what it will be like. Seeing the perspectives of seniors who went through this really helped me get a good idea of where to begin.

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