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9 things you need to know before applying to college

It's that time of year again—college applications season! And as exciting as it is to be figuring out where you're going to spend those four years, it's also *super* nerve-racking. Luckily, GL is here to help ease the stress! Whether you're a senior putting the finishing touches on your apps, a junior planning visits to your fave schools, or an underclasswoman preparing for ~the process~, here are 9 things you *need* to know before applying to college.

There's no such thing as a "dream school."

When you start thinking about where you'll possibly end up, of course you can't help but picture what that might look like (I totally did). An idyllic campus that would look *perfect* on a dark academia Pinterest board, the idea of a brand-new environment that could totally change you as a person. Now in my junior year of college, I'm not exactly sure a "dream school" exists, but I *am* pretty confident that there's a "dream you," the best possible version of yourself...and you can be that girl wherever you end up for college. You'll learn, grow and thrive no matter where you are—as long as you take the opportunities to as they come.

Planners are your BFF. 

The college process is *packed* with deadlines from start to finish. That's why it's super important to have some way to keep track of them! For me, physically writing everything down in an agenda was super helpful, but maybe you're more of a Google Calendar gal! No matter which form of organization you choose, uncap that gel pen or create your color-coding system, and find a place for those due dates. Being able to visualize them and get a sense of what you need to do makes things *way* less overwhelming. 

Start everything early. 

Going off of the above point...organization is key. Working on your college essays, or asking your teachers for letters of recommendation, is probably the absolute last thing you want to do the summer before your senior year, but it'll be *so* worth it in the long run. And once you can see all of those deadlines laid out, try to meet them long before you have to. As tempting as it sounds to down a large iced coffee and finish five essays and ten applications in one night, it'll def be easier to spread them all out over a few weeks or months. 

Get creative!

One huge part of the college process is marketing yourself. You get to tell all of your schools why you're the *best* applicant ever. The thought of hyping yourself up might sound intimidating, but sometimes you can have fun with it! Is photography your thing? Check which colleges on your list accept a portfolio! Does that one school you're applying to have an essay prompt that strays a little from the more generic ones? Find a way to make it your own! Your GPA and test scores are important, but a sea of numbers doesn't define the unique applicant behind them—so get creative and stand out.

It's okay to ask for help if you need it.

Even when everybody looks like they have it all together, there's a 99.9% chance that they don't. So if you find yourself feeling a little lost, don't be afraid to reach out for help. Maybe your neighbor goes to a school you're super interested in—see if you can ask her some questions! Or maybe your English teacher is a pro at editing essays, so he'll be happy to help you polish yours. Or your older sibling just went through the whole college process a year or two ago, and they have some advice to share. You never know where you'll find a helping hand!

Keep an open mind. 

It's totally awesome to know *exactly* what you want going into the college process, but sometimes that might change along the way. Make sure your list of schools is balanced, and keep an open mind when it comes to each one. A school you never pictured yourself at could become the *perfect* fit for you. You may have applied with a certain major in mind, but later discover that there's another field you're really interested in. There are so many different paths you can take—stay open to following them.

Don't compare yourself to other people.

Okay, I know this one is way easier said than done, but it might be the most important thing on this list. It's super easy to scroll through Instagram and feel like everyone you know is committing to their first-choice college, having the most fun senior year ever, and just generally living their best life. Sure, a picture might be worth a thousand words—but those photos can also lie. It's a tough time for everyone, even when they don't show it. And even when it seems like it is sometimes, the college process is *not* a competition. It's difficult not to get caught up in which school has the highest ranking or the lowest acceptance rate, but when it comes down to it, you have to go where you know you'll be happy, no matter what everybody else is doing. 

Make the most of senior year.

So much of senior year (and just high school overall) seems to revolve around college. Preparing, applying, getting in, and then, finally, deciding. But there's a whole school year taking place at the same time—don't let it pass you by! Even when I was stressed out, worried and unsure, I still had some really great times senior year. So take those prom pics with your best friends. Say yes to a dinner or movie night with your family. Go to that football game, school musical, homecoming dance. Graduation comes around before you know it, so just soak up those last few months of being a high schooler!

Trust the process. 

Ugh, it sounds so cheesy, and it's hard not to roll your eyes when someone tries to tell you this, but seriously...trust the process. Because the end of the day, you *will* get into college, and you'll end up exactly where you're supposed to be. The college process can be weird and confusing, but it's also your own personal journey–so believe that it's taking you where you need to go.

How are you de-stressing during college apps season? Tell us on Twitter @girlslifemag

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by Samara Smukler | 10/29/2021
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