Picture pumpkins on porches, spiced lattes, cozy wrap sweaters and… pages and pages of biographical information? 

The months when Pumpkin-Flavored-Anything reigns supreme also signal the start of a terrifying process for high school seniors across the country: college application time. 

Four years ago, I was doing just that. And if you don’t have a close older sibling or cousin who has gone through the process, it can get pretty confusing, even with the help of counselors and teachers. 

Fast forward, and I’m helping a friend’s son with his applications. Much like when I was applying, it feels like you need a stellar GPA, a leadership position in several extracurriculars, a part-time job, a published book, and the blood of a virgin just to get in to a good school. Never mind paying for it. Add to that impressive entrance essays and other wacky requirements (the application for New York University had me write a limerick about myself), the process is daunting.  

But don’t be afraid, potential co-eds. Despite the barrage of confusing information (and necessity of slaughtering small animals for your blood offering,) there are several bright spots to consider. 

One great way to get colleges to notice you is through extracurricular involvement. There are the traditional routes: student council, sports, clubs, etc. But students across the country are also doing these exact same things. 

A friend of my father’s was an admissions person for an Ivy League school, and when I was applying, I asked him what I should do outside of keeping up my GPA to get a school like his to notice me. His advice? Write a book. 

But what he was really saying was, “Do something impressive and unique to distinguish yourself from your peers.” I took him at his word and plugged away unsuccessfully at book-writing (my writing was nowhere near mature enough to make a long-format work viable at the time). 

But I was experimenting with journalism, and had skills in graphic design and short-form articles. With a few instructional Youtube videos and an appropriate publishing platform, I could have started my own web magazine. 

Don’t discount non-traditional venues for leadership and extracurricular involvement. They’ll make you stand out, and believe me, you want to stand out. Learn how to do something different and cool that you’re passionate about, and play that up on your C.V. and in your alumni interview, if you have one.    

Now let’s talk about standardized tests. The importance of your SAT/ACT score varies from college to college. This is important because you may or may not have a great one. Some really good students do well with standardized tests, but others don’t. Some have test anxiety. Never fear. FairTest.org has a list of colleges that don’t admit based on test scores and use other criteria, including GPA. If you’re a good student, but worry your scores might keep you from admittance, this route might be for you.


But there is a catch: scholarships. If you are looking for a merit scholarships (which are based on academic performance) in order to avoid taking out the massive student loans we keep hearing about in the news, your test scores may still matter. If your ability to attend depends on your ability to secure scholarships, you might still need an impressive score to start the cash flow. This leads me to my next point…

Admission isn’t the only factor in your college decision. With student debt at the forefront of our national discussion of higher education, affording your school of choice must also come into play in any informed college choice. I didn’t realize until midway through my  applications that I couldn’t afford most of my dream schools without significant financial assistance. So when I squealed at my acceptance to NYU, it took a sobering reminder from my dad to bring me down from the clouds: ‘That’s awesome and I’m proud of you, but how are you going to pay for it?” Always, always count the cost before you set your heart on a school. If you can’t afford it, it might not matter if you get in.  

Now, take a deep breath, go outside, and look at the pumpkins. Repeat after me: you will get through this.