Applying for college is not as simple as it sounds. So how does one prepare for it? The College Application Seminar was held to inform community members about the five main points to keep in mind when choosing and applying to colleges.
Featured panelists. Photo by Emily Zhang
Written by Eileen and Kathleen, edited by Cynthia Chen and Lillian Zhou
Applying for college is not as simple as it sounds. So how does one prepare for it? The College Application Seminar was held to inform community members about the five main points to keep in mind when choosing and applying to colleges. The event, which took place on August 10, 2018, at the Chinese Culture and Community Service Center (CCACC), revolved around the experiences and advice of five panelists, all high school graduates. The featured graduates were Rachel Ma, Esther Li, William Chai, Rachel Li, and Amy Liu.
The seminar began with a few trivia questions for the audience posed by Julie Yang, the host of the seminar. Those who answered correctly were each given a free book before Yang proceeded to ask the panelists about their advice for applying to a college.
Five main topics were covered in the seminar. Panelists discussed preparing for college, choosing the best fit, writing the application essay, finding scholarships, and choosing application methods.
“College is not a last year of high school thing.”
“College is not a last year of high school thing,” said Amy Liu. “Preparation starts as early as eighth grade, even seventh grade.” Liu is a recent graduate of Mt. Hebron High School who is heading to Carnegie Mellon University. She claimed that there were two parts to the college application process. “The first part,” Liu explained, “is about researching which college you want to go to, and the second part is about building your high school schedule.”
To build a high school schedule, one would first need to look at a college’s requirements. Most colleges require four years of each core subject, which are English, math, science, and foreign language. Depending on the school, a certain ACT score or SAT test will also be needed for admission. But there are other aspects of a college that should be looked into in addition to the academic requirements.
Panelists discussing. Photo by Audrey Li.
William Chai, a graduate of Winston Churchill High School, recommended starting off with colleges that offer your major, then narrowing down the list with other factors. “Based off the results for biology rankings, I kind of decided what kind of schools I wanted to apply to,” Chai said. “But, that was just a potential list. Based off of that list, I also used other factors to shorten it. One factor was the school’s culture, the other was financial aid - how much they gave, another was location.”
“You might think that you have a set career path that you're sure you're going to do,” said Ma. “But in high school, a lot of the clubs and opportunities out there-- you don't even know they exist until you go and try it.”
Rachel Ma, a graduate out of River Hill High School, believed that going out of your comfort zone was just as important as planning and preparation. “You might think that you have a set career path that you're sure you're going to do,” said Ma. “But in high school, a lot of the clubs and opportunities out there-- you don't even know they exist until you go and try it.”
Esther Li, who also graduated from Winston Churchill High School and is heading to Georgetown University in business, agreed that trying different things is important in high school. “It’s important to try all different types of things,” Li said. “Even if you’re not comfortable with it.” And although she was the daughter of two chemists and part of a STEM academy at her school, through her experiences working in retail stores and as a swim coach, Li came to realize that her passions resided in interaction with other people, not chemistry.
“It’s important to try all different types of things,” Li said. “Even if you’re not comfortable with it.”
When looking for colleges, it is important to choose one that is the best fit for one’s individual needs and desires. “Definitely look at the academic offerings of the school,” Yang said. “Also talk about the size of the school.” Student life, cost, and geographic location can also help narrow down a list of potential colleges to apply to. Esther Li pointed out that college is “not about the dream school, but about the dream experience.” Another memorable quote from Julia Yang: “Reach for the stars, but also watch out for your parent’s wallet.”
The college essay plays a large role in acceptance. Since application officers only have a few minutes to read one essay, applicants must be able to showcase their talents and interests in an interesting way. “Your college essay has to be very unique,” says Rachel Ma. “You have to present it in an interesting perspective that sheds light on who you are as a person...There are so many applicants applying who are just like you...Admission officers have heard it all, so you really need to stand out.”
Esther Li advised writing different essays until finding one that resonates. “Try everything and see what feels like it’s going in some direction,” Li said. After some difficulty, Esther chose to write about a visit to North Korea that her parents had forced her to do. By the end of the trip, she had realized her passion for working internationally. Commenting about how many people don’t normally visit North Korea in their lifetime, Esther added that the essay topic “...[doesn’t] have to be a significant moment, as long as it’s significant to you.”
When editing and revising essays, it is important not to lose the original message. “I did ask a lot of my mentors and my teachers to read my essays,” William Chai said. “It’s important to be careful, though, about how much advice you get from other people because...people can help you with your essays, but if you ask too many people, there’s a tendency to dilute what you actually meant in your original essay.”
Panelists discussing. Photo by Audrey Li
There are five types of college applications: early decision, early action, restrictive early action, rolling, and regular. Early action and decision both have the benefit of a higher acceptance rate, but while the former is non-binding, the latter is binding, which means that one has to go to the college they'd applied to if they're accepted. Restrictive early action is non-binding, but it means that you are not allowed to apply to other private schools after you apply to that school. Rolling admission is non-binding, but has a longer admission window than regular decision, which is also non-binding. “Be sure to read the [college’s requirements],” said Liu. One has to be careful that they aren't forced to go to a college that they'd rather not spend four years at.
Scholarships, as well as a higher acceptance rate, are another perk of applying early. “Definitely apply early to state schools because if you apply early, you’re already considered for a scholarship,” Rachel Li suggested. November 1st is the deadline for Maryland’s state colleges.
Soon thereafter, the panelists received a few questions from the audience members, some of whom were taking notes in the hopes that the information presented in this seminar would benefit their child when they entered high school. After all, it is important to keep one’s individual needs and desires in mind when choosing a college - just as important as knowing the academic requirements of a college application. But on should know that high school can be a time for fun in addition to college preparation. As Rachel Li says, “know that you'll be okay wherever you end up.”
This article was provided by Chinese American Parents Association Junior Reporter Club (CAPA JRC) with members who interviewed, audio recorded, wrote, translated, and video recorded. CAPA JRC has 19 Montgomery County middle to high school students. They have created a bilingual platform delivering news and serving the community.