What’s Next? — How to Start College Applications


Jasmine McIntosh

Starting to apply to colleges can be daunting, but the sooner you start, the less stressed you will be in the end.

Avery Marks, Editor

During senior year, the influx of “what’s next?” questions start to flood in from relatives, friends, and others wondering where you want to go to college and what major you plan to study. 

For some, it may feel as though we have just begun to settle into our high school experience and yet it’s already time to start packing up and heading towards another chapter of our lives.

But if college is the path we want to take, in order to get to this next chapter and to be able to navigate the prying questions, we have to start applying to schools. After working with a college admission coach and speaking with La Salle’s college counselor Ms. Madeleine Hanley, I’ve developed a strong list of tips and advice for the application process.  

My following thoughts on how to power through are divided into the application platforms, personal narratives, and “why this college” essays.

Application Platforms:

In order to apply to schools, you will have to sign up for the application platforms. Many schools will be on the Common App; However, there are some schools that have their own platforms or are part of smaller ones. 

The first part of your application asks for basic information such as name, address, current course, and even includes questions concerning the extent of your parents’ college experience. 

On the Common App, there are some school specific questions about the class rank, graduating class size, and GPA scale.

If you want to get started on college application work but don’t have the energy for essay writing, I recommend starting here. Or if you want to have something easy to break up the work, do a few essays and then come back to filling out your information on these platforms.

Once you have completed and submitted your applications, try your best to not drop any classes that you’ve listed. By dropping them, the college may feel misled if they were told in the application that you were taking a course only to find that it’s not in your official transcripts.

Additionally, keep in mind that some colleges will look at your senior year grades to see whether or not they are dropping. Just because the application has been submitted, does not mean you can stop trying academically. 

The Personal Statement 

Don’t worry about whether or not you’ve had a remarkable experience saving a baby from a shark. This essay isn’t about proving that you’re a hero. 

If the college you’re applying to has no other essay prompts, this is the only opportunity for you to paint a picture of your personality. Make it count.

When choosing your topic, ask yourself “what don’t they know about me?” 

Unless it’s really important and reveals a lot about your character, avoid featuring what’s already on your activities list and resume.

For example, sports are a big part of many people’s high school experience, but that’s why they have become a cliche topic to cover. Don’t be a needle in the haystack of sports essays.

“You can write about it, but you have to have an uncommon connection,” Ms. Hanley said. 

Another common redundancy in these essays are service trips. 

While they are a great addition to the volunteer section of your resume, service trips are another overdone topic.

Additionally, make sure that this essay is about you. Even if a grandparent, coach, teacher, or other mentor made an impact on your life, the college isn’t trying to get to know them. They want to know you, so make sure that you’re primarily writing about yourself.

“It should be an essay too where if you dropped it on the floor of La Salle, another student will pick it up, read it and know that it was you,” Ms. Hanley said. 

People reviewing your application only have so much time to spend reviewing applicants, so make every word count. Cover as much ground as you can so they can get a better understanding of who you are.

Why This College and Other Prompts

Moving onto essay prompts along the lines of “why this college” and “why this major,” you should plan on writing half about you and half about the college or major that you’re interested in.

Not only should you explain why you like the college or major, but these essays should also explain why you‘re a good fit. 

Proving yourself to be a good fit could look like describing the ways you would get involved on campus and contribute to the college community. Maybe you have a drill to introduce to the softball team, a campaign to run for Dungeons & Dragons club, or an article idea for the campus newspaper.

Try to include specific and uncommon classes, teachers, and opportunities provided at the college as well as personal touches that reveal more about you.

However, you should avoid factoids such as traditions and the mascot, which can often be found with a brief look at the website. By using the surface level information, you show the admissions committee that you only have a surface level interest.

If you have multiple of these essays, try to create an anecdote about yourself that can be reused and restructured to fit the various schools. This may be what sparked interest in your intended major or a humorous memory.

Try to get all of your application writing prompts into a singular Google document and label each essay question with the college that they’re from. Once they’re all in, it will be much easier to figure out where you can reuse what you write about yourself.

As much as possible, try to incorporate your humor. The people reading these are stuck with trudging through essay on essay. Being able to catch their eye, in a way that stays professional, will benefit their opinion on your application and associate yourself with a break from their grueling work.

With all that being said, relax. Have fun and enjoy your senior year while it lasts.

“I honestly believe that students end up where they’re meant to be,” Ms. Hanley said. “It sounds cheesy, but I honestly believe that.”

Good luck with whatever your “what’s next” ends up being.