A Balancing Act: College Applications and First-Semester Seniors

The online login to the Common Application. A common site (and sight) for many seniors. Screenshot by Zoe Ong.

There’s a distinguishing sense of excitement and anxiety that lies beneath the collected exterior of the senior class. College applications are what’s on the mind of first semester seniors. Despite taking on different forms for every senior, applications, or “apps”, evoke common emotions. There’s fear, definitely — the fear of not measuring up. Of soul-searching and realizing that what you’ve done after four years doesn’t fit a university’s requirements. But applications also include the intense hope of attending a number of incredible institutions.

Deadlines for US applications are in November or January, depending on whether applying early or regular decision. Counselors advise juniors to start application essays over the summer, and students who haven’t taken up the responsibility yet may feel slightly overwhelmed. For US applications, this essay portion is taken into account along with an applicant’s transcript and extracurriculars. It presents a chance for admissions officers to understand an applicant’s personality, interests, and background.

In senior Cindy Qiu’s words, the college application process can often be “very superficial”, as “qualities [often] get lost in an application”. She highlights a common challenge to many seniors: the difficulty of creating an accurate representation of your personality through a transcript. She also notes the struggle to efficiently balance her commitments: there’s the desire to do homework well, but “doing so strips away [her] ability to work on college apps.” However, there is a note of hope in the process: as college applicants, “you’re deciding your own future, and you’re working towards getting it.” The application process presents not only a challenge but also an opportunity to determine, to an extent, the future of an applicant’s education.

Prime reading material for both seniors and concerned parents. Photo by Zoe Ong.


Senior Jamie Uy also feels a mix of excitement and fear when faced with the reality of college applications. She states “it’s crazy that we are applying at all, that we [get] the chance to take the reins of our own education — and the next four years of our life.” While the process may seem a little formidable, Uy realizes that the feeling of being “a bit overwhelmed” by the application process may be because college is an “adult decision [that we] have the privilege to make.” Regardless of whether this is a perspective common to most of the senior class, it is a valuable one to have. We’re privileged to be applying to college at all, and that’s something that can give the whole process a new perspective.

While this may be the mindset of those applying stateside, the stress of applications takes on new permutations for students applying to non-US countries or taking a gap year.

Senior Lucia Garcia-Velasco plans on taking a gap year to explore her interest in computer science, distinguishing her application schedule from those applying this year. This fall, she plans on applying to a handful of schools in the US and to apply to universities in the United Kingdom next year. Nevertheless, she faces her own fears, as she is “not going to experience the fear of applying to a school while my friends are facing it. I’m going to have to do that all alone.” Furthermore, that common fear of “what I’ve done so far isn’t enough” or “the thought that I’m not good enough” still rings true for Velasco.

Hope Tanudisastro, a senior applying to schools in Australia and the US, feels different pressures than those applying solely to the US. She described feeling “relatively stress-free” because Australian schools look solely for “SAT and AP scores” rather than at an essay. Although she is considering US schools, she doesn’t feel exceptionally stressed. Furthermore, she did have some words of advice for her fellow classmates going through the application struggle: to keep a view of the long run and make sure that the college of your choice ”fits with where you want to end up.” At the end of the day, seniors who have a long-term perspective are those who are well-equipped to choose best-fit schools for them.

So what advice is out there for seniors from the counseling department? Counselor Trevor Sturgeon has some words of wisdom when it comes to seniors and college applications. He recommends seniors “block off dedicated time every week” to work on college applications, “otherwise the urgent things at SAS, tests, assessments, quizzes… push back the college application.” As to specific advice on the writing process of the application essay, he believes “better essays are when students write from their gut, from their soul” — although difficult to do, letting the essay convey something distinct about you can give your application the extra edge. Seniors who have been most satisfied with their final college application are those who also take advantage of the resources SAS offers. Finding different perspectives by talking through the essay with counselors and friends can help “students become more enlightened” when it comes to writing an outstanding essay.


College pennants adorn the outside of the SAS Counseling Office. Advertising? Inspiration? Or perhaps symbolic of the reason to visit the counselors within. Photo by Zoe Ong.


College applications are a huge responsibility to take on, as most seniors are now realizing. It’s a serious step and will undoubtedly take serious effort to carry through. Nevertheless, the college applications are by no means insurmountable; they present an opportunity to showcase and celebrate a portion of your personality and identity. Finding a way to let that part of you shine through a transcript will be difficult, but it is a task that can reap great rewards.

Juniors and underclassmen, if you’re watching your senior friends struggle with applications, observe them closely. You may be experiencing this sooner than you think.
And if you’re a senior, good luck. And try not to stress (at least not too much). We’re all in this together.

Author: Zoe Ong

Zoe Ong is a senior and first-year reporter for The Eye. Originally from Irvine, California, this is her ninth year at SAS. She enjoys listening to different kinds of music (especially jazz), exploring local restaurants, and always saves room for dessert. Her hobbies include playing trombone, reading short stories and answering emails sent to ong33414@sas.edu.sg.

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