By Sascha Magnus
“The cold weather here is kind of depressing. So I told this to my adviser. She told me to get a light box from the university health services, and shine it over my body in order to simulate sunlight. She was being serious.”- Tanya Mair 201o Campion graduate now attending Harvard
It is that time of year when we all get a little jittery. The same questions run through all of our minds: What do I need to do? Where do I begin? How am I supposed to decide among the millions of tertiary institutions across the globe? By now you should all know what I am talking about, the mysterious and panic-inducing college application process. It is indeed along and tedious task that requires determination, knowledge and the willpower to overcome the wrath of our well acquainted friend ‘Mr. Procrastination’. The only way to successfully get through this process is therefore to know exactly what needs to be done and how to accomplish these things. Yet, this article isn’t intended to bog you down with all the fine details of the application process. It is more a source of inspiration to let you know that it can be done, it has been done and that, if you want it to, it will be done; you will get through it too.
Our past 6A serves as proof of this. To name a few: Kemar England and Gayon Douglas have gone on to Stanford University; Elizabeth Shay and Roshawn Johnson to Columbia University; Anne Zhou and Taniesha Sinclair to the University of Rochester; and our past Head Girl Sharlayne Waller to Yale University. I thought it would be very insightful for you to hear directly from a past student who has triumphed over this process and is now experiencing the great rewards of “college life” – a life that we have all envisioned in our minds long beforewe print our very first Common Application sheet.
Tanya Mair a graduate of our past 6A was accepted to all her universities, one being the top university in the United States, Harvard University. Although Tanya questioned whether she would accept the offer, she is now a member of the Harvard family. In a recent interview I had with Tanya, she shone the light on some of our biggest fears surrounding this entire process. Here is what Tanya had to say about her experience thus far.
Q: What were your expectations of Harvard? And how did you decide on Harvard?
A: I really had no clue. It changed so much over the whole application process. Until I did some research about the students and student life here, I had the typical image of Harvard (that I believe most students have): an unattainable fairy-tale school for the masterminds, prodigies and the wealthy. I looked at the student videos for all the schools I applied to and I was extremely surprised that Harvard students spoke like normal young adults, (no big words and they actually used slang!!!) It was comforting to see that they acted like me in a way and most importantly they seemed really happy.
After that I felt really hopeful that Harvard, despite its reputation, was a place I could fit in. Of course I knew it was still going to be one of the most competitive college environments but it did not seem so scary anymore. I was still worried about classes of course. I thought they were all going to be in big lecture halls, taught by world renowned professors who spoke another language and would expect me to pick up what they were learning at genius pace. I also thought that while at Harvard I would be constantly intimidated by everything, the history of the school, the brilliance of the faculty and the students themselves:
Q: Has the reality been different from your expectations?
A: I have to admit that at Harvard there are prodigies. I mean it would not be Harvard without them. But the thing is when I first met them, for the most part, they were normal kids (of course with exceptional talents), but I felt no different talking to them than other student my age. People were really friendly and easy to talk to and once again normal!
As far as classes, not all of them are taught in lecture halls in fact most of my classes are really small, so it feels like high school! My only lecture class is big, but they organize other small classes for us to meet where another teacher revises what the professors taught in the lecture that week. The best thing is that students and faculty are not intimidating. They are super nice and encourage us to go to office all the time. There has not been one teacher or professor that has seemed unapproachable.
Q: How different is college life from high school life, that is, life at Campion?
A: Responsibility is the key element. Your parents are not there to remind you to do your homework or wake you up in the morning when you don’t hear your alarm. It is up to you to remember that stuff plus other things like checking your mail regularly, shopping for your basic necessities, budgeting. It’s not difficult but it is an adjustment.
Q: How has your social life been at Harvard?
A: There are a lot of opportunities to socialize here. My friends and I usually stay occupied on the weekend. There are always parties but we try to vary what we do. We go to the movies, shopping and the park since those things are not very far, only a couple stops away by subway.There are on campus events, like performances by the glee club and impromptu shows, which are always fun and sometimes free! In general it is pretty easy stay occupied as there is always something going on.
Q: How is the work load?
A: Academics have been manageable. They know that freshman are adjusting so at first the work load was not too demanding. Now, I have homework after every single class so if I don’t stay on top of it, the work piles up quickly. I also have two sets of midterms so it has started to feel like I have exams for the rest of the term, but they have been manageable. I tried picking classes that I felt were at my level so that the material covered would be familiar to me but would also teach me more. That has made it easier to adjust.
Q: Are there any tips you would give to sixth formers on the entire college application process?
A: I would definitely say do your own research. It is hard to be aware of what colleges are right for you and it is easy to get the wrong impression. I basically “googled” colleges that offered the majors I was interested in, came up with a list of schools that offered all of them, and narrowed down the list based on what the school seemed like from their website. I came up with a list of 14 schools and ended up applying to 8. It isn’t a foolproof system but it worked for me. Before, I had absolutely no clue where I wanted to go.
I would also say to make sure your list contains an equal distribution in the number of safety schools, middle and top schools. However, do not be afraid to apply to high ranking universities. A lot of people do not apply because they feel they are not good enough. It is worth a try though because they offer the best financial aid and once you do get in, you will not have to worry about how you were in high school. It doesn’t matter. What matters is how hard you work while you are there.
There were so many times when I nearly missed the deadline for a supplement or portfolio submission because I did not know the deadline was different from the common application deadline. Here is how you avoid this. Make a list of all your colleges. Go to the school’s website and find out all the things you need to submit and make note of their deadlines; double check with Collegeboard. Keep this paper with you at all times!
Do not worry if you have not had a life changing and dramatic moment in your childhood to write about. I did not. Any experience can make a good essay once you have something to say. The topic will probably come to you once you do not think specifically about writing a good essay, but rather an honest essay. It will seem most like you and you are interesting! It would probably be easy to just practice writing about any experience that you have had even if you do not think it is application worthy. It is good practice and you might surprise yourself with what you come up with.
I think my MOST IMPORTANT advice is: DO NOT GET NEGATIVE. The application process is dreary and can cause a lot of self doubt. I mean you are basically trying to put your whole life on paper and hoping that someone likes it. It is not a very pleasant thought but everyone is in the same boat and one day it will be over. For now just keep working and when the days start to get hard just do not give up. It is probably one of the most important things you will have to do right now, so the work is worth it.
Q: Have you faced any challenges while adjusting to your new environment?
A: To be perfectly honest those first days where I went to my room not knowing what was
ahead of me were the loneliest. I do not know how those first days were for everyone else but for the most part I believe they were the hardest. I was trying to build home away from home, but I was surrounded by people who did not know me. On top of all that, I missed my family. It can be a very stressful time, made worse by the fact that you cannot express how you feel about the situation until your next skype chat with your friends from home or your family. Yet, even this is still not completely comforting because they are not with you. My only way of dealing with this was by being patient. I reminded myself that everyone was in the same situation and that eventually the people I met today would be my friends or lead me to my friends tomorrow. Once I had found these people, my friends became my family.
Q: How badly do you miss home and what about it do you miss most?
A: Even though I felt like I was going to spend most of my days crying and missing home that was not the case. For the most part, there were so many activities and events going on, that I was too busy to be sad for a long time. I missed home most when I was alone in the first couple of days of school, but that quickly went away once my first friendships were established. The thing I miss the most though is the distinction between home and school life. Here, my social and academic lives exist in the same place; it can be very distracting. When I was at home I could separate myself from homework when I needed to relax and not get distracted by friends when homework needed to be done. This is obviously not the case here. It takes a lot of will power to not get too distracted or too stressed. At the same time the challenge is really fun!
Q: What is the best thing about college?
A: I don’t know. I like my friends here. But I like most things about Harvard! So it is really
hard to choose.
By Sascha Magnus