It’s crazy to think that a year ago right now I had no idea I would be attending Baylor – I was just starting my senior year with a mostly complete Common Application and the intention to go to college in Texas to major in journalism. My very favorite thing about blogging is helping others, so today I’m sharing my experience with and advice on the college decision process! My hope is that this post will be helpful to high school seniors currently in the college application process as well as underclassmen that are curious about it (that was 100% me throughout high school). I wanted this post to answer as many of your questions as possible, so I used my Instagram story to ask what y’all wanted to know!
Let’s start at the beginning – I submitted applications to Baylor University, Texas Christian University, Southern Methodist University, and Trinity University. I was also super interested in the University of Texas at Austin until I toured it in the fall of my senior year, then decided not to apply (I’ll explain why I made that decision later!). I chose to apply to these schools based on a few factors; distance from home, major availability, and the surrounding city. I’m going to elaborate on how each of these factors individually affected me as well as what they’ll mean for you in the next few paragraphs!
I think it’s pretty fair to say that the distance from home one would be comfortable with varies from person to person for personal and financial reasons. Why was I so comfortable with going to school in Texas that I only applied to schools there, even though the entire state is roughly a thousand miles from home? All of my biological extended family lives in Texas and I’ve spent so much time in the state every summer since I moved away at age four, I knew I would be comfortable going to college there. I have so many happy memories in Texas and frankly, I just love everything about the state (yes, even the heat), so I couldn’t imagine going to school anywhere else – Texas feels like home. Because I’ve been flying back to Texas to visit family at least once a year since I was five years old, I’m also super comfortable with flying, even by myself, so that wasn’t even really a factor for me. However, since I have so much extended family in Texas, I will be staying in the state for shorter holidays like fall break and Thanksgiving, which certainly makes being so far from home easier. If you know you have a hard time being away from your family for extended periods of time (think about your experiences with camps, overnight field trips, sleepovers, vacations with friends, etc.) or are scared of or dislike flying, then going super far probably isn’t a good plan for you, and that’s completely fine! While college is a great time to push the boundaries of your comfort zone and try new things, jetting across the country for school when you know you frequently experience homesickness wouldn’t be your wisest idea.
Availability of your preferred major is obviously pretty important when it comes to picking a school – you’ll be going there to get an education, after all! My major is journalism, and luckily every school I was interested in applying to had a program for that. This, however, might not be the case for you! Be sure to check all the majors each school you’re interested in has to offer and make sure they have what you’re looking for! Additionally, make sure they have majors in some other areas you have a little interest in just in case you change your mind about your major somewhere down the road (like the majority of college students do). When it comes to choosing schools based on academics, I want you to keep in mind that while it’s obviously important for them to have a program for what you want, don’t tell yourself you have to go to the school with the best program for that major. On the car ride back to San Antonio from my tours of Baylor and UT Austin in the fall, I was super torn between the two schools because I loved everything about Baylor and felt like I belonged there, but I knew UT Austin’s journalism program was incredible and nationally recognized. I called my dad and he gave me some awesome advice – go to school where you’ll be happy, and you’ll thrive in your academics. If you go to school somewhere you don’t think you’ll belong, it doesn’t matter how good their programs are because you aren’t going to enjoy what you’re studying and you won’t be motivated to do well! I’m so grateful for how supportive my dad was in that moment and throughout my entire college decision process, and that piece of advice was so reassuring and impactful moving forward. Knowing I would be touring Baylor and UT Austin, I didn’t finish the “Why do you belong at our school?” question in their applications before I toured because I wanted to give genuine responses based on my experiences at the schools. I was so convinced that I didn’t belong at UT in this stage of life that I actually didn’t even finish applying there (even though it was my top choice before touring)! In comparison, I finished the entire essay for Baylor in a fifty minute class period because I was that passionate and confident about it (for reference, I’m a fast writer if and only if I get really ramped up about the topic…so the fact that I wrote the whole essay in study hall my first day back at school after touring speaks volumes).
And finally, the last factor I think is important in making your initial list of schools and eventually choosing one is the town the school is located in! Do you want to be in a big city or a small town? Do you want your college to be integrated with the city or do you want it to be more of a bubble you can leave whenever you walk off of campus? I always thought I wanted a big city, but after touring UT Austin I was overwhelmed. I love Austin, but I wanted my school to have defined boundaries that I could leave if I wanted to go out to dinner with friends or do something fun off-campus. I knew that while I wanted to go to school in a city with school spirit, I did not want to go to school in a place where the college was plastered all over the city. Waco is the perfect college town for me because there’s a good bit to do, it’s not too big but not too small, and it has its own identity outside of Baylor (hello Magnolia Silos!).
Now, let’s talk about the actual applications! Most schools are on the Common Application (more widely known as “Common App”), which is a place you can fill out all of your basic college application information (like your address, financial status, course list from high school, GPA, etc.) once, then add small additions that are specific to each school you’re applying to. I would absolutely recommend applying through Common App if most of your schools are on it, it makes everything much easier and allows you to see what applications are done and what is still missing all in one place! Common App provides a list of basic prompts you can use for your college application essay, see them here! Your essay is a chance for you to really stand out to the colleges you’re interested in, but with that comes a lot of pressure. These prompts were the same when I applied, and I chose topic one then wrote about my blog! I used my blog to convey to colleges my diligence, personal growth, and how I have already taken the liberty to work in the field I’ll be studying. My advice to you in writing your essay is to choose a topic that allows you to show off something unique about yourself – whether that be an interesting hobby, a business you began in high school, a leadership position in a club that means a lot to you, how your world travels have impacted your life experience, or how your homelife has grown you into the person you are today. I would also recommend, and I cannot emphasize this enough, that you complete the essay as soon as possible (without hurting the quality by rushing it) and get one of your former English teachers to review it! As with anything else, you will make mistakes on the essay that you probably won’t notice, and it’s important that you get another set of eyes (preferably a set that has been to college for English) to check over it! The essay can only be up to 650 words, but if you use the essay correctly, those words will make the colleges want you. Just so you can get an idea of what this writing should look like, I’ve included my own Common App essay below! If you don’t care to read it (no hard feelings haha), just skip through this section of the post in which the text is pink, I answer more of your questions later in the post!
The summer before my freshman year of high school I made a decision that changed my life in ways I could not have predicted. Having an enduring interest in fashion journalism, I created a blog which I planned to use to share mainly fashion-related content including outfits, shopping guides, and articles on trends. Little did I know, this blog originally created to share fashion-related posts would become an outlet for me to document my high school life and faith. I have used this corner of the internet to share not only my outfits and fashion interests, but also my travels, Christianity, and advice to other teenage girls. My high school experience as a whole would be drastically different without my blog because its presence in my life has given me a love for writing, made me more outgoing, and created a confidence in my passions.
Writing consistently for my blog has been equivalent to writing hundreds of essays on topics I am interested in, and doing so has translated to tremendous improvement in my scholastic writing. The accountability created by my expectant readers requires me to constantly write and continue publishing over school breaks, thus keeping my writing skills intact over summer months during which they used to lie dormant. I enjoyed writing when I clicked publish on my first blog post, but I now adore the task, even assigned essays. Over the years blogging has transformed writing from an obligation to a passion.
Publishing my thoughts and photos of myself for the world to see did not daunt me when I began my blog as a wide-eyed thirteen-year-old, and today I am so glad I did not think it over any more than I did. I can now clearly see that making this decision with such little, naive thought tore through my comfort zone and caused me to become more open to putting myself out there in several other areas of my high school life. I credit my confidence working my job in retail and courage to ask for a leadership role on the yearbook staff to this accidentally courageous act. Thanks to this fearless leap into the internet world, I am far more comfortable setting myself apart in the real world too.
In the school year following the summer of my blog’s creation, I received a lot of ridicule from other students. From the number of times peers would pull up my website on the school laptops and laugh while reading my posts aloud, I learned to own my passions. While it was far easier to beg my classmates to stop, I learned to ignore the rude remarks and prove their disapproval absurd in silence as I collaborated with brands and gained followers. Learning to face the backlash contributed greatly to my steadfast confidence in all of my endeavors. This adversity also assured me that I must be passionate enough to pursue a career in the field of fashion journalism if I am passionate enough about my blog to endure the criticism and stand up for myself.
While the most apparent impact of my semi-successful blog to others is the free product I receive, the blog’s effects on my life go much deeper. Impacts on my character and writing skills along with the opportunity to learn more about the world of social media marketing, friends who also blog from across the country, and the ability to strengthen my faith by sharing it with others are the real reasons I felt keeping up with my blog despite the struggle to balance it with my high school academic career was worthwhile. Like anyone else, I have changed a lot since I began high school, but I think my blog has had a completely unique contribution to the evolution of my identity.
I don’t work in college admissions, so I can’t be completely sure about what made my application stick out to Baylor, but I know that some things that probably helped include my involvement in clubs and sports at my school (I was in an all-girls service club called Anchor Club, Beta Club, National Honor Society, Mu Alpha Theta, literary magazine editorial staff, I was co-caption of the varsity girls lacrosse team, and I was co-editor-in-chief of my school’s yearbook), my volunteer hours leading Wyldlife (a few hours a week helping out with YoungLife’s middle school ministry in my city), my SAT score (it wasn’t ridiculously high but my best score was in the 95th percentile when I took it in 2017), and my academics (I had all As and Bs every semester of every year, including rigorous honors and AP courses). I hope it doesn’t sound like I was bragging about any of that, but I know as a junior and senior in high school I wanted to know all of that about everyone I saw getting accepted by colleges! Every school is different, and so many are test-optional nowadays! My biggest piece of advice when it comes to what colleges want to see would be to get involved in things you’re actually interested in within your high school and community. I want to work in the field of journalism, so I took two AP English classes as well as a year of creative writing and I got super involved in yearbook and my school’s literary magazine. I love fashion, so I wrote a fashion blog and worked at a local shoe boutique where I ran their social media accounts and worked the floor on weekends. I’m passionate about helping others, so I was involved in several service clubs. I value my faith, so I was heavily involved in YoungLife and was a volunteer leader for middle schoolers. I think you get the point – yes, some extracurriculars are better than none, but colleges will be able to see through the things you participate in just because they’re easy and you think they will impress schools.
I had a few questions on how I knew whether to apply Early Action, Early Decision, or Regular Decision, and I would say this mostly depends on your personality and how confident you are in the school(s) you apply to! For those of you who aren’t familiar with these terms, “Early Action” means you submit a nonbinding application by the school’s first deadline (typically November 1st), “Early Decision” means you submit a binding application by the school’s first deadline (binding means that if the school accepts you, you’re required to attend), and “Regular Decision” means you submit your nonbinding application by the school’s second deadline. I would definitely recommend applying Early Action if you’re able to, it’s such a huge relief to know that your applications are all done in the fall! Plus, I’ve heard that it’s a little easier to get into some schools if you submit your application by the first deadline in comparison to the second deadline, simply because the schools have more available spots earlier on. The advantage to applying Early Decision is that a lot of colleges accept more people that apply Early Decision (especially colleges that have super low acceptance rates like Duke University, Vanderbilt University, and Ivy League schools) and you might find out whether or not you were admitted a little sooner. Being type A, I completed most of my applications before the school year began and submitted them Early Action throughout the month of September as my recommendation letters were sent in. I never planned to apply Early Decision anywhere until I toured Baylor, but I fell in with everything about it and knew I wouldn’t even care if I got in anywhere else – I wanted to know I was going to Baylor for sure as soon as possible! Once you’re accepted to a school Early Decision, you are obligated to retract your applications from all the other schools you applied to (which makes for some awkward emailing, but the other schools will understand and it doesn’t really matter what they think anyway), which means if you don’t find out before you hear from your Early Decision school, you’ll never know if you got in to the other schools you applied to.
As I feel like I’ve said a million times, after touring, I knew Baylor was the school for me. However, I also thought Southern Methodist University was the school for me after I toured it over a year before I toured Baylor. I know this might sound hypocritical coming from me, but don’t get too wrapped up in getting “the feeling” everyone talks about when they first set foot on campus, not everyone gets that feeling, and that’s okay! Sometimes you might feel like you got that feeling everywhere, and you’ll have to take a step back and look at it logically. As much as I loved Baylor the whole time I was on campus, the thing that actually made me confident Baylor was the school for me was the people who were already students there (not just the tour guides, remember they’re paid to act like their school is an academic Disney World!). Every person I interacted with or saw walking around Baylor was so happy. They were excited to point me to the building I was looking for, they asked me how I liked it so far, and they told me that coming to Baylor was the best decision of their life. I left Baylor wanting to be that happy at my college, and with the Christian community, beautiful campus, and abundance of activities and opportunities there, I knew I would be that happy at Baylor. My biggest piece of advice when it comes to touring colleges would be to tour when there are people there (that means that if you toured in the summer and are still seriously considering the school you should tour it again). An empty campus tells you nothing about the diversity, attitude, and (as much as I hate this word) vibe of the people that go to that school. I loved SMU’s campus but looking at the people that go there on Instagram and having a conversation about the school with an alumna made me realize it was not the school for me.
Senior year can be so stressful between picking a school, keeping your grades up for colleges to look at, and staying with the extracurriculars you’ve been participating in throughout high school. What helped me manage my stress was having a safe place where I could escape the stress and be a kid. For me, that was the Emory Road House, where my school held YoungLife club, Wyldlife club, and Campaigners every week. In that little building, I was completely myself and left my stress at the door. Your getaway place doesn’t have to be religious, but it sure was nice to have people praying for me and reminding me that my identity and worth didn’t come from whether or not I was accepted by the colleges I was interested in. Your safe place might be a sports practice, the library, a voice lesson, a family meal, or even just your afternoon nap. Make sure you take the time to take care of yourself now in the midst of this time when you’re so wrapped up in your future! Again, I would highly recommend submitting your applications Early Action if you’re able to, just so you know the applications are done and you’ll hear back from schools and be able to make your decision a little sooner. I found out I got into Baylor on October 31st and it was a huge relief, then I was able to enjoy the rest of my year full of lasts with my high school friends!
Thanks for reading! Please feel free to reach out to me if you have any additional questions regarding college applications, how I made my decision, or anything Baylor (I could talk about it all day, sic ’em!) that weren’t answered! Good luck in your college decision process, I’m praying you’ll end up where you belong.