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College Admissions: Learning from the Process


Students walk to class at Northeastern University.

For most college students, the main goal of higher education is earning a degree that will lead to a successful and satisfying career.

The years spent working on a program of study can be fun and include life-changing experiences. And many college classes provide students with interesting information that they may not have even thought about before.

Still, the most important thing for most students is what those years of hard work and studying can bring them once they graduate.

But Jennifer Simons argues that there are many valuable things people can learn before they even attend their first college class. Simons is the director of undergraduate admissions and recruitment at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts.

Jennifer Simons, director of undergraduate admissions and recruitment at Northeastern University.
Jennifer Simons, director of undergraduate admissions and recruitment at Northeastern University.

Simons says the college application process can teach young people a lot about supporting themselves and making connections with others.

In the United States, the process starts in the final two years of high school, when students are about 16 or 17 years old. This is the time when young people are forced to consider what happens after they leave high school. They face questions like, ‘Where do you want to go to college?’ and ‘What will you study?’

There are so many choices available to students that these questions can seem very difficult to answer, Simons says. So she suggests that young people try to get a better understanding of themselves before making any decisions.

Simons says that young people should start keeping a journal, or written record, of their ideas well before they start thinking about college. They should ask themselves questions, like ‘Who am I?’, ‘What do I want out of life?’, and ‘What are my strengths and weaknesses?’ Students should then try to write down answers to these and other questions once a day, or even weekly. Also, Simons adds, they should try to take note of meaningful events that teach them something about the world or themselves.

The campus of Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts.
The campus of Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts.

The answers to these general questions, she says, will likely give students a better understanding of how to answer more specific questions. They will have a better idea about where they might want to spend four years of their lives while working toward a college degree, for example. It can also give young people ideas of what to talk about in writing samples that most college applications require.

In addition, she says, students who know their own strengths will better understand how to ask people they know to write letters of recommendation for them.

Simons says the more young people know about themselves, they more likely they are to make decisions that will make them happy. This includes more than just decisions about college.

"If you understand who you are," she told VOA, "you are less likely to fall prey to somebody else’s vision for what you should be or where you should go."

Something else students can take from the application process, Simons notes, relates to how busy the process makes them. High schoolers already have their studies, personal relationships and possibly jobs to worry about. The application process requires them to find schools that interest them, find out how to request admission and prepare application materials.

Andrew Brunn (left), a civil engineering major, works with a measurement device in the Northeastern University Civil Engineering Lab as civil engineering majors Sarah Thomas (center) and Peter Calves (right) look on.
Andrew Brunn (left), a civil engineering major, works with a measurement device in the Northeastern University Civil Engineering Lab as civil engineering majors Sarah Thomas (center) and Peter Calves (right) look on.

Simons argues that balancing responsibilities is one of the most important skills anyone can learn.

She said, "I think that you really are laying the groundwork for becoming an adult by learning how to prioritize your time."

However, Simons admits that learning time management can be very difficult for young people. So learning to ask for help when you need it is another equally important lesson. School counselors, older students, and friends and family members who have attended college can all be important resources.

But with asking for help also comes thanking people once you have received it, Simons says. A simple thing young people can learn to do is sending a letter or an email thanking those who helped them get into their school of choice.

Relationship-building like this is important outside the college application process. Simons suggests that students should make such efforts with teachers, classmates and anyone they meet. This can help them in the future as they look for jobs or continue their education.

One final lesson students can take from the application process is accepting that their control of the situation is limited, Simons says. She points out that every college and university in the United States receives hundreds, if not thousands of applications every year. Competition is fierce, so not everyone is going to get into their first or even second choice of school.

Fall leaves on trees in front of Robinson Hall at Northeastern University in November.
Fall leaves on trees in front of Robinson Hall at Northeastern University in November.

"There are many places where you could be happy," she said. "I think that is human to … feel like, ‘Oh, this is the perfect fit.’ And that happens in relationships, too. But, there’s more than one place where you could be satisfied … and that’s a good thing to know, that nothing is the only option."

Simons says that accepting defeat and learning how to move past it is probably the most important lesson of all.

I’m Pete Musto. And I’m Dorothy Gundy.

Pete Musto reported this for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

We want to hear from you. If you are a current or former college student, what did you learn from the process of applying to your school? Write to us in the Comments Section or on our Facebook page.

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Words in This Story

degreen. an official document and title that is given to someone who has successfully completed a series of classes at a college or university

graduatev. to earn a degree or diploma from a school, college, or university

applicationn. a formal and usually written request for something (such as a job, admission to a school, or a loan

specificadj. special or particular

recommendationn. the act of saying that someone or something is good and deserves to be chosen

fall prey toidm. to be harmed or affected in a bad way by (someone or something

visionn. something that you imagine

prioritizev. to organize things so that the most important thing is done or dealt with first

time managementn. the act or process of deciding how to best use one’s time

counselor(s) – n. a person who provides advice as a job

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