Navigate the College Application Process

Posted: November 6, 2015

If you have a high school senior in your family, you know that thoughts of Thanksgiving also bring with them worries about the college application process. While it can feel somewhat stressful to worry about applications, transcripts, test scores and essays, this is actually a great time for seniors. You get to complete your high school experience and look forward to the next stage of your life, as you prepare for college and all of the opportunities it holds for you.

To help manage the stress, we’re breaking down the process into four stages for you:

Explore – if you haven’t completed college visits yet, hit the road! Whether you are going a few towns over or several states away, go visit the schools you are interested in. Remember, you have to live and work there for four years (and hopefully only four years), so you need to find a school where you can thrive and do well. Yes, college should stretch your boundaries a bit and help you think more broadly, but you have to also be happy there. Visiting campuses is an important part of this – even if you have family who went there before you. If you are interested in Penn State, you can visit any of our Commonwealth Campuses and come spend time with the Undergraduate Education team in the College of Agricultural Sciences at University Park. Seniors, this is your college experience, so get out there and learn about the schools, majors and opportunities that are ahead. You need to make an informed decision about your future and you can’t do that sitting at home.

Worry (about a major) Later – It may seem like you have to know right now exactly what you want to do with your life, but you don’t. At Penn State, you don’t officially enter into your major until spring of your sophomore year, so you have some time. Investigate a few different majors if you are having a hard time making a decision. Meet with advisors while you are applying and, once you get to your institution of higher learning, use classes and student organizations/clubs to learn more about areas you are interested in. It’s great to know what you want to study, but remember that you aren’t alone if you aren’t sure – 80% of students don’t know what they want to major in when they apply to college. Find a school you like and an academic home you are interested in (the College of Agricultural Sciences at Penn State, for example) and start your journey there. You will find new topics/interests you never knew about and want to explore, along with figuring out some things you definitely don’t want to do for a living – which is all part of the journey!

Apply – It’s a good rule of thumb to apply by Thanksgiving, but if you are still exploring you have some time. Check with the schools you are interested in to see when their applications close. For Penn State, you can visit for details (and to apply). Also be sure to apply for financial aid and scholarships. For the College of Agricultural Sciences at Penn State, all of our admitted students are able to apply for scholarships. Check out under the “Current Students” tab to find the application - we typically post the application in late February and it is open until April 30. Never miss an opportunity to receive scholarships; always apply!

Engage – Applying is just the first step. You can always go back for a second visit after you apply to a college, and many schools will host Accepted Student Programs or similar events for their future students. You will also have New Student Orientation sessions to meet advisors, visit residence halls, set your schedule and get ready to make the transition to college. Take full advantage of these opportunities! As you start your collegiate career, be sure to go to the open houses, information fairs and club/organization fairs that are offered on campus. The more you engage, the more you can take full advantage of what college will offer you.

Yes, senior year brings with it many emotions – but by managing the college application process you can keep the stress at bay and look forward to completing your high school years and taking that next step toward your future success. For more information on applying to Penn  State’s College of Agricultural Sciences contact Jean Lonie


(Contributed by Leon J. Ressler, District 17 Director as part of his Now Is The Time Column for November  7, 2015.)