College Admissions High School High School Life TSS

The Road I am Taking to College Admissions: September

The second edition of the background, beginner's advice, and blogs of a TSS high school writer applying to college through the QuestBridge National College Match and Common App.

Welcome back to the second edition of my college admissions process blogs!

Last month, I applied to 2 Fly-Ins, brainstormed essay topics, informally researched colleges, and took the August SAT.

My September Update:

Although I aimed to apply to 3 Fly-Ins, I only applied to 2: University of Pennsylvania (PEEP) and Columbia University (CE² for Engineering) – the deadlines snuck up on me too soon. The rejection e-mail for PEEP arrived around mid-September, but the admissions office did offer a fee-waiver for their application because of my interest (I was looking forward to visiting their energy research program labs).

CE² surprised me with a “congratulations” in my inbox recently, so I will be visiting in October!

I attended a local College Fair and a Scholarship Fair. It proved as a great opportunity to ask representatives what they’re looking for in students and what options are available academically, financially, socially, etc. The Scholarship Fair was an event with multiple speakers who encouraged students not to give up on a college education because of cost – “if there is a will, there is a way.”

Additionally, I applied to the Colorado School of Mines with their Selected Candidate application, my state public university, and a local scholarship for full tuition at a state university (gotta have a backup plan).

A large part of my work involved Recommendation Letters.

grass grassland
Starting Line. Photo by Fabricio Trujillo on

My Advice Regarding Recommendation Letters:

Who to Ask:

Overall, schools will ask for 2 recommendation letters from core subject classes like English, History, Geometry, or Physics. STEM schools will require that at least one is from a Math or Science teacher, and the other be a humanities teacher (English and Social Studies). This is to show your well-roundedness to admissions officers. Even if you do not consider yourself well-rounded or your grades in that teacher’s class are not stunning, do consider those teachers who witnessed your vulnerability. Perhaps they can attest to your hard-working character or curiosity or hardships or intellectual or social growth.

woman writing in white board
Photo by on

For instance, I asked my AP Language & Composition teacher and AP Chemistry teacher from junior year. Both could attest to my growth in their classes and outside of school. I was involved in clubs they sponsored, and I knew I learned fundamental concepts and practices in their class that I apply to daily life. Although my Chemistry grade stands the lowest on my transcript, I was very proud of the analytical perspective and confidence I gained in the classroom through labs. Similarly, I enjoyed my English class so much that I became a Student Scientist writer! In summary, the teachers you should ask are ones you’ve had conversations with at least in the hall if not outside of school hours. They should become part of your network as people you trust!

When to Ask:

Ideally, ask at least three weeks before the deadline! Teachers are already overburdened by paperwork – especially AP teachers who are trying their best to improve their curriculum for their students.

Photo by Pixabay on

Peek in their class throughout the school day or before/after so that you can ask in person – commendably. However, if the teacher is not available in their classroom (mine moved to a different school), shoot them a timely e-mail.

Include all of the deadlines in your communication! Throughout, check up on them weekly and kindly. One student even brought in a small delicacy each week up until the deadline to show appreciation and to remind their teacher! Of course, that is not necessary at all, but if that’s the kind of relationship you have with your teachers – by all means, fatten them up!

How to Ask:

First, write a letter or prepare a little blurb asking if they are willing to write you a strong letter of recommendation and if it is a convenient time for you to ask for one from them. This shows your consideration of your teachers’ time (asking on time also shows you value their time!) and it helps remind them not to overburden themselves (a.k.a. miss the deadline). In it also include the deadline, colleges you plan on applying to, a short reason about why you chose them, and your academic interest (i.e. engineering, medicine, philosophy).

If ‘Yes,’ express thanks and let them know that you will be in contact with them soon with more information.

If ‘No,’ still express thanks and understanding, and move down the list of potential teachers. [I bet you didn’t learn all about life in your sophomore Algebra 2 class – you will be fine asking another teacher who may have taught you less apparent things. Be creative and reflective! Maybe you still use a teacher’s phonetic device in Trigonometry or maybe you are reminded of their story about their weird neighbor every time you encounter word problems.]

man wearing white top in front of woman wearing blue long sleeved top
Photo by Christina Morillo on

Next, send a more formal letter about your experience in their classroom or, as some teachers prefer, set up an interview to voice your prepared reflection. The letter of recommendation is an extension to your application. Treat it like one! If you would like your teacher to emphasize certain honors, challenges, or qualities – communicate it to her/him. If you have quantitatively large amounts of activities/qualities/challenges that you would like to show colleges, this letter is a great place to emphasize the involvement you would like your teacher to focus on (a.k.a introduce to the admission officers for you).  Talk about how their class nurtured you into a better person! If you used Chemistry for an internship you held over the summer-talk about that. Teachers, especially these, will LOVE to hear what you are doing with the knowledge they provided you. They get to brag off of you too!

Lastly, express large gratitude. They are playing a very important role in admittance to your dream school. Offer your help and availability, and do stop by their classroom to check up on how they are doing.

How to Thank Your Teacher:

After they have submitted, hand-write a thank-you note/letter and deliver or mail it to them. I personally like to include a chocolate treat (or coffee for the teacher who adores coffee!), although I know of many who include gift-cards instead.

Keep them in the loop! Again: teachers LOVE to hear that students are applying knowledge from their class. Share sadness when you are rejected and celebrate with them when you are accepted. You are an intellectual rock-star, and they are your #1 fan. Treat them well!

thank you heart text
Photo by Řaj Vaishnaw on

But the greatest achievement lies in

submitting the National College Match

application one day before the deadline.

The Background Information of my application was already filled in from being a College Prep Scholar, but I decided to scrap my old essays and started on new ones.

In two weeks, I cranked out two new essays as well as short answer responses to questions like “If you could talk to a historical figure or book character, who would it be and what would you ask them?” and “What are you most proud of?”

Let me add my voice to the thousands out there advising you to start early! It was not enjoyable living on 4 hours of sleep every night and being 7 assignments behind in Calculus just because your college admissions process is underway. Do not let your grades and health suffer because of this pivotal moment – plan for it!

As a result, I considered responding with “submitting the application” for what are you most proud of (spoiler: I did not).

As for my style of response: I chose creative. Rarely did I respond straightforward; I instead provided descriptions of little snippets of my life according to the theme of the questions- yes, even in those 35-word-count text boxes. I chose to make the application process fun for me to proofread 456,892,374 times. Will the admissions officers appreciate my display of my true-self? I don’t know – stay tuned to find out!

analysis blackboard board bubble
Photo by Pixabay on

With Halloween approaching and the results in the next month or so, I’m spooked for sure.

October will be for ranking colleges for the NCM, filing FAFSA, visiting Columbia University for CE² and Purdue University for a women in engineering event, taking the Subject Tests, and applying to scholarships!

Also, did I mention countdown to the start of my local CS program for girls is T-32?


Selected Candidate application/Priority applications – invitations offered to students to apply quickly without submitting essays, applications fees, and receiving quick scholarship notifications based on your current merit; actually is a popular recruitment tool among colleges with the aim of increasing the applicant pool in order to increase their Selectivity on national rankings.

ranking colleges – a step in the QuestBridge National College Match process that allows students to rank 1-12 colleges from their partner list for the chance of receiving a full scholarship for topmost ranked school of the student.

FAFSA – free application for Federal Student Aid that opens October 1 and closes in March/April; scholarships are need-based and somewhat first-come first-serve.

1 comment on “The Road I am Taking to College Admissions: September

  1. Pingback: The Road I am Taking to College Admissions: October – The Student Scientist

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