Getting In Without Freaking Out


By Kian Kiasaleh | A & E Editor     &    Claudia Pacheco | Editor in Chief

You spot them trudging through the hallways, uneasy and exhausted. You catch of glimpse of them grasping onto their coffees as their only source of life support. You might even witness one of them break down in class.

They are first-semester seniors…at least the ones who have waited until the last minute to start college applications. The resounding pressure of juggling the application process with a rigorous workload inside and outside of school can be daunting. The following chronological guide is designed to clarify the entire college admissions process and help you get in without freaking out.

June – August: Planning Ahead

Personal Essays

Senior Jake Seifert steadily wrote his essays over summer, even though he originally planned to wait until the last minute to finish them. After choosing to rip off the college application Band-Aid early, Seifert confessed to Triton Times, “I honestly can’t imagine having to write these essays now.” To incoming seniors next year, Seifert advises, “Take the time to plan what sets you apart from everyone else. Don’t treat it like an on-demand essay!”

In approaching your personal responses, do not rush into writing. Take your time to look at yourself from an outsider perspective. Do not block your self-reflection by shaping yourself into what you think colleges want you to be. Focus rather on yourself, and do not compare yourself to others.

Make a timeline of the most impactful moments of your life. Ask your closest friends and family to list some of your best qualities, and write down examples that prove that quality. Keep a journal or word document and record any memorable experiences that have defined you. One of these could potentially serve as a memorable opening anecdote for an essay. In short – taking your sweet time to plan will result in a more thoughtful and unique essay in the end.

Letters of Recommendation

Most private colleges require two teacher letters of recommendation and one from a counselor. A teacher or counselor cannot write a thorough representation of you, however, until you give them a resume and a written summary of everything “you.” On Schoolloop, teachers and counselors have linked the questions that you must thoughtfully answer for them as a “Letter of Recommendation Request.” Write your Recommendation Requests over summer, as they are not difficult but take much time and thought to complete.

We caught up with Senior Paul Castellana, who is in the process of applying to Stanford, Princeton, and more top tier private schools. Castellana laments, “I still have not started my teacher recommendation requests, and I don’t know how I’m going to write them this weekend on top of homework. I honestly should have knocked them out over the summer.”

Also, if you finish your Recommendation Requests early means, you can turn them into your teachers and counselor early. By the middle of October, teachers and counselors already swim in Recommendation Requests, so by giving them extra time, you can ensure that they will not have to rush. This will allow them to write you a more thorough Letter of Recommendation.

September – December: The Heavy Lifting

Narrowing Down Your Selection

You may have come across a university that seems to be a perfect match: it checks all the boxes and you feel an intrinsic connection to it. Or, you may have no idea what makes A University different from B University. The selection of your universities should be personalized, adhering to your goals and your preferences. When “shopping” for potential universities, you should make your selection based on the following criteria:

  • Majors:  If you know what you are planning to study, look for colleges with a strong program in that field. A common issue: many colleges offer many of the same courses and they all start to blur. Therefore, search for the ones that highlight their programs in that subject.

Senior Megg Sullins, an avid computer programmer, reveals that he has sights set on Harvey Mudd College. “It offers an amazing technology program,” he beamed, “I got sold when I discovered they have a program solely dedicated to anime video games.”

  •  Campus: As a freshman, you will most likely be staying on campus and the environment a college provides shapes your experience. This is where you ask yourself: How much cold weather can I handle? Am I more of a party animal or bookworm? It is important to confirm how far you are willing to leave the nest of Orange County since you will be spending most of your time at your college. Also, discover the essential personality of a campus and how that aligns with yours. Proclaimed part schools like UC Santa Barbara or the large student body of Arizona State University would be fitting for an extrovert, while an intimate liberal arts school is more ideal for an introvert.

Whether you have found “the one” or are struggling to find any, you should compile a list of ideally 10-14 schools to maximize your chance while keeping your workload to a minimum.  Those schools should have an assortment of Reach, Fit, and Safety based on the college’s selectivity and your GPA and Standardized Test Scores

  • Reach: Reach schools are your opportunities to “reach for the stars” and apply for a highly selective school with a slight change of getting accepted. This section is reserved for the Stanfords, Harvards, and Yales. Even if it seems near impossible you could get accepted, it never hurts to try. These prestigious private colleges look to diversify their campus and view applicants as more than test scores and grades. Having a 2400 and 4.0 can certainly help, but if you don’t, there is a chance that a university is looking for a student who started a certain club or a student with a unique perspective and powerful story expressed in their personal statement.

“My entire family was shocked when my older brother got accepted to Columbia because his test scores were not that high,” Senior Sienna Smith giggled, “I guess they saw something special in him.”

  • Match: Match schools provide some practicality to your college list. When searching for college, find schools where your grades and test scores fall within the range of their requirement.
  • Safety: When all else fails, you have your safety net of universities to catch you and make sure you end up at some universities. Even if these colleges are not your first choice, take the time to choose a few universities that are less than competitive but still desirable to you. Another option if you do not accepted to your universities is to enroll in Saddleback, gain your basic credits, and then transfer to a university of your choice.

“I’m getting up on that Saddleback Honor Roll and then transferring to UCLA,” Senior Brandon Collins smirked, “It will definitely save me a lot of money.

See: Cappex, College About

The California State University System (CSU) –

Schools: Cal State, Long Beach; Cal State, Fullerton; Cal Poly Slo; Cal Poly Pomona, etc.

Application Deadline: October 1st – November 1st

This public state university system is popular among many SCHS graduates. CSU adheres to an eligibility index when admitting students, meaning you have to meet a certain requirements for their schools. The CSUs, it all comes down to numbers. You need to meet the high school A-G requirements, but are not required to write any essays or send any Letters of Recommendations

CSU Eligibility index

For regular admission, you must have a 2.0 GPA or higher. If your GPA stands higher than a 2. ( 0, but lower than a 3.0, then your SAT/ACT score must be high enough to the ratio of the index. Keep in mind that your SAT score is comprised of only the Math and Critical Reading sections. CSUs do no look at your Writing score. For example, if you are applying with a 2.01 GPA, you must have a 30 on the ACT or 1300 on the SAT (Math + Critical Reading only) for consideration. If you’re applying with a 2.99 GPA, you only need a 10 on the ACT or 510 on the SAT. CSUs have a give-take mentality when admitting students that can play to your advantage.

The University of California System (UC) –

Application Deadline: November 1st – November 30th

Requirements: The UC schools, spanning across California, range in selectivity as UC Berkeley and UC Los Angeles are more difficult to get accepted into, while UC Merced and UC Santa Cruz are more attainable. Therefore, the more competitive UC schools require a higher GPA and test scores than the less competitive UC schools. All of them, however, require two personal statements responding to 2 out of the 6 prompts they provide each year.

Private Schools –

Application Deadline: Varies upon school, typically ranges from December to January

Private schools or universities outside of California will likely be under the Common App or on the university’s personal website. Other than submitting one personal statement, the requirements vary upon the school, which will usually provide supplemental essays that will ask why you are interested in the school. These essays are more manageable than the personal statement but it is best to figure out everything you need to write so that you are not overwhelmed.

For any university, send your transcripts through a site such as a, and submit AP test scores through

With your applications sealed, signed, and delivered, you can finally take a sigh of relief.

And now you wait …

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