ST. ALBANS — High school students begin to prepare for post secondary education as early as the spring semester of junior year. From that point on, students have to constantly meet deadlines, sitting down for the SATs, submitting college applications and applying for scholarships, up until graduation.
For some, applying to college is the most stressful time in their lives. If they had the authority, some aspects of the application process would be thrown out the window. And for others, nothing easy is ever worth getting.
While Taylor Devaney, 17, of Missisquoi Valley Union High School began touring colleges at the end of her junior year, her classmate, Peyton McAllister waited until the fall of his senior year to start the ball rolling.
“I was really behind the ball with this,” McAllister said. “My parents didn’t really know anything about it cause I’m the oldest and my mom went to college for three years, but it was quite a while ago so things have obviously changed since then.”
“I started fall of my senior year, really actually starting to look at colleges and just taking the SAT for the first time,” he said.
“My guidelines were very, very open,” McAllister continued. “Anything that had a track and field program and a strong engineering program was open for me. So I applied to the University of Aberdeen in Scotland and Gonzaga University in Washington and a bunch of others… I was ready to get out and see the world.”
“I was looking around here,” Devaney said. “I didn’t want to go far away for college… I like where we live and I wanted to stay here near my family.”
“I think going on college tours is really helpful, seeing the campus,” she said, “cause then you can go from there if you like the environment. Doing research online helps and asking people who you know go there if they like it or not helps.”
“Just going with your heart and feeling like it’s a place you could fit in well,” Devaney said, was her advice for choosing a school out of the thousands available. She went on four college tours and applied to five or six schools in total.
McAllister applied to ten colleges. “I like having a lot of options,” he said. “I don’t like narrowing down my choices early on. To me, it made sense to just be, “Oh yeah, I kind of like this school and maybe they’ll have things that’ll interest me and I’ll apply there.”
“It wasn’t something I was comfortable with doing, taking a college off my list without having visited it,” McAllister said. “Because I visited one school when applications were due at early action time. And I really had no idea where I wanted to go necessarily.” After he submitted his applications, McAllister went on to visit four more schools.
“The atmosphere is really important,” he said. “If you visit a college, you can get a pretty good feel for what the general attitude of the students and the staff is like.”
“Some places you’ll immediately click and it’s just like, ‘I can imagine spending my time here. This is a place I can be successful,’” he said. “And other schools… it’s more like you’re visiting instead of coming home.”
Large student populations and expensive tuition bills were some of the other deal breakers for Devaney during the college selection process.
“I definitely felt the most overwhelmed in the beginning of the fall,” McAllister said, “when school had just started and I made hardly any progress on my application. Everybody else was finishing their essays and I was just like, ‘Oh… Ahhh…’”
“I just remember that I would compare my progress to others and also, where they were going,” Devaney said. “I would feel bad because I wasn’t as far along. You have to go at your own pace.”
“There’s no need to rush,” she said. “That just causes stress. It’s all going to work out in the end if you do what you think its right.”
“I felt the most stressed immediately after I sent in my applications because I was very nervous that I wouldn’t get accepted anywhere,” McAllister said, laughing. “Which is an irrational fear because if you’re even a decent student, you’ll get accepted somewhere you apply to, guaranteed. It’s just that not knowing is really, really hard to do.”
Reice Branon, 17, of Bellows Free Academy, St. Albans knows this feeling all too well. Branon only applied for the civil engineering program at The University of Vermont (UVM), in order to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather.
A straight ‘A’ student in high school, Branon expected to receive an acceptance letter in the mail after applying early action. Branon said that while his SAT scores weren’t the best, he hoped his extracurricular activities, a part-time job at Champlain Valley Equipment and being on the school’s snowboarding team, would make up for them.
Instead, UVM told Branon he would have to wait until March to hear any sort of news.
“I feel like the whole application and acceptance was the biggest stress I think I have ever had,” Branon said. “I just looked at it as, ‘If I don’t accepted to a college, let alone UVM… what am I going to do?’”
“I want to do something that I really love,” he said. “My biggest fear in life is the real world. Not making enough money to get by. Not being comfortable or financially stable. That’s what I’m worried about… I want to be able to be out there on my own.”
Branon said he decided to follow up with the college and see if he was “on track” to getting accepted.
He spoke multiple times with an admissions counselor at UVM and reflecting back, Branon said it was probably those conversations and persistence that lead to him being accepted in March.
When he told his guidance counselor about the acceptance, she said with his attitude and persistence, he would have “no problem being successful in life.”
When asked if he would have made any aspect of the college application process easier, Branon couldn’t think of anything.
“I don’t know if I would get rid of anything because if it wasn’t for that, I don’t know how determined I would be towards my future,” he said. “If it was all given to me, if I didn’t have to work for it, I wouldn’t know how precious it actually is.”
Devaney said she was most stressed while trying to make her applications perfect, dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s. She felt that if a comma was out of place, she might not get accepted somewhere.
“But I don’t think it has to be perfect,” she said. “They can tell if you’re a good student regardless.”
“I think it’s more important that your personality comes across through your application than being this perfect student,” McAllister agreed.
Both students agreed that the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASFA) was the worst aspect of the college application process, describing it as “next level confusing.”
It requires families to submit tax forms months ahead of schedule and according to Devaney and McAllister, the amount in loans and grants they received were hardly worth the trouble.
“I wish I had known that your extra curricular activities matter more than say your grades necessarily do,” McAllister said, listing another tip that would have been helpful at the start of the college process.
“I was not the greatest of students,” he said. “I had a hard time being dedicated to things I wasn’t interested in. But I have really good extracurriculars because I would do things outside of school that would further my passion or my education,” such as participating in the Governor’s Institute of Vermont for engineering.
In the end, it was the opportunity to continue participating in one of these activities that swayed McAllister toward one particular school. Putting down a deposit after checking out the track and field team at University of Rhode Island was the highlight of the entire college application process, he said.
“I am doing a five-year program,” he said. “So I’ll graduate with two bachelor’s degrees: one in German and one in mechanical engineering.”
“I get to spend a year abroad with a semester studying in a German university and a semester of internship at BMW or Volkswagen,” McAllister said.
He continued, “I’m definitely going to Europe after I graduate so I figured why not learn a language that could be applicable, especially if I want to get a job over there as a mechanical engineer being that Germany is one of the most engineering technologically oriented countries in the world.”
For Devaney, getting accepted into one of her top choices and realizing it was affordable was the best part of the whole process.
“I’m going to major in environmental science at Colby Sawyer,” Devaney said. “I just really like the environment, love spending time outside. I want to protect it and learn about what makes it work.”
Both students said they are excited to meet people who share similar interests and start the next chapter.