Sixth Formers balance college applications and workload

Sixth Form College – Ethan Chan ’23 on CommonApp website in college counseling office – Jingyuan Chen ’23

At the apex of a four-year-long journey, the Sixth Form is now in the most strenuous period of their high school career: the college application season. From studying assignments, and standardized tests, creating college lists, and writing supplemental essays, the collective effort of many students amounts to a sea of confetti waiting to explode on the Common Application website. While most of the work is seemingly compacted in the space of several months, the application process for many starts well before then.

“It has been an interesting process so far. Visiting [colleges] over the summer has been fun; and I was able to get a feel for the campus and what could be,” Sixth Former Neil Sawhney said. “It definitely helped when I visited schools to narrow down my list.” 

A whirlwind of extra-curricular activities, work, some fun, and college visits, the summer before a graduation year is critical for rising Sixth Formers to gauge the environment of where they want to be for the next four years.

“I really loved the atmosphere of Boston and the energy it brought. There is a nice balance between college life and things to do in the city,” Sixth Former Dylan Kao said.

Similarly, this time off serves as an important step for the college counseling office to begin organizing the process on their side.

I remember spending many nights of the week before staying up until 3-4 a.m. working on college essays after finishing homework.

Dylan kao ’23

“We set internal deadlines for students to send essays and we tried to frontload other stuff in late spring and early summer last school year,” Senior Associate Director of College Counseling Ms. Heather Stinson said.

Come fall, students are well versed in the application process and ready to take on juggling the acts of balancing classes, college application work, and more. Still, the inherent nature of college applications remains the same and students take on even more pressure.

“Applications have been stressful as I have already applied to fourteen [early action] schools, and many of them have multiple supplemental essays,” Sixth Former Dylan Kao said. “Even though I started writing my essays mid-September, I still didn’t get most of them done until the end of October; I wrote a total of around 20 unique essays.”

The early action option in the college application process allows students to apply to schools they like earlier in the admissions cycle and subsequently get an earlier decision back. For those set on a dream school, the early decision option is a substantial commitment financially and in terms of preparation.

“I know that I wanted to go into something that combined engineering and biology [or] medicine so applying as a biomedical engineering major to [Johns Hopkins University] in the early decision round was a fit for me,” Sixth Former Megh Tank said. “My early decision application is especially important to me and crafting an essay that shows that you are 100% committed is challenging to say the least.”

This past week, the early action and decision deadline, on November 1, was a hectic period in preparation for submitting applications.

“I remember spending many nights of the week before staying up until 3-4 a.m. working on college essays after finishing homework. I worked on my final essays from October 31st at around 10 p.m. until 7 a.m. on November 1 to finish drafts, and sent them to my college counselor to get feedback before submitting them,” Kao said.

Tank echoed a similar sentiment.

“Late nights have been spent revising my essays while finding time to study for tests, do homework, and prepare for projects. For colleges that ask for more than one essay, it has been stressful to find the best way to present your thoughts and feelings regarding the school,” Tank said.

Exacerbating the already induced stress, school work has not slowed down.

“Balance is give-and-take. On nights that you have lots of homework, you simply don’t have the energy to write essays. On weekends and the rare occasion that you don’t have a lot of homework, you work strictly on college essays,” Kao said. “One of the key points of stress for me was trying to balance both getting the highest quarter grade I could while simultaneously writing a plethora of essays.”

Despite the imbalance, Sixth Formers continue to find ways of managing their workload across multiple facets.

That [the new schedule] has enabled us to build that rapport with you all as students to an even greater degree

Ms. heather stinson

“Two days before the deadline I sat down and completed all my applications that would be due on November 1. This was before I had a meeting with my college counselor, so I was able to get last-minute feedback on my essays before I submitted them,” Sawhney said.

In the midst of the constant writing, revision, and work, the new schedule and slowdown of COVID-19 have helped mitigate the stress of the application process and strengthen connections with peers.

“That [the new schedule] has enabled us to build that rapport with you all as students to an even greater degree, which is even more helpful in getting to know you better,” Ms. Stinson said. “We get to see who’s on sports teams, doing art, in the play, and more, which is wonderful.”

For students, the new schedule has been instrumental in finding an equilibrium.

“This year has personally been less stressful than last year, as the gaps in between class days give you time to do work and focus on other classes, which for me have reduced the effects of burnout,” Kao said. 

For the first time in three years since 2019, college representatives have been able to be on campus, giving students the opportunity to learn more about each respective college.

“It’s been great to have college representatives back on campus which has energized us [college counselors] and given you guys the opportunity to meet with some of our colleagues face to face,” Ms. Stinson said, “we’ve had over 50 to 60 visitors on campus this year so far which has been really nice.”

Throughout this process, Sixth Formers have learned about themselves and their future aspirations in higher education and beyond.

“Although it [University of Wisconsin-Madison] was toward the bottom of my list initially, it was very interesting to write. I first began with a story on two of my interests, and connected them to an activity at Wisconsin-Madison,” Kao said. “I then talked about my intended major and my future goals and then listed classes and professors that I believed would contribute to my success within my major and future goals. Writing Wisconsin-Madison’s essay and learning more about their school made me realize how much I liked their institution and how well I would fit in.”

With the early deadline in the past, Sixth Formers look to carry their momentum and lessons learned into the final stretch.

“My next step is to complete regular-decision applications and the essays associated with them. I know that ED [early-decision] decisions come out in the middle of December,” Tank said. “So I will probably do a lot of essays over Thanksgiving break.”

Author: Ethan Chan '23

Ethan Chan has contributed to The Index since September 2020. He currently serves as a Senior Managing Editor. He previously served as Neighborhood Editor. His arts section piece "Donda: A spiritual awakening" was recognized by the Scholastic Arts and Writing Awards.