The Road to College Admissions: Follow My Journey Step by Step

John Fulton is a high school senior applying to college. He is the oldest of two boys living in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. When you are the first kid in your family to apply to college and you don't have as much individualized guidance from your high school, you must embrace the process and learn as much as you can. That's what John is doing (with a little help from Sara along the way). The power of John's perspective and blog series is that so many of us can relate to not knowing what to expect from this process until it's done. John shares openly in the most self-effacing way the ups, the downs, and the silver lining of applying to college as an American teenager.

This fall, like millions of other students my age, I will begin the much-talked-about college application process, commonly viewed as a dream-maker or dream-breaker. Some people have had one college in mind since childhood and already have their ambitious career goals set in stone. I, on the other hand, have no idea where I want to go, let alone what I want to do with my life. While that cluelessness can be scary, I’ve found that it can also be quite freeing and exciting. There will undoubtedly be some lows in the next year (that dreaded rejection letter), but I know that there will also be some mountainous highs. I can’t wait for the many surprises and discoveries that will come throughout this process, and I’m thrilled to be able to share them along the way! 

As stressful as high school can be, it’s been a really positive experience for me. I went from a small, private school to a large, public high school. Although I was scared at first (as everyone knows, change can be difficult), switching schools was the best decision I’ve ever made. My class size jumped from 40 to 800, and I was exposed to a diverse array of students and cultural benefits that I had never experienced before. I’m fortunate to be a part of the school’s International Baccalaureate program, which has helped to prepare me for college through challenging classes and a demanding workload. I’m learning from Sara Harberson, Admissions Revolution’s founder, that the IB program is well-respected among colleges in the US and abroad.

I run cross-country and track, swim, sing for the school’s vocal ensemble and chamber choir, am a member of the ski club, and even auditioned for and received a part in the school’s musical this year (I was a villager in Beauty and the Beast, if you’re curious). But I often wonder is this enough? Have I left my mark? How should I present this information in my applications? Sara assures me that it’s not about how many things I do; it’s about the depth of each commitment.

While I’ve been able to take full advantage of my school’s offerings, academic and otherwise, there are some challenges to attending a large school. Like many large schools, each guidance counselor is assigned to several hundred students. As a result, I’ve had to take my college search process largely into my own hands. I’ve done a great deal of research online and chosen several schools to visit with my parents. 

Along the way, I’ve learned a lot. For instance, I can’t solely visit elite schools with acceptance rates in the Marianas Trench. I’m not a celebrity, an Olympic athlete, or the child of the president (I’m looking at you, Malia). I competed in the Scripps National Spelling Bee in seventh grade, but sadly middle school accomplishments are of no interest to a college admissions officer. So even though my grades are good, applying only to the Ivy Leagues or schools of that caliber is simply not realistic. I’ve realized that while I should certainly stretch myself, it’s also important to apply to some schools that are more within reach. 

I’ll be chronicling my experience over the coming year. It is my hope that by sharing my story, other students will be better prepared and more excited about this process.

I’m eager for this fall when I can finally put my nose to the grindstone and start sending in my applications. This process promises to be an undeniably winding road, but I know that there’s a huge pot of gold waiting for me at the end of the journey. I hope you’ll join me!