I Applied to 22 Colleges. Here’s What I Learned

Sean Wu // The Watchdog

I started my college application process in late July of 2022 when I took part in Brown University’s Pre-College Program. Rather than enrolling in a more creative and unique course, I decided to take “Writing for College Admissions” — an interesting and informative class, but one that commenced the start of my ten-month-long process filled with stressful, sleepless nights. I had a tremendous amount of help throughout this journey, from counselors, mentors and the occasional stressed sibling busy with their own college work. However, there were certainly times it felt lonely, anxiety-inducing and, worst of all, impossible. When you aren’t a legacy, are a very sharp spike student and are coming in with only one AP class from your sophomore year of high school before doing dual enrollment full-time, it felt like I was grass trying to grow between two slabs of concrete on a sidewalk — constantly being stepped on by kids with better essays, higher test scores and more counselors. However, that is not to say I have not matured, learned and grown into a better writer because of this process. I applied to 22 colleges, and my first piece of advice is: don’t. 

Narrow Your List

When individuals ask me how many schools I applied to, I feel the need to immediately follow up my large response of 22 with reassuring them that they were not all T-20 schools. I applied to roughly seven safeties, five reaches and ten far reaches. Each school I did a tremendous amount of research on, but even with all of the documents I made with bullet point after bullet point, it still felt like I did not know enough. So yes, my applications reached a maximum of 22 schools (resulting in a total of 27 supplements), but I do greatly wish I narrowed my list down. 

At least a small part of me liked some aspect about each of the schools I applied to — financial security, alumni network, location, student body, clubs and extracurriculars, research opportunities, open curriculum — but there were some I believe I could have crossed out for the sake of my sanity in this process. It is for this reason that I wish I started earlier, which would have given me more time to thoughtfully reflect on if I could truly see myself successful at some of these institutions.

Start Earlier

Though I would like to say I started my college process the soonest I could have, I still wish I started earlier. Now, this does not look like writing tens of drafts of my personal statement before my junior year — though, for some, it very well could be — but instead determining my without-a-doubt needs of a school and what I desire to get out of my future college experience, then researching schools based on these first factors. This research then leads on into more information on specific likes and dislikes, which can make choosing what schools to apply to easier, and therefore, it would have lessened the massive amount of supplements in my near future. Start earlier, but not at the expense of happiness or good opportunities, because I believe one should still enjoy their youth while finding excitement and joy about their future path.   

Don’t Fall in Love

I made the biggest mistake thousands of other seniors do: I fell in love with a school. Wholeheartedly and utterly in love and obsessed to a point where my YouTube recommended was only “Day-in-My-Life” videos of this school. I dreamed about walking the campus, saying hello to the professors I had researched through the school’s faculty page and joining the clubs whose names I stared at on a Google Spreadsheet. I loved the school so much I applied to them through Early Decision (ED). I was deferred to Regular Decision (RD), and unfortunately, I was then rejected. I still think about this institution; its architecture, values and student body invade my thoughts at random times. I recall how happy and terrified I was when I realized just how much I adored this university. My love that brought me to tears made tears of sadness follow suit as I realized just how crazy it is to have such a difficult school to get into as my dream university. I believe that is why I subconsciously considered it more of a dream than a goal — though, that doesn’t stop me from romanticizing the possibility of going to graduate school there. 

My advice for this section is as follows: perhaps “don’t fall in love” is a bit harsh, so instead, I recommend to fall in love with many schools — not just one. Don’t search for reasons to not love a school, just search for reasons to love others as well. It is like the saying that you cannot stop loving someone [some school], but instead, you can only start to love others more. Perhaps this love, this passion, will turn out differently for you and I, and your drive will carry you to the place of your goals.

It May Not Make Sense, and That’s OK

The realization that it may not make sense may set you free from the confides of worry, anxiety and fear. It takes strength to actively choose to think “everything happens for a reason,” and perhaps that is the best way humans can survive hard decisions. It may not make sense to you, or to those around you (and it is quite easy to fall susceptible to judgments), but know that that is OK. I strongly dislike being told to look for the positives in poor situations, but I find comfort in the fact that it is OK if things are not OK right now — that does not mean things will not be OK later.

Prestige Is a Problem

Throughout my college application process, I have come across many individuals from all around the world, from different socioeconomic backgrounds, with different beliefs and all encompassing different perspectives. From strangers on the internet to people in school, one thing so many students care about today is prestige. Thanks to a more intimidating workforce world and with the help of colleges feeding into the pressure of lower admission rates, students tend to fall under the belief that they will not succeed unless they attend a university with a 20 percent or less acceptance rate. It does not help that schools are starting to admit more through ED, so their rates drop for RD admissions; that they overenrolled during COVID so they under-enroll now; or that they have lucrative ways that get prospective students out of their price range to apply just so they can unfortunately be rejected or have to decline because of financial aid, which then lowers the school’s acceptance rate. Students cannot help the rate of college admissions, but we can change our perspective on the process.

What you do at a college is more important than where you go. Being accepted into a college, no matter the admissions rate, is a huge success in and of itself — unfortunately, many students forget this or fail to realize it in the first place. There are students breaking years of lacking college education in their families by being a first-generation student at university. I completely understand the benefits that come from an Ivy or another T-20 school, from its alumni network to prospective job opportunities, and I understand it is easy to fall for the falsity of the American Dream that if you work hard enough, you are sure to get your dreams. However, where you attend does not undermine the talents you possess and ones you’ve yet to discover. It only takes one person to believe in what you can possibly achieve, and that person is you. I have seen failure as a better route than regret — regret is the failure to realize you can learn from your past.


There are lots of things I would have done differently during this process given the chance. I wish I wrote some supplements earlier so I could have submitted them to my dream school; I wish I focused on the positives of my everyday life more; I wish I did not forget that I am only 18 and that my life is not over because of a disappointing outcome; I wish I paid closer attention to deadlines so I wouldn’t have had to pay the price later; I wish I watched the leaves of my backyard’s trees change colors; I wish I did not minimize the importance of valuing the activities that brought me joy; I wish I made more matcha lattes instead of coffee; I wish I journaled more, not so I can go back and read about how stressed I was, but to let my thoughts be acknowledged and seem less intimidating; I wish I remembered that Joan Diddion did not get accepted into her dream school; and I wish I saw possibility in every redirection. Your future self matters, but please, do not forget about the wellbeing of your present self. Future applicants, I wish you luck and love, and while it is important to prepare for your future, remember to live in the present.