College Scholarship Search College Search Career Exploration College Admissions Articles Financial Aid and Student Loan Calculators Compare Student Loans

Greg Salter

Senior, Barrington High School (Barrington, IL)

Fun Fact about Greg: It is his life goal to watch a Major League Baseball game in every stadium

Could I Have Done Things Differently? 

April 17, 2006 Well, it's over. Four years of studying for school and for standardized tests. Four years of participating in extracurricular activities. Four years thinking about how it was all worth it to get accepted to college.

Now that everyone at my school has found out what schools they've been accepted to, I've seen a common train of thought running through people's minds, including my own: "Was it worth it? Did I make the best of high school? Could I have done anything differently and wound up with the same results?" After spending four days at Notre Dame a few weeks ago, I know everything I did was worth it. But did I make the best of high school? Definitely not. And could I have done things differently and still be on my way to South Bend? Without a doubt.

Don't get me wrong, I am glad I studied hard and was always prepared for school. What really bugs me about my high school career is how I fell into the trap set by college admissions telling me to be a "well-rounded person" and how I let that guide my choice of extracurricular activities. Other than my main extracurricular, which is being the Editor-in-Chief of my school paper (an opportunity that I love and am extremely thankful for), I think that I convinced myself to participate in things just to enhance my college resume.

I enjoyed some of the time I spent working with the student government, the math team, and the tennis team, but if I had to do it all over again I think I would have gone a different route. I heard that colleges liked to see commitment to a few activities, so after I chose those my freshman year I felt like I was stuck with them. I think that there are way too many high school students who would say that they did the same thing. I should have explored my interests more thoroughly instead of wasting fifteen hours a week during the spring on the tennis courts, and a few more hours doing other things I had lost interest in.

While there is no way to know for sure, I think that if I had decided that those clubs weren't for me and if I had moved on to try different things I would still have been accepted to Notre Dame. If I had the chance to go back and do it all over again, I would, and maybe I would have a better idea about what clubs I want to be involved once I arrive on campus at Notre Dame.

I deeply hope that there is a way to fix college admissions so there aren't so many people like me that become products of the system. Even though admissions counselors will say they want you to find a few activities that you enjoy and stick with them, there is a good chance that it might take people all four years of high school to find those clubs and organizations. I'm sure many students find that their interests change over the course of high school as well.

High schoolers waste too much time worrying about college. So once again, was it worth it? Yes, but if I could start over, I know I could make it worth it but also much more pleasurable and memorable.

An End to College Brochures 

March 15, 2006 Starting about half way through my junior year, and lasting up until last month, I came home to find countless pieces of mail from different colleges every day. Before I had any idea what kind of school I wanted to go to, I would read every piece of literature that was sent my way, but it didn't take long before I started to get tired of every college claiming to have the best opportunities and environment available for me.

Soon schools found out my email address and started flooding me with more and more advertisements. For me, none of the information ever really took root. Everybody claimed to have world-class faculty, small class sizes, a beautiful campus, great internship opportunities, and large amounts of financial aid. Basically, each college claimed to be the best. Of course there were also the extremely prestigious colleges (like Harvard) that would lie and say I was the type of student they were looking for even though I stood about an iceberg's chance in hell of being accepted.

It was for this reason that when I actually got around to starting my college search, I took the initiative to do research on my own instead of trusting everything that all these universities sent me in the mail. It was through this investigation and through campus visits that I was finally able to narrow my choices down to the seven schools that I applied to.

Now, though, as I don't come home to find a pile of college mail waiting for me, I realize that this represents the end of an era in my life. At the beginning of high school, I worked hard to get to the point where colleges would start sending me those brochures. After I started receiving them, I kept working hard so I would have a better chance of gaining admission to some of those schools. Now that I've been accepted to five institutions and wait to hear from two more, I miss that same college mail that used to annoy me so much.

While I have pretty much decided where I'll be going to school next year, I still enjoy those frequent calls and brochures from the other colleges I applied to. I think it is a fitting reward that after going through three years of brutal schooling to try to get these colleges to accept me, they are now trying to get me to accept them as my home for the next four years. They'll have students and admissions counselors call me to see if I have any questions, or they'll send me extremely detailed packets of information about different programs and why they would be a great fit for me. It wouldn't hurt for them to start sending money my way, too?

In all seriousness, though, I am sad to see my college process wind down to a close. I've put so much time and effort into everything that is a part of it that it will be tough to send my deposit into one school and close out my high school life. But I guess everything has to end at some point, and for me the last chapter of my college process is coming to a close.

Out of State and Out on My Own 

February 17, 2006 The longest I've been away from home is 10 days, and honestly, the thought of leaving home for nine months next fall truly scares me.

Even so, I cannot wait to get out of here. I'm not saying that I'm eager to leave my parents behind. I'm just exciting to take control of my own life, and to live where I am the one that sets the rules. I am excited to go to school with 8,000 new people, and to live among my peers. I am excited to be able to stop frantically saying "Curfew! Curfew! Curfew!" when the parties end on late Saturday nights to chanting "Toga! Toga! Toga!" when they are just beginning early Sunday morning (Actually, I hope I'll never actually be part of a wannabe Animal House "Toga!" chant).

Countless seniors at my school are also talking about how they are thrilled to have the chance to leave town in the fall, but too many of them, in my opinion, are going to college with their high school friends. Obviously, for some people, this is unavoidable (like the 70 or so that are going to the University of Illinois). The ones that worry me, though, are those who are already planning on rooming with their high school friends.

One of my closest friends will be going to school with me next year, but we have already decided that we aren't going to be roommates. We both want the chance to 'start over', if you will, and to become part of a new environment completely different from what we had in high school.

It is going to be hard for me to only get to see my high school friends a few times a year, but I know that it's for the best that we go our separate ways. Everybody deserves the chance to enter a new world, and, for those that are going to live in dorm blocks with eight of their hometown buddies. it will be nearly impossible to differentiate college from high school.

There is a joke that one of the dorms at Illinois should really be known as the "University of Barrington" for all of the students from my town that go there to live together. I am thankful for everything that my town and my school have offered me, but, nonetheless, I am ecstatic to become part of a new city and a new institution.

Maybe when I move into my dorm there will be an awkward time where I don't know anybody and feel like I am on my own. Frankly, I would prefer being forced to put myself out there to make new friends to hanging out with people I already knew from high school.

While I am looking forward to leaving Barrington, I am trying to avoid counting down the days I have left here. Since I won't be able to see my friends every day next year, I want to make the time I have left at home count. It has taken me until my senior year to realize how precious our time in high school really is, and it is something I wish that I had discovered earlier.

Fat Envelope or No Fat Envelope? 

January 23, 2006

As the middle of December approached it became harder and harder to concentrate on anything while I waited for my Early Action letter from the University of Notre Dame to arrive. Since the school only said to expect the decision in mid-December, and didn't give a definite date, I constantly rushed home from school not knowing what to expect in the mailbox.

Every day, as I sat through my classes, I grew more and more nervous, wondering if my fate would be waiting for me when I got home. When December 15th, the date on which most of my friends were receiving their early decision results, finally approached, I assumed that I would get my decision too.

I was shaking as I drove home from school, and it probably wasn't safe for me to be on the road. Looking back now, I think it is ridiculous that a simple letter could have impacted me so much. When I at last reached my mailbox, I looked in to see that there were no big envelopes. My heart sank. I brought the mail into the house praying that my letter hadn't come yet, because, if it had, I knew it would have been a rejection. One by one I went through the envelopes, terrified that I might see the Notre Dame seal. I didn't. I still had a chance.

I decided that giving myself an ulcer from worrying wouldn't be a good way to start my winter break, so I called the Office of Admissions to ask them when they sent the letters. I was told that they were sent on the 14th, so I knew that my decision would reach my house the next day.

For some reason that Friday I wasn't quite as nervous as I had been throughout the week. I got through the early part of the day by keeping my mind distracted with other nonsense, but, when 7th and 8th period eventually came around, I couldn't think about anything beside that letter. Luckily my 8th hour teacher let me leave early so I could beat the traffic out of the parking lot (I can't imagine what I would have done having to sit in the usual 15-minute traffic jam knowing that my decision was only a mile away).

I wasn't shaking this time, but rather my nervousness was replaced with a sort of eerie calm. There was no traffic on the drive home, and I only hit green lights - I was feeling good. When I pulled up onto my driveway, I slowly got out of the car and walked to my mailbox. I took a deep breath, and I opened it - I couldn't see any large envelopes. My heart dropped again. I stuck my hand in and grabbed the stack of mail once again praying that the letter for some reason hadn't come.

As I walked up my driveway towards the house, I realized that there were a few larger pieces of mail that I hadn't noticed when I first looked. I gradually sifted through the pile, and I saw just a glimpse of the Golden Dome in the corner of an envelope. My decision was here. I waited until I got inside to look to see if the envelope was big or small, afraid of collapsing on the driveway. I sat down at the kitchen table, and moved the rest of the mail to the side. It was big.

I disregarded my cautious attitude and recklessly ripped it open, only being focused enough to see the first word in the letter - "Congratulations!" I didn't know what to do - should I have screamed or cried with joy? I sat at the kitchen table thinking about all of the hard work I had done to get to this point, and how excited I was to be able to head off to South Bend this upcoming fall.

I had done it. I was going to college.

Senioritis? Nope, but a Different Approach to Learning 

December 15, 2005

I used to find myself using college admissions as motivation to get my schoolwork done. Whenever I had an assignment that I didn't have any enthusiasm for, I'd just convince myself that doing well on it would benefit me on April 1st of my senior year.

Now that I am almost halfway into my last year of high school—a year where my grades do not matter anywhere near as much as they have in the past—I haven't been able to use the fear of not getting into one of my top college choices as a stimulus. But, not once this year have I complained about having to complete an assignment.

Maybe the fact that my courses interest me much more this year than they ever have in the past is what drives me, but I also think that something has emerged from inside of me that used to be blocked by the overwhelming pressure of trying to get the highest possible grades I could to impress college admissions officers. During my junior year especially, worrying about grades would make my stomach churn daily.

I no longer feel any stress before a big test or when writing a research paper because I know that as long as I put forth my best effort I don't need to worry about what letter grade I will receive. When studying for a test, I don't agonize over what the questions will be but rather I read to gain knowledge about what is interesting to me. I don't care anymore about writing in a style that I think my teacher will favor because, frankly, I became sick of conforming for the purpose of aiming for a higher grade.

Looking back now, I wish I would have approached my first three years of high school with a different attitude. When I was a freshman, I was too pompous in my beliefs about my own ability to take my studies seriously. I spent my sophomore and junior years trying to get grades to make up for what I had lost in the ninth grade, but that task burned me out by the time I finished finals last spring.

This year I am facing my hardest course load yet, but so far I have been rolling through it in a more comfortable fashion than I did over any of the last three years. Ironically, if I had taken the same approach since I started high school of caring about my education rather than my grades, I would probably have earned better marks and have a better chance of getting into one of my top-choice schools.

As I head off to college next fall, though, I will take with me this new attitude towards education so I can enjoy my four years of college the way I am enjoying my senior year of high school.

Whirlwind of Campus Visits 

November 15, 2005

I miss family vacations without an agenda. Over the past two and a half years, between visiting colleges for my brother and then for myself, I have gone to information sessions and tours at over 20 different universities.

I hate to say it, but after a while they all start to look and sound the same. At every information session, the admissions counselor explains that your high school transcript is the most important part of your application, insists that SAT scores do not mean everything, and throws in as many general comments about how great the school is as he or she possibly can.

Once the campus tour starts, the student tour guide either says (a) the campus is small enough that it's easy to walk from class to class or (b) the campus may seem big but it's still easy to walk from class to class. At some point the tour guide claims that dorm rooms are tiny but manageable, and that everybody gets along with their randomly assigned freshman roommate.

Luckily I was able to learn from the experience of visiting all the schools my brother was interested in, and was able to block out all of the pointless information that every college claims is unique to itself (how odd that every college I visited "has the third best food in the country").

In the past six months, I have visited ten colleges—three with my mom during spring break and seven with my dad over the summer. At each I tried to relax and just get a feel for the university instead of frantically trying to remember every piece of information that is spit out during the information session or campus tour since almost all of it can be found on the internet.

I got the best sense of what the college was really like from the schools that I visited during my spring break while all of the students were still on campus. Every tour guide talks about how amazing the student body is and how much everyone loves going to their school, but by being immersed among the students at these colleges for a day I found a true sense of what going to school there really would be like.

Unfortunately, this is going to leave me in a tough situation next April. When I decide on where I will be going next fall, I want to do it with complete confidence that I am doing what will be best for me over the next four years. My college isn't just going to be my school; it is going to be my home. While many of my peers are chiefly concerned with academics, I want to be able to go to an academically prestigious university that I can still enjoy myself at. To know that I make the right choice on May 1st, I will have to have visited each school that I am deciding between while students are present on campus.

I wouldn't say that the seven colleges that I visited over the summer with my dad were a waste since there weren't any students there. I was able to knock a few off my list based on other factors like campus appearance. Nonetheless, come April, it will be a good thing that I have a lot of frequent flier miles to use.

Online Applications Not Quite What They Are Cracked Up to Be 

October 17, 2005

The college counselors at my school said it and the admissions counselors at the colleges I visited this past summer said it too. "Online applications make the process much quicker and smoother." At first, this seems like a logical conclusion. However, when it came time to start turning in my first applications, I promptly found out that filling them out online wasn't all that it was cracked up to be.

Sure, it was simple to type in general information like my name, address, and school information using a keyboard. But unfortunately that part of the application, which is the bulk of what is submitted online, only constitutes about half (and the least important half) of what has to be sent to the college.

All of the colleges that I'm applying to want at least one recommendation from one of my teachers. Seems easy enough - I just have to hand the teachers a piece of paper and let them write me a letter, right? Nope. Completely wrong. After I spent an hour at the computer going to different school websites to print out their varying recommendation forms, I had to carefully handwrite information about myself on all of them and then make my teachers' lives easier by buying envelopes, stamps, and labels for them to mail their letters with.

I also inserted a self-addressed postcard with each recommendation so the college could mail it back to me to verify that they received the information. Let me tell you, waiting for all of those postcards to print was one of the most excruciatingly boring events in recent memory.

Of course, no application would be complete without a transcript and counselor recommendation sent by my school. I had to put together a package containing a transcript request form (so my school could legally release my grades), a resume (so my counselor had a list of my activities and accomplishments), copies of my standardized test score reports, counselor recommendation forms, course descriptions, and one of the aforementioned postcards. Seems like a lot of paper for an application that was submitted online, doesn't it?

As annoying as all of that extra work may sound, it isn't the labor that bothers me the most. The way that the system is set up, I am sending part of my application electronically, part of it through my school's guidance department, part of it from separate teachers, and part of it from the ACT and College Board. All of these items are sent from different places at different times, and I find it difficult to trust that the colleges I'm applying to will receive all of my information and put it all together.

I can only hope that the countless paper cuts and finger cramps I suffered while preparing documents and typing my applications will come through for me in the end. The worst thought of all? After all of that hard work, plus the monetary expenses of applying, some of these colleges will most likely merely send back just one sheet of paper folded into a business envelope to let me know that they cannot offer me admission. Oh boy, am I glad that this process has been as painless and trouble-free as I was told it would be.

Other Columns

RSS Feed

Column Archive