Contains what is hoped to be good college advice.

While the only college drama remaining for most of Ames High’s class of 2011 comprises campus visits and deciding in which school to matriculate, all you lower classes have yet to begin your college application journey. Though my process was most likely different from what most of yours will be next year and some of what follows is not in line with my personal philosophy, this should nonetheless contain somewhat helpful advice. Freshmen: Decide to take the PSAT next year. Then stop reading this article. It’s really too early for you to be thinking about college. Sophomores: If you haven’t already, befriend your counselor. Be nice to and impress your teachers next year. Take the PSAT and SAT/ACT. Please don’t take the SAT and ACT more than four times combined, and please, please, don’t take either of them more than 3 times. You’re probably not going to improve any more, and the college will look at your inordinate standardized test-taking and think you’re a fool who has to study all the time in order to perform decently–that you have no room for growth and might not be able to handle the greater workload in college. Juniors: This summer, research colleges you’re interested in ( is a pretty good resource, as is the Princeton Review’s monster book of colleges). Look objectively at your GPA and SAT/ACT score, and find two “safeties”, colleges that you’re 99.9% sure you’ll get into. For many of you high achievers, this will be ISU or UI or maybe even Northwestern or Wash-U. Find three to four “matches,” colleges in whose ranges of GPA and standardized test scores of admitted students fall your own comfortably. And find two or three “reaches,” or schools that you probably won’t get into but still want to take a shot at. Please, please don’t apply to more than eight colleges, and please, please, please don’t apply to twenty-some colleges as a few members of the current class of seniors did. For each college, you’ve got to pay the application fee (~$75), send your SAT scores ($10), and perhaps an ISU transcript ($15). That makes $100/college you apply to. Honestly, it’s not worth applying to schools that you’re not qualified for, be it the Northwestern/Wash-U level or the Ivy League level. Don’t apply if you don’t think you have a chance of being admitted. Your money would be better spent buying a 64G iPad or Burberry trenchcoat or something, and your time would be better spent making your applications to your less than or equal to eight colleges as good as possible. You might also want to do a few college visits this summer. But keep in mind that your impression will largely depend on the people you talk to and the classes you visit. Most likely you will not get a representative picture of the college, and if you visit too many, they’ll all start to blur together. And here comes the most important part. For most of you, your grades, course load, and standardized test scores will be almost indistinguishable from those of the majority of applicants to your match schools. Of course, if these weren’t high enough for that college, your application would have immediately been tossed, but realize that your GPA/SAT no longer matter. What it comes down to now are your extracurriculars and essays. It’s too late to be worrying about your extracurriculars, but definitely make yourself sound like a super-awesome, super-friendly, and super-helpful person who likes doing super-cool activities and has had a lot of super-legit life experiences. Without lying. An essay that sounds “off” or not genuine is worse than a boring one. Keep in mind that with the essay, you are trying to communicate your awesomeness, your uniqueness, and your worth to the admissions officer. You are not trying to impress him with your facility with the English language nor your knowledge of obscure vocabulary words. That being said, don’t say “tessellation” when “mosaic” would suffice, or “bifurcation” when “divergence” is adequate. The admissions officers will spend at most a minute reading your essay, and you don’t want to risk having any parts of your essay not understood by the admins since they certainly won’t be pulling out a ten-pound dictionary for you. Once you put together a draft or two, have your friends who are good at writing and your English teachers (particularly Mr. Webb and Mr. Brekke) read your essays and destroy them with harsh criticism. Take out anything that could possibly be viewed negatively by the admins and polish your essays until you’re sick of looking at them. Other thoughts…. I would recommend applying to a few schools early action. But applying early can also be a double edged sword since at certain schools, the pool or early applicants is significantly stronger than the regular pool. And again, with your reaches, don’t apply to more than three. Instead, take some time to research what the respective schools weigh more heavily in admissions (grades, athletics, music, academic competition, scientific research, leadership, or “character”), decide on which two or three have admissions policies most in your favor, and make your applications as good as possible. Juniors, you’ve got a delightful journey ahead of you. Because nothing can beat the mixed sense of accomplishment, pride, and utter fatigue you’ll feel after you finish all of your apps. Well, maybe the fierce joy you’ll experience after you savagely tear to shreds, burn over a bunsen burner, or dissolve in a solution of 2 molar H 2 SO 4 your umpteenth rejection letter (seriously, don’t apply to more than eight colleges…I only did five). Enjoy!