The Student News Site of Punahou School

Ka Punahou

The Student News Site of Punahou School

Ka Punahou

The Student News Site of Punahou School

Ka Punahou

Punahou Seniors’ Advice on the College Application Process

Alexander Hall houses the College Counseling department at Punahou (Image courtesy of Punahou School)

The college application process is usually accompanied by a great deal of stress and confusion for students, who may find themselves overwhelmed by the decisions ahead and the number of details they are expected to keep track of. In hopes of helping future applicants navigate the process more easily, several Punahou seniors shared their experiences with Ka Punahou, including their advice and what they wish they had known before applying.

One of the first questions that arises is how many schools to apply to. The consensus among those interviewed was that applicants should target between nine and fifteen schools. According to Christine Dong ‘22, “there is no ‘ideal’ number” of schools to apply to; students should instead focus on “researching and doing what’s best for you.” Still, Dong said, “it is important to keep your options open, so I would advise having at least 10 colleges on your list.”

Jairus Rhoades ‘22 only applied to three schools. “I think this was way too little for comfort, but I was originally planning on just applying to one,” Rhoades explained. “All of this is because I applied single choice early action, and applied to two other schools just to see if I could have more financial options. If I didn’t get into my early school, I probably would have applied to like 12 schools.”

Applicants may wonder whether to apply early action (EA), early decision (ED), or regular decision. Interviewees agreed that EA or ED increases your chance of acceptance, but ED comes with a much higher level of commitment. “Personally, I prefer EA because I wasn’t completely set on a school, so I didn’t want to be bonded to my early choice,” Alec Yueh ‘22 said. “However, if you are completely sure which school is your top choice institution, then I’d recommend doing ED.” All of those interviewed applied EA or ED and were happy they did.

The seniors also had suggestions about college research. They stressed the importance of looking beyond an institution’s statistics and finding the school that would be the best fit. Trisha Yamamoto ‘22 shared, “You can do all the research you want on websites, which you should, but you will never understand life as a student unless you talk to one. Think about your priorities and never settle, there are tons of colleges out there and you deserve the one that fits you. Don’t focus on a college’s popularity or prestige – nothing is better than the right fit.” Jonathan Wu ‘22 also suggested that potential applicants ask questions of alumni and those who live in the vicinity of the school to get a more accurate sense of the experience at the particular college.

Amidst an incredibly competitive admissions cycle, seniors also shared what they believed set their applications apart. “Essays!” Dong advised. “They are such a valuable part of your application because you have total control over how you present yourself to your admissions officer in your writing. I spent a lot of time crafting my essays, making sure they coalesced into one cohesive story that showcases the ‘real’ me.”

For Yueh, the answer was “​​a focused interest. I want to study political science, and a bunch of the activities and awards that I included were related to that. For example, I did an activity called the Critical Issues Forum that focused on facilitating discussions between students about nuclear disarmament. I emphasized this pretty hard since this was the field I applied to for college, and I think it demonstrated my passion for the topic.”

Seniors additionally emphasized the importance of starting the application process early to ensure that an adequate amount of time is allocated to essay writing. “I think you should finish your Common App essay and make a set list of schools by the end of summer,” Natalie Kaku ‘22 suggested. “I started working on my essays in August when I chose all my schools I wanted to apply to. I finished my applications the day they were due. I do not recommend that.”

Yueh agreed: “I started on my Common App essay over the summer going into my senior year and did the rest of my application when the school year started. I think it might be better to start a bit earlier than I did, especially if you are going to do EA/ED applications. That way, you can have a completed application early on and focus on revising essays when the deadlines get closer.”
Finally, seniors shared the most important thing they wish they had known before applying to colleges. “I wish I knew not to put colleges on a pedestal,” Yamamoto reflected. “I stressed so much about what I was going to do but it was only smooth sailing when I realized that while college is an important milestone, it is just part of my path. I can make great memories and have an amazing education anywhere, but I need to think about where I want to go and how I’m going to get there. I wish I could tell myself that there are opportunities everywhere, I just need to put in the work to get them. Getting into college is a huge accomplishment, but it does not by any means correlate to one’s self-worth.”

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