Female student talking with female tutor or counselor

Female student talking with female tutor or counselor ()

So you’re finally a (rising) senior. Congratulations! You’ve made it to a major milestone of your American teenage years. It’s your turn to rule the school. Senior year is a time for some well-earned tomfoolery and even a little “senioritis.” You have prom and inevitable spirit day wins to look forward to. The magic of graduation is so close I’m sure you can almost taste it. High school has nearly come to an end. You’ve just got one last major hurdle coming your way - college applications. You may be feeling the looming deadlines already. It’s time to take the plunge and look into the possibilities of your future.

If you want to stay in Europe while earning a degree, you have plenty of options. Check out this article detailing some of the most accessible. If you want to go back to the States, everything gets slightly harder. Here are some things I wish I’d known before I applied to U.S. colleges from Germany.

Do your research

This one may seem obvious, but doing research is invaluable. Even if you have no idea what you want to study, looking up a healthy variety of schools that are a fit for you instead of picking blindly will help you tackle these next four (or more) years with confidence. Do you want a city campus or one in the suburbs? Are you looking for a large school or one that’s more intimate? Would you like to attend a school with many research opportunities or one that focuses on smaller class sizes for undergraduates? When looking at schools to apply to, it’s more than just reputation that matters. Check out websites like College Board’s Big Future to compare colleges by type, location, campus life and admissions. You’ve got to decide where you think you can best succeed and start applying from there.

Location, location, location

What region of the country do you want to call home for the next couple of years? If you can’t stand the cold, applying to a fancy school in New England -despite name recognition - may not be the best choice for you. This was something I didn’t take into account when I was applying. Although I like the little city I ended up in, I should’ve looked into where I was going to be living a little more thoroughly. I recommend virtual tours of your prospective campuses or, even better, in person tours if you can fly back before applications are due. Look up the area around campus. Find the nearest grocery stores, shopping centers, restaurants and social scenes. A college may seem perfect for you, but if it’s in the wrong place you could end up miserable for your entire time as an undergrad. A light internet search can go a long way.


When applying to college you should definitely work smarter, not harder. Choose three reach schools, three schools with probable acceptances according to previous years and three safety schools to apply to - maximum. There’s always the temptation to apply to as many places as you can because of fear of being rejected from all of them. If you plan out your schools wisely, you can avoid paying a fortune in fees. If you’ve fallen in love with a school, look into their early decision or early admittance policy. You’ll get a decision back faster and might be able to save from applying to other places. But be careful! If you aren’t completely certain you want to attend that specific school, make sure that the policy isn’t binding.

Stand out

Applying from Europe may add extra flair to your applications, but it won’t be enough to ensure admittance. Many colleges are now focusing on holistic admission practices, meaning admission offices look at everything from your GPA to your standardized test scores and extra-curricular activities to see who you are as a whole person. An important aspect of your application is the letters of recommendation most colleges require or request. I’ve learned when a college requests something; it’s a good idea to give it to them anyway. Start asking trusted faculty at your high school for letters of recommendation early, before they’re flooded by requests from the entire senior class. They’ll be able to spend more time personalizing it for you and you’ll get a better letter to present to colleges. Interviews may be scary, but a little preparation goes a long way. Whether over the phone, on Skype, or in person with local Alum, interviews can make all the difference. Work hard on your essays, edit them thoroughly and avoid clichés. Don’t write about “being a military kid.” Some colleges and universities have an entire department in their admission offices dedicated to applicants from DoDEA. The essay that is different is the application that makes it through. Any of these could be the single aspect that puts you above another applicant but remember; most of the labor has already been done. You’ve put in three years of work to get to this point. All you have to do now is send it all in.


Rejection is always a tricky thing to handle. Remember that if you’re rejected from a school, the admissions office might see something that you don’t. You may not be as great at that school as you’d thought or not ready for the challenge the school presents. It’s not the end of the world. You only need one acceptance. If you end up not liking the school you choose at the end of the admissions process, you can always transfer! Your undergraduate experience is defined by you just as much as it’s defined by where you are; so don’t worry. My college likes to say that each student is the architect of their own education. Through this admissions season, it’s time for you to build yours.

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