12/19/2012 09:24 am ET Updated Feb 18, 2013

Spontaneous Combustion


This is part of our monthly series 'Mission: Accepted,' in partnership with Minds Matter, which chronicles the lives of four students as they apply for college in their senior year.

"You know, I see the stress in your face, but you just have to push through it. Think of it as childbirth; you go through months of hard work and labor, but when it's finally over, you get this beautiful thing that you're going to be very proud of." As eccentric as my teacher's analogy may be, her words are very encouraging. One of the very many things fueling my drive is the fact that the college application process is almost over. Afterward, I will be able to focus on financial aid and scholarship opportunities.

I remember thinking in August, at the beginning of the school year, that my first set of applications for the University of California schools were due at the end of November. November seemed very, very far in the future. Then one day, I looked at my calendar and it was mid-November. Time has gone by so fast, which can be a blessing and a curse: It's a blessing because the process is not as long and painful as I expected it would be and a curse because there is just not enough time in the day to finish everything I need and want to accomplish. I've woken up a few times at 2 a.m. only to realize that I had another hour (at least) of work ahead of me. This has usually resulted in me being either overly hyper or overly tired at school the next day.

On the bright side, I have successfully submitted applications to schools in the UC system: UC Berkeley, UCLA, UC San Diego, and UC Santa Barbara. I've also started the common app supplements for some of the schools I'm applying to. As time-consuming as the supplements can be, I like that colleges give applicants the opportunity to provide additional detail and insight about themselves. It gives me more of a chance to express what is important to me and what I'm passionate about -- things that admissions officers won't necessarily be able to tell from only my grades and test scores. I'm also probably a little late on this realization, but visiting a school's website can make all the difference. I visited the sites for all of my schools, and for some, I discovered details that made me even more excited about applying there. (Bonus: This made writing the "Why I want to attend this school" essays a lot easier.) For example, I found out that the University of Pennsylvania has a great program run out of the Netter Center for Community Partnerships that integrates core academics with community service, and that Duke values global engagement and offers the chance to study in places like Brazil and Vietnam.

Keeping myself on track with applications is one thing, but keeping 23 other students on track is another. Each year, my school counselor chooses 17 students out of the entire senior class to assist the rest of the seniors with the college application process. I'm responsible for reminding them about deadlines, informing them of steps they should be taking, and getting updates about where they are in the process. I love that I can be a source of support and assistance for my classmates. Some of them are first-generation applicants and are somewhat alone in going through the process. They come to me for feedback on their personal statements and other parts of their applications. But as much as I preach to them about the importance of staying on track, sometimes it's hard to follow my own advice, especially when there are so many factors preventing me from doing so, like excess amounts of schoolwork and extracurricular activities. I've just had to learn to choose my priorities without neglecting other things. Overall, though, being a source of advice for my peers has really helped me: I now have the application due dates and information about the FAFSA and CSS profile engraved in my memory!

December has been one of the most hectic and stressful months yet. Most applications are due at the end of this month or at the beginning of January, so there's going to be a lot of writing and revising in my immediate future. The fact that my school decided to implement changes to the school calendar, making finals week fall in mid-December before winter break instead of at the beginning of January, does not help. My whole philosophy on life is that you should be as spontaneous as possible every day. I'm not a person who keeps track of when and where I'm going to do something -- I just do it. I haven't even touched the planner I got from my school yet, but I may just have to crack it open and schedule every hour of every day for the next couple of months. Spontaneity will resume immediately after I meet all my deadlines.