11/19/2012 09:15 am ET Updated Jan 19, 2013

Keep Calm and Apply On

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.

The past four years of high school have all been about this one moment, this one place, this new beginning: graduating and going off to college! No more parents, no more checking in and no more dependence. But what people don't talk about is how much work it takes just to apply. They don't talk about the teacher recs, the SATs, the subject tests, the FAFSA, the CSS profile... I could go on forever. If any of you seniors out there think those are things you don't have to worry about until December 31, think again. I would close the Facebook tab and start doing some research. Let's start from the beginning -- deciding where to apply.

There are over 4,000 schools in the country, and narrowing all that down is not easy. I've always heard of big schools like Boston University and New York University. I thought I wanted to go to those types of schools, but then I started doubting that assessment. I currently attend a small charter school where everyone knows my name. As soon as I walk through the door, several people greet me. I realized that this is what I want in a college.

I'm still in the process of exploring what schools are out there -- schools I never even knew existed before now. I've been taking advantage of the college information sessions at my high school. Also, I've been asking my mentors at Minds Matter and my teachers at school about where they and their friends went. My list has expanded beyond big schools and now includes small liberal arts colleges like Amherst and Williams. Wanting to go to these schools is one thing, but actually getting into them is a whole different story. That is why I call them my reach schools.

Let me explain: Reach schools are colleges that are really, really hard to get into. Then there are target schools, which are the ones you have a 50/50 chance of getting into. Finally, you have your safety schools -- the ones that would take you in a second. Sure, those reach schools look really hot, but you don't want to get a pile of rejection letters come spring and end up out of luck. No offense, Mom and Dad, but I don't want to spend next year living in the garage. College dorms, here I come!

But before you'll find me pushing a cart down the back-to-school aisle in Target, I need to get my applications in. Colleges will ask for my grades and SAT scores, but they'll also look beyond the numbers to see what I am all about. The essay I write has to be my best -- it can't be written the night before. It has to be free of grammatical errors and on top of that, I've got to show some personality. I want to show the Anangie that has a big voice, but can also be a good listener. The Anangie that hustles down the hall to class, but still stops to say hi to everyone. The girl that values time at home with her family in Boston, but spends her summer helping underprivileged communities in Peru. This is my chance to show admissions officers that I'm someone unique.

It's hard to capture all of that uniqueness in a 500-word essay. Luckily, my high school counselor told me to start thinking about my essays last year, and I took his advice. Yeah, that's "essays" plural. Some colleges require the Common App essays and supplemental essays. (Thank god for the Common App, though. I would definitely be lost without it.) Having a head start on all of this is essential. I don't want to be scrambling last-minute and submitting essays that my seven-year-old brother could have written. Mine are still in the works, but I'm getting there.

Applying to college is daunting, but I started early. I don't want to panic and fall flat on my face.
I want to keep calm and carry on. I want to rock it. It is going to be a lot of work, but it's nothing I can't handle, because I've been preparing for this since the day I entered high school. As Malcolm X once said, "Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today." Now he knows what he's talking about.