12/07/2013 12:29 pm ET Updated Feb 06, 2014

Applying Early Decision Wasn't So Scary After All

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.

One surprise from the application process is the VIP treatment I received after I signed up for information from colleges via College Board and college fairs. At first, it gave me a taste of being a celebrity, making me feel wanted, smart and amazing. I later realized that colleges were killing trees, using buckets of ink printing out letters, booklets and brochures, and stuffing mailboxes to give me mini "pep talks" during my five-month long journey, which both impressed me and disgusted me.

After a few days in the summer of trying to look through all of my college mail (which still sit in the corner of my room in a box that can fit a 6-year-old); I saw some trends, such as how colleges like to show how diverse they are by nationality, ethnicity, religion, and so on, or how many awesome research and internship opportunities they offer, and how innovative and active their student body is on campus. While considering the small size of my family, our low income, and how homesick I'll be, my mother and I narrowed down my choices to schools in the Northeast, and perhaps the Midwest. I also played around with College Board's Big Future College searching tool to see which institutions are in my range as target, possible and safety schools.

Although my college list is nearly finalized with a whopping 17 schools, I am still leaving some room for change. At the end of August, I signed up for and worked on an account for QuestBridge National College Match program, which gives high-achieving, low-income students a special application to distinguish themselves and the struggles they've gone through. Since I was accepted as a finalist on October 22, I am be able to apply to up to eight of the schools I rank at around the same time as Early Decision deadlines on November 4. Binding commitment can sound scary, but I made up my mind that the schools I chose were schools I really wanted to attend and schools that my mother would agree with. The QuestBridge application definitely got me working on essays and asking for recommendations early on in the game, giving my teachers four weeks to submit their recommendation letters. I'm spending my weekends brainstorming and editing my supplements with my classmates and mentors, who I am ever so grateful for. However, I do regret not being able to visit more colleges in-person and solely depending on their website, their academics and my school counselors to judge them. I'm interested in majoring in biochemistry and perhaps becoming a physician one day, but I want to learn and be well-rounded so that I can handle conversations ranging from the recent government shutdown to the newest technology we're sending to space, to the newest Pokémon. No one wants to be a hermit in terms of their knowledge. (No offense to actual hermits.)

Right now, I'm running on four hours of sleep each day and I'm feeling physically exhausted, but mentally pumped! Ladies and gentlemen, will I make it to the end of the week with my grades, sleep and social life undisturbed? Maybe not, but with 10 more days until the Common App, supplements, and financial aid materials are due, this would be my first hurdle in my marathon to college. Maybe I should start drinking coffee.