College Application Advice from Author and Admissions Expert Darrien Rice
College Highlight: the guided planner aiding stressed out high school students
High school students everywhere dread the labor-intensive process of slogging through college applications. It doesn’t help that many planning guides make for dry reading, draining the life out of what should be exciting preparation for a vibrant new chapter in life.
Darrien Rice, author of College Highlight, ran across this problem while obtaining his certification for college admissions at UC Berkley. During his studies, he realized that, although an abundance of materials and resources for college planning already existed… many weren’t reaching Generation Z students in a winning way. “They were just too text heavy and they didn't speak to their actual audience,” Darrien explains. “Many materials are designed more for educators—and then possibly parents (if they have the time to sort through all the information, and then try to translate it to the student to make the information digestible).”
A Planner Students Find Relatable
So what would a college planner geared for high schoolers actually look like? In a picture-driven culture where Instagram and the iphone reigns, it’s got to be visually pleasing. With this in mind, Darrien punctuated each section of his planner with colorful pictures and motivational quotes, imparting an urban-trendy tone.
Darrien also made sure his journal operated under the understanding that students universally detest resources that stretch out information—presenting a paragraph when a sentence would have done just as well—dancing around ideas rather than pinpointing the important parts. “What are you expecting from a high school student that's taking advanced courses and is involved in extracurricular activities?” he asks, “Who might even be involved with leadership or working?”
In contrast, College Highlight is meant to be a quick and easy tool. It breaks down the application process into bite-sized pieces. It’s also interactive to actively involve students. “You remember information when you're writing it down and putting your thoughts on paper—especially when you're doing research,” Darrien explains. Worksheet sections also make it easy to jot down information on the go (whether visiting a college campus, researching online, or meeting with a rep).
Then and Now
Getting into college wasn’t always so complicated. Darrien chuckles as he recalls how much simpler the application process used to be when he was a teen. An on-site admission rep visited his school and spoke to the 60 graduating seniors, passed out paper applications to be filled out during lunch break, then held 15-minute on-on-one sessions with each interested student. “I applied. They looked at my grades. And I got admitted,” Darrien recollects. His first time on campus was not as a prospective student, but as an incoming freshman. “I think I was just excited to get out of the house and have my independence!” he notes.
Times, however, have changed. Darrien recognizes the hoops today’s students have to jump through because he once evaluated hundreds of their submissions as one of UC Berkley’s freshmen readers. The position taught him to assess students on their leadership potential, work experience, academic preparedness, extracurriculars, motivation, initiative, and a variety of other factors.
A Few Pieces of Advice
Darrien’s advice for those college essays? “You’ve got to display confidence,” he advises students. “You’ve got to know who you are and know what you’re trying to do. Don't write what you think we want to hear—write down who you are. What is your passion, your drive, your vision?"
For navigating the application process in general, he recommends mapping out that list of colleges and personal essay drafts the summer before senior year. That way, you won’t have the distraction of homework hanging over your head. “Alleviate some of the stress,” Darrien recommends, “because it's going to be stressful no matter what.”
And when that acceptance letter comes, and you finally step onto that fresh new campus? Recognize it’s a transition no one can fully prepare for. That being said, students who adapt well, generally share one trait, Darrien notes. “They embrace the concept that college is all about stepping out of your comfort zone, getting involved, and finding community.”
So for upperclassmen everywhere—breath in, breath out, and take it one step at a time. You can do this.