Stephen Alexander graduated from homeschool in 2020. He currently attends Kettering University, located in Flint, Michigan, where he is majoring in Mechanical Engineering. I prepared Mr. Alexander for his SAT.
Here are his lightly edited responses.
You have to do all these things to get into college and get scholarships. Where’s the right place to start?
College admissions and scholarship committees do like to see a beefy resume. My advice would be to start with one core activity that many other opportunities can be built around.
How many colleges should you apply to? Is it better to throw everything at the wall to see what sticks? Or just pinpoint a few schools and apply to those?
Focus on five at most — at least two that you know will admit you and the rest is your preference.
How do you correctly judge a college when it’s telling you what it can offer? How do you know what’s real? How do you know how to evaluate the claims?
Visit the college in person and talk to its students. They can tell you what the realistic possibilities are. Trust your eyes. When you see the campus, ask some of the students about the claims.
Were the essays for the applications hard or easy?
Writing is never the hard part for me. However, I often struggled with doubting that I was giving the reviewers what they were looking for in the essay. I think once you are sure about that, the rest is more smooth sailing.
How personal should you get in your personal essay?
I would not put a hard limit on how personal you can get with essays. Simply remember to be professional and that the purpose should be to answer the question in a way that highlights your candidacy.
How long should you wait for a response from the admissions office?
Usually, college admissions offices give you a date for letting you know if you are accepted. If you have not heard anything by this date, play it safe and assume you need to consider other options.
What was it like if you got denied by a college that you wanted to go to?
I did not receive acceptance to a couple of the main schools to which I applied. However, I was not disappointed in not being able to go because I had other options of equal value.
Were new criteria established for college admission since the COVID-19 pandemic?
For the COVID-19 pandemic, there were certain tests like the SAT that were not required. I had already submitted my test scores by that time. Additionally, it is a good idea to check if your desired colleges offer any scholarships because of the pandemic.
What were your expectations of your first year of college? What has been the reality?
The only part of college that has turned out the way I expected was the academic portion. This year, socializing and club engagement were a bit underwhelming, as there was not very much happening on campus.
What guidance would you provide to a tenth grader to help him or her be successful in high school and competitively prepared for college?
Do not shy away from taking on leadership roles in extracurriculars. Challenge yourself with Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), and Dual Credit classes. Success in these classes will build your confidence, prepare you for the academic rigors of college, and make your college resume competitive.
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