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"Know what you want." | A UNC Chapel Hill Student's Advice on College Apps

Updated: Mar 13, 2022

We were so excited to interview Erin Lee,

  • a student at UNC Chapel Hill, NC

  • the co-founder of Model UN at her high school, a club with 50+ members as of now

We asked her some advice on: College Applications.

Here's something she stresses:

  • "You have to be realistic with yourself, and don't box yourself in too early."

Q: What steps would you suggest someone take when they're beginning to prepare for college (looking into financial aid, researching schools, visiting campuses, etc.)?

A: Before doing anything, I would say talk to your parents or guardians. Students don't really understand their parents financial situations a lot of the time, and sometimes you and your parents will not be on the same page about how far is too far for school. Just get those numbers and those hard conversations out of the way, so you're not just needlessly applying for schools. You have to be realistic with yourself.

Also, applying early action is important.

Q: How many colleges did you apply to?

A: I knew I wanted to go out of state. So I ended up applying to one college in state and the rest of them were just out of state. I also opened four applications. I had the common app, the UC, Georgetown, and South Carolina. So four different applications for 10 universities total.

Q: Did you visit any colleges?

A: I didn't visit any colleges formally, but I did when I was in the area, I'd poke around. I wanted to go to a big school, so I didn't apply to any schools that were 4000 students. I also wanted to go more to a public school, so I felt I put more effort into my application for the University of California system than for Georgetown.

Q: What advice do you have on determining what school to go to?

A: Once you have a list of some schools, narrow it down. If you want to go to a school that has a big campus culture, don't apply to a commuter school or school in New York City. Also, don't box yourself in too early. I know a lot of people who end up going to one school thinking they’ll pursue one major, but end up hating it in a semester and wanting to transfer. But they can't change majors because there’s nothing else much their school offers. So going to school that is well rounded in many different fields, I think has been super great, especially from personal experience.

Q: Where did you get your inspiration for your college application essays?

A: I thought about it for a long time. Some of my essays were better than others.

What I wrote about depended on what I was trying to communicate. For my common application, my goal was to distinguish myself and make myself look a lot more different from other applicants. So I wrote about K-pop. That brings a lot of joy to people, but it was also how I started getting more in touch with my Korean culture, because there was a lot of racism growing up.

Q: Did the schools you applied to require certain types of essays?

A: Some schools also asked you to write specific essays about extracurriculars or people who have influenced your life. So for extracurricular ones, I would always make it about my journey through Model UN. For people who have influenced my life, I wrote about my dad because he's had a long story that I think has influenced a lot of my life. And just really trying to answer the prompt in a way that is true to myself. People think they can’t write about immigrant parents because everyone else is doing it, but that was still an impactful moment in life. Being unique doesn't necessarily matter as much as being able to tell your story, because the people who are reading your essays know that other people immigrate; they know that other people have divorced parents. It's all about how you talk and write about how specific things influence your life that it will work.

Q: Did you have anyone proofread your essays?

A: I had my friends proofread my essay. I don't recommend that you have more than one or two people proofread, though, because a college essay is supposed to be very personal, It's supposed to have a very distinct voice. Letting people read over your essay I think will dilute your tone and your message.

Q: What are some final words of advice you have or that you wish someone had told you when you were going through this process in high school?

A: Chill out and know your priorities. You're not going to make everyone happy. When I told people I was going to go to UNC, a lot of people would say rude things about it. Just be confident about your choices. Even if you have regrets, it's not going to be that bad because everything will work out. And if it doesn't work out, it's within your power to make those changes.

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