With the year’s first issue of The Chronicle comes the first installment of High Stakes: a year-long profile of four anonymous seniors through their respective college processes leading up to an identity and college reveal in our May issue.
While High Stakes has traditionally followed students hidden behind the identities of “The Brain,” “The Athlete,” “The Artist” and “The All-Around,” this year High Stakes will be following four students not with drastically different identities, but instead with drastically different college application processes: service academies, sports recruitment, art portfolio submissions and performing arts auditions.
Meet Audrey*, Jenna*, Nate* and Christopher*.
The Portfolio Applicant: Audrey
When Audrey began painting as her main extracurricular activity in eighth grade, she didn’t anticipate that she’d be spending her high school weekends trying to find time for friends in between painting and drawing classes around Los Angeles. But as college application and art portfolio deadlines approach, her schedule only gets busier.
As an applicant looking to highlight her artistic abilities in the realm of oil and acrylics, Audrey began putting together pieces for her portfolio about ten months ago. In order to display their best work, artists like Audrey must begin preparing the portfolio components of their college applications months and often years in advance.
This summer alone, Audrey partook in two separate week long painting intensives to make progress on her portfolio and dedicated a majority of her free time to conceptualizing and creating her work.
As the school year begins, Audrey is planning to finalize her portfolio before the early decision deadline, complete her Common Application and supplements and continue to meet with art and art history department heads from universities– something that has helped her to get to know the programs at various schools. Her application process as an artist is unique in that she must find the perfect balance between showcasing her artistic and academic abilities.
“Not only do you need to be a strong student and show that you have a compatible personality with the school, you also have to show your capacity for talent and that the type of artist that you are at an emotional and conceptual level is something that the school’s really looking for,” Audrey said.
Audrey said she isn’t looking into applying to art conservatories but into schools with strong arts programs. Her current top choices for college are The University of Pennsylvania and Barnard College.
The Service Applicant: Jenna
Jenna’s affinity for computers and her impressive concert attendance records might make her seem like an average high schooler, but her time in programs at West Point and the Coast Guard Academy this summer say otherwise.
Aside from the core differences in the college experience Jenna seeks, applying to a service academy starts a lot earlier than senior year. Jenna claims a student must know that they are interested in applying to service academies almost years in advance, as the applications for these schools open January of junior year.
Jenna has much more to worry about than grades, test scores and essays. In addition to the traditional application demands, Jenna must also apply for a congressional nomination to the academies and take a rigorous physical exam.
“You have to be really committed to it,” Jenna said. “There’s also the whole entire physical part of the application that just doesn’t exist at other schools, which is about 30 percent of your application– how physically fit you are.”
Luckily for Jenna, she began looking into the possibility of attending a service academy at the end of her freshman year and had decided it would be her definitive college route by midway through her sophomore year.
Her next move as her senior year unfolds is to balance her demanding workload with applications for her congressional nomination to the academies, one of the most crucial components to her college applications. She also plans to retake her candidate fitness assessment, necessary to her top choices’ applications: West Point, The Coast Guard Academy and, possibly, The Air Force Academy.
The Potential Recruit: Nate
At first glance, nobody would guess that Nate is an athlete dedicated to being recruited: he works as hard as he can at school, studies diligently and prefers spending time with his friends over everything else. However, the latter is nearly impossible to fit into his busy schedule, filled with about 18 hours of swimming and lifting per week.
His athletic career started nearly nine years ago when he began swimming competitively, but Nate’s decision to pursue recruitment occurred his sophomore year.
“I kind of knew in the beginning of freshman year that it would definitely help me in the college process,” Nate said. “And I like [swimming] enough to continue it for the next four years, so it’s kind of always been assumed that I would continue into college.”
Once he knew that recruitment could be a potential option for college admissions, he began emailing coaches and practicing each day until he finally reached a competitive enough level to be realistically considered in May.
To best prepare himself for showcases, Nate spent his summer training nearly twice as much as he’s able to during the year, attending practices sometimes twice a day. His practice season ended in the beginning of August with a three-week break before jumping back into routine practices in September.
Preparing for school, Nate said he is most concerned with his ability to balance practices and recruitment trips with his workload. Because recruitment trips could be his best shot to be noticed by colleges, he said he will need to prioritize his swimming performance sometimes over his academics. For now, Nate is hoping to catch the attention of Williams College, Amherst College, The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Brown University or Pomona College.
The Audition Applicant: Christopher
Christopher said he has loved music for all his life, but only a year ago did he step into the realm of musical theater and fall in love with it.
For kids like Christopher looking to pursue music in college, the application process comes with a few added obstacles, including video and live auditions. Luckily for Christopher, the preparation process doesn’t include much more than doing exactly what he loves.
“With musical theater, over the past year I’ve just been getting more experience,” Christopher said. “But for music, I’ve always been writing or adding cover songs so that I can have a lot of possibilities when it comes to choosing songs for auditions.”
For most performing artists like Christopher, he will need to have three songs (a cover, an original and another of choice) recorded in a video audition to submit with his early action application by Nov. 1 and with his regular decision applications in January. He will also need to prepare a musical arrangement in the event of getting invited to audition live, which only a few schools offer or require.
Christopher said he isn’t particularly stressed in the face of senior year, as he’s used to balancing his musical career with his work as a student. He said his current top choices include University of Colorado Boulder as an early action plan and USC Thornton School of Music as his regular decision favorite.
**Names have been changed.