One of the biggest pieces of advice for high school students applying to college is to start the process early. SoFlo Tutor Charles Keating’s advice is no different. He began his college application process in the middle of his junior year when he began writing the first drafts of his Common App essay. Starting early paid off and Charles now studies Biological Chemistry at UChicago. Read on for more advice from Charles, as well as an insight into what went into his successful application.

Charles Keating, UChicago ’25

How Did You Approach Your College Applications?

My high school had a very helpful guidance department and made significant efforts to make the college application process less stressful. My introduction to college applications happened near the middle of my junior year when we were asked to write a practice personal essay to simulate what it would be like writing about ourselves for the Common App. I ended up using one of my early drafts for that assignment as the topic for my actual personal essay when I started submitting real applications. Having that early start, and being able to build off of something that was already there rather than writing from scratch, made the application process seem much less intimidating.

As for my actual applications, I applied ED to Cornell since I have family that recommended it, and I applied EA to UChicago, UMass Amherst, Boston, and Northeastern. My application to Cornell was deferred so I also applied to Harvard, Tufts, and a couple of other schools in the Northeast including BC and BU. I had very little idea what I wanted out of my college experience during the application process, so I sort of applied to a range of safety schools and some that I had heard were more competitive.

Why Did You Choose UChicago?

After a lot of deliberation, I decided to attend UChicago because I thought that the size and academic rigor made it the best choice for my education. I knew when going into the application process that I didn’t like the huge state school atmosphere but also wasn’t excited by the tiny populations of some liberal arts colleges. UChicago offered an extremely high-quality education, supplemented by opportunities for internships, study abroad programs, proximity to a huge city filled with fun things to do, and a beautiful campus to explore.

What Was Your Testing Journey Like?

Standardized testing was a bit strange for me, and other students in my graduating class, since COVID made it difficult to schedule testing locations, and lockdowns made it difficult to study with other people. I ended up teaching myself testing strategies gathered from the internet and used a couple of practice tests to make sure I was ready. I was able to schedule one SAT and one ACT before scores were due for college applications, and I was able to score fairly well on both of them. It felt pretty stressful at the time since I knew I was only able to take each test once, but looking back I probably didn’t need to worry as much as I did.

What Did You Write About In Your College Essays?

My English teachers emphasized that the most important factor in a college application essay isn’t necessarily the topic, but your ability to say something about yourself using the topic. For my personal essay, I chose to write about a solo camping trip that I went on during the winter about a year prior. I tried to show my enthusiasm for trying new things, and my passion for activity and the outdoors. In general, I wanted my personal essay to give the reader an image of who I was as a person, outside of the rest of my application materials.

Any Advice For Students Applying To College And Taking The SAT/ACT?

The one piece of advice I have for students applying to colleges is to start early. It may not seem like very much fun to be spending your summer writing essays, but the more you get done ahead of deadlines, and the earlier you start to look at and wrap your head around the entire process, the easier it will be in the long run. You don’t want to end up ruining your senior year of high school by taking all of the stress of college applications and condensing it down into a month or two. 

For students taking the SAT/ACT – try to focus on the test rather than overstressing on the material. From my experience, the topics covered on standardized tests, whether it be math, reading, or grammar, are mostly very simple but are made to seem much more difficult by the language used to present them. Once you learn the tricks that the SAT and ACT are using, the test itself becomes much easier to understand.

Submit Your Best College Application With SoFlo

Your SAT or ACT score can make or break your application. SoFlo Tutors will help you reach your target score so that you can attend your dream school. All of our tutors attend top universities around the nation and scored in the 99th percentile on their SAT. They will work one-on-one on you to identify and improve your weak areas and increase your chances of getting your target score. Our tutors schedule to sessions to your availability and our costs start at $60/hour. Check out our tutoring services to book a session!

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