Common Mistakes To Avoid In the College Application Process
Students not giving themselves enough time for the planning, search and application
- Don’t wait until the summer after your Junior year to start college planning- even if your high school doesn’t really focus on it until the beginning of senior year. While your junior year is busy with current schoolwork, remember that you’ll still have coursework in the fall of your senior year and then you will be even more crunched for time. The earlier you start, the less any one assignment will derail you.
- With thousands of schools to choose from you want to be sure you have enough time to really research good-fit schools and majors. You will need time to visit colleges you are potentially interested in and compile a broad college list consisting of “likely,'' “probable” and “reach” schools.
- You may need to utilize the summer before your senior year to enhance your resume with coursework, community service, work or leadership opportunities. You want to get as much of the college process completed before you begin your senior year, so you can focus on your academics first semester - because those are grades that will affect your application.
- By the start of senior year you need to know what essays you will be needing to write and have made a good head-start on those. You want to have already taken the SAT or ACT tests, possibly more than once and know whether you need to take it one last time in the fall of your senior year. If you are applying in the visual or performing arts in particular, you need to have created your portfolio, audition videos, or plan for live auditions, following each college’s specific requirements.
- In addition you have to get all your letters of recommendation, and order all your testing and transcripts to be sent to the colleges on your list. Keeping track of deadlines is crucial - especially if you are planning to apply early decision or early action to your schools.
- Visiting colleges helps to clarify what kind of school you feel most comfortable in. While websites and videos can be valuable, you can get a great deal more information visiting campuses for yourself that can then shape your best college list. By spending time on a campus you can rule out schools that you really wouldn’t want to go to, so you don’t waste both time and money applying there.
- Many colleges keep track of what is called “demonstrated interest”, and visiting is one of the things they look at to determine it. Colleges want students who want them. By exhibiting your interest in a school you may increase your chances of acceptance.
- Once you are accepted you can revisit on Accepted Students Day. At that time you can get more in-depth exposure to the school, to professors of different academic departments and their special facilities, and the advantages of each school. You also get to meet other students who have been accepted, not just visiting, and can get a better sense of how you fit in with that population.
- Remember, a good college visit should include an information session, an official tour and some time observing, or better yet, talking to current students in the cafeteria or student union. A drive through the campus is NOT a VISIT- it does not show demonstrated interest. It also does not afford you the opportunity to talk to representatives from different departments. These could include the office of admission, financial aid, athletics, the office of disability, or the academic department of your proposed major.
- Many students and their families believe that private colleges will automatically cost them more than their local state colleges. This is because they look at the “sticker price”- or published costs for tuition and room and board - without considering the unique circumstances of their financial needs and academic merit.
- Private schools may have higher official costs but often have significantly greater endowments and are able to offer scholarships for both merit and financial need. For example, if you are a strong academic student with significant financial need you can often have a major portion of your college costs covered by the institution through both merit and need based aid. Some private colleges determine merit aid based on your GPA.
- Many states are financially strapped and the state schools therefore are usually not able to offer the kind of institutional financial assistance that a private school can. While some states provide a significantly reduced cost of tuition for their state’s residents, this does not affect the costs of room and board, books and other college fees. Other states have a sliding scale for tuition for state residents, but again this does not apply to other college costs. And, the cost of attending a state school as an out-of-state resident is often close to the cost of a private institution.
- Filling out the FAFSA (free application for student aid) will tell you your EFC (estimated family contribution), but it is up to each college to decide what they will offer to meet your needs. Your financial package may include scholarships and grants, which you do not have to pay back; work-study that will involve jobs where students can earn some money while at college; and loans, which you will have to pay back.
- Here’s an example of one student who applied to both private and state schools. Based on her same FAFSA information and high school transcript, one of the private colleges offered her $38,000 a year, while an out-of-state public institution offered her only $4000 a year. The net price of attendance at the private school would have been about $10,000/year while the cost at the state school would have been $34,000/year.
- As you can see, the final costs can vary greatly. You may end up paying less for an “expensive” private school than for a state school.
Your English teacher will mainly focus on the structure of your essay and can pick up on any grammatical mistakes. Your guidance counselor may often just make sure the essay is done to complete your application packet. However many of the biggest problems we see have to do with the subject and/or the tone of the essay, which can ruin an otherwise good application.
The essay is an opportunity to present yourself in a personal and positive light. We have seen essays that come across as strident, neurotic, arrogant, whiny or just plain boring. We have had students who were told by a teacher that they shouldn’t use humor at all. Humor and a light touch can be very helpful. No one wants to be brought down by a college essay and there are way too many students writing about their parents’ divorce or their own eating disorder.
If you want to write about a difficult issue you have to be very careful to have it show how you overcame that problem and how that now serves you going forward, informing your decisions and the direction of your life.
In talking to many admissions counselors from various colleges, they tell us that they only have a few minutes to try and get a sense of each applicant. Anything that can help you to distinguish yourself in a genuine and unique manner will help them to remember you and add to the evaluation of you as an applicant.
Your essay from the very first sentence should grab the reader and make them want to know more. Anything that is too predictable, like making the final three-point basket that won the game or how much you learned about other cultures on your 10 day overseas community service trip, may not enhance your application as an individual.
Of course, your essay needs to be well-crafted with no grammatical or spelling errors or typos. However, be sure to show your essay to a few other adults who know you, besides your English teacher and guidance counselor, who can give you feedback about how you are coming across in your essay. Does your voice come through? Does it speak to your strengths? Do you sound like someone they would want to spend time with? Remember, colleges are looking at how you can enhance their community and embrace what they have to offer.
Students assuming that their applications are complete without receiving confirmation from the colleges
- College applications need information from many different sources, such as guidance counselors, recommenders, testing sites, financial aid sites, and so on, before your application is even looked at and evaluated. Any delay or omission of a letter of recommendation, test score or transcript can result in a rejection because the deadline passed and the application was never read because it was incomplete.
- We had one student who, before coming to work with us, was rejected by a college he had applied to ED (early decision). We discovered that his high school transcript was accidentally never sent by his high school guidance counselor. Because the application was never complete, the other parts of the application were never even looked at. The student, trying to be independent and working on his own, had not realized that all his information was not complete and had not contacted the college to check on his application when he hadn’t heard from them. Once we researched other good college choices, he learned to be proactive and follow up through the online portals [their websites] with each college on his list. Subsequently he had several college acceptances to choose from.
- Be vigilant. Be sure to check your email and the college portals for any messages requesting further information from you. If you are not absolutely positive about your application being complete, you should email or call the admissions counselor for your region to get clarification and confirmation.