The College Search: Top 6 Ways You’re Doing It Wrong

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The hunt is on.  Out of nearly 4000 colleges and universities in the United States alone, you have been charged with narrowing that list down to just a select few which you will apply to and eventually just one that you will enroll in for the next four years.  No big deal, you’ve got this, right?  Right?

From someone who has gone through the process and has watched others make their way for many years, I wanted to offer you the top 6 ways that students go about their search and application process in the wrong way.


You’re doing the college search wrong if…

1. You made your decision to like a school (or not) based solely on the website.

A bunch of HTML and graphics shouldn’t be the only reason you make this decision.  Websites are there to give you as much information as possible, but there is still nothing like getting your feet on a campus and seeing it for yourself, rather than through the eyes of an IT department!


2. You are applying to a school just because your mom/dad/brother/aunt went there.

Sure, it makes for a great story to share amongst the family tree, but make sure you are picking a school because is it where you can see yourself being successful and happy.  Just because someone else had a great experience doesn’t automatically mean that it is the right choice for you.  It can be hard to tell a family member that you don’t want to follow in their exact footsteps, but speaking up now can make your next four years a lot better.


3. You cross a school off your list just by looking at the cost.

money college

College is expensive.  I know that, you know that, colleges know that.  What is important to remember is that your cost is not necessarily the same one that is shown on college websites and brochures.  The annual cost of tuition, fees, room and board doesn’t take into account any potential merit or athletic scholarships or federal, state, or institutional aid like loans, grants, or work study awards.  When you find a school you are interested in, make sure you ask about available scholarships (and what you have to do to qualify).  Ask what forms they need submitted and by what deadlines. Check out the Net Price Calculator that is found on every college website.  With the right financial aid package, some schools that appeared too costly at the outset may end up being more reasonable than a school with a lower starting “sticker price”.


4. You wait until the last minute to write your college essay. Under pressure, it’ll just write itself, right?


Quite a bit of the time you spend filling out college applications will be focused on checking off this box and that box and entering your address, your birthday and school information (you will have that high school CEEB code memorized before you know it).  When it comes time to “write” your essay in the application, hopefully you are able to copy and paste in your carefully and thoughtfully crafted final draft instead of starting from scratch.  Your essay is your chance to talk to us!  You have the attention of the admission committee – what do you want them to know about you?


5. You ask the first teacher you see in the hall at school to write you a letter of recommendation.


Think carefully before asking just any teacher to write this all important letter.  Not every single teacher is going to know you well enough to portray your best qualities to an admission committee.  Don’t necessarily just pick the teacher who has given you the highest grade. Consider asking a teacher who helped you through one of your tougher classes – they may have gotten some insight into how you handle challenges or setbacks.  They may be the one who has really seen you blossom through the years and exceed all expectations.


6. You watched the movie Admission. Tina Fey was funny. Also, you know everything about college admissions now.

Fact: This rom-com was mildly entertaining.  Myth: Every admission office in the country is just like the one in the movie.  Each college and university has different deadlines, programs, policies, and admission processes.  Find out who your admission counselor is, ask what else you can do to stand out, make sure all of your information is sent (and then, in fact received) at each college.  Admission counselors are in this line of work because they want to be a resource to you, so take advantage of their help!

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