Ahh, it’s the summer before senior year, and all you have to do is hang with your friends and relax, right? Not exactly . . .
If you’re smart, you’ll spend this summer thinking about getting ready to submit your college applications. Part of this includes building your college list — and you only have 4,000 options to choose from in the U.S. alone! While the number of colleges and universities may seem daunting, taking the time now to do some self-reflection and preparation will lessen your stress in senior year.
From someone who has gone through the process and has watched others make their way for several years, I want to offer you some advice on how to avoid making some common mistakes.
You’re doing the college search wrong if . . .
1. You made your decision to like a school (or not) based solely on its website.
Fancy animations and cool graphics shouldn’t be the only reason you add a school to your college list. While websites can be a great insight into all that a school offers, there is nothing like stepping onto their campus and seeing it for yourself.
2. You are applying to a school only because your mom/dad/brother/aunt went there.
Sure, it’s fun wearing matching sweatshirts, but be certain that you are picking a school because you can see yourself happy there. Just because your uncle had a great time at a school 20 years ago does not necessarily mean that you will have the same experience. Although it may be hard to tell a family member that you aren’t going to follow in their exact footsteps, speaking up now could make your next four years a lot better.
3. You cross a school off your list just by looking at the cost.
We all know that college is expensive. No matter where you end up, attending college is a substantial investment in your future. While it is certainly important to have open and honest conversations with your family about what is feasible financially, don’t write a school off right away due to its “sticker price.” Keep in mind that costs shown on college websites do not take into account any possible merit scholarships or financial aid packages. As part of exercising due diligence in your college search, ask your schools about the required criteria for merit scholarships, and make sure to check out the Net Price Calculator, which is found on every college’s 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 “sticker price.”
4. You wait until the last minute to write your college essay. Under pressure, it’ll just write itself, right?
Trust me, once you actually sit down to fill out your application, you will spend quite a bit of time filling out this box and that box, entering your address, and listing all of your wonderful extracurricular activities. When you get to the essay section of the application, you’ll be exhausted — which is why you’ll be so thankful that you did not spend your summer bingeing Netflix shows, but you spent countless hours crafting, writing, and editing your essay, right? Right! If you had waited to write your essay, you’d be stressed, it wouldn’t be well-written, and admission officers wouldn’t be able to get to know you. The essay is your chance to grab the attention of the admission committee — use it wisely.
5. You ask the first teacher you see in the hallway to write you a letter of recommendation.
Make sure you think carefully about which teacher you ask to write this all-important letter. A random teacher in the hallway may not know you as well as your history teacher who you shared podcasts with, or your math teacher whose room you visited after school every day for extra help. You’ll want to make sure you ask not only a teacher who knows you well, but one who you think will portray your best qualities to an admission committee. This may not be the teacher who gave you the highest grade; it could be teacher who saw you struggle in their class, but who also saw you handle the challenge and grow from it.