8 Mistakes People Make Before They Apply


Want to know what to avoid the year before a student applies to college? Here are eight great tips!


1.      Take a lighter senior schedule -- If you have been a successful student throughout high school, don’t let up. If you took 3 AP classes and an honors course junior year, match that rigor closely. From a college’s perspective, you’re not winding down at high school, you’re gearing up for them!

2.      Decide to leave things off your activities list before writing it all down -- I can’t tell you the number of students I sit down with who start sentences with, “But, I only did that once” or “Wait, that counts?” I encourage students to write down EVERYTHING from ninth grade forward and look at it collectively. Maybe activities can be combined to have more impact, or maybe a student has a personal interest that others might find interesting!

3.      Stay Quiet -- Whether you are just walking around campus or heading to a college fair, check in with admissions or you may be missing an opportunity! Most colleges want to know you’re there, you’re interested and you might be a candidate for them. So, let them know you’re there! If you didn’t get a tour, write an email to the admission counselor who represents your area (listed on the admissions office website) and tell them what you saw, what you liked and what you have questions about! One caveat here: large public schools generally don’t count this effort, so in California, you don’t need to do this for Cal States or UC’s.

4.      Only talk to the tour guide -- When you are on a scheduled college tour, the tour guide is an ambassador for the school.  Though they are honest, helpful and kind (just like a good Scout), they have little to sing but praises for their school. So, before or after the tour, grab a coffee or sandwich on campus and turn around to the person next to you in line. What do they like most about their college? What do they wish the school would do better? What is the best advice they could offer about how to get involved and be happy on that campus?

5.      Put a great deal of faith in rankings -- Rankings are inherently subjective, though they appear objective, and that is very misleading. A good portion of their outcomes are determined by surveys sent to staff at competing colleges, how much money alumni donate, selectivity and already accepted reputations. What does a professor of computer science at one college know about the current history department at another? There is an existing hierarchy that in many ways is perpetuated simply by the selectivity of a college, and not by the undergraduate experience or programs. Students who use the rankings too much, miss many opportunities!

6.      Pay too much attention to the mail -- You took the PSAT, and now, College Board has shared (sold) your information to colleges, and you’ve never gotten so much mail! It’s a lot more fun to go to the mailbox now, but it doesn’t have a lot of meaning. Colleges are businesses with huge marketing departments.  Their goal? Get as many applicants as possible so they can build their numbers and look more selective (see comment about rankings above). It’s not that it might not be a great college for you, but take all those glossy pictures of green lawns and smiling students in hammocks and throw most of them away. Your path will become clear in other ways!

7.      Assume all is well online -- Though you haven’t posted anything on Instagram in a long time, it’s a good idea to Google yourself and see what comes up. Maybe some friend or relative decided that picture of you drooling in your pajamas with the “Sh-- Happens” mug nearby was hilarious!

8.      Assume a college is too expensive -- Sticker prices are shocking. Most private colleges are running between $60K and $70K per year, and you know that is out of your price range. However, many colleges discount based on your GPA and test scores, so if you fall into the top third of their applicant pool, you can expect some deep discounting. If you can pay $35K for a large public institution, but are pretty sure a smaller college is for you, might you afford $40K for one of them? Often, that is the case, so it’s worth applying!