Few people will argue that applying to colleges and universities around the world is an easy, painless, and ego-boosting experience. Fortunately, there are enough resources available both online and through high schools and institutions of higher learning to help provide some semblance of stress reduction and structure to a frenzied, occasionally soul-crushing process. Take advantage of these tips and tricks from experts and expert researchers alike as a means of approaching the college application process with a clearer head and more responsible, positive outlook. Be sure to seek out lessons from teachers, guidance counselors, parents, and administrators in addition to the numerous helpful resources available online that have not been listed here. Putting forth the effort makes for one of the best investments in the future that a student can make. Vanderbilt University’s Douglas Christiansen – “Getting Into College: An Insider’s Guide” 1. It isn’t always about academics.
Vanderbilt University’s Dean of Admissions Douglas Christiansen also wants to see how active students are in their communities, schools, and extracurricular activities as well. He also emphasizes the amount of quality time spent in clubs and other pursuits as opposed to a long listing. 2. They want passion and drive.
Students need to be able to display a degree of passion for some sort of cause or activity, as doing so proves dedication and initiative. They do not discriminate based on choice of activity and want to see that some difference has been made. 3. The number of available opportunities is taken into consideration.
Extracirricular activities are held in great esteem, but some high schools may not have the resources to offer too many. Admissions administrators understand this discrepancy and weigh students’ qualifications accordingly. 4. Admissions essays need to be personable.
Grammar and structure are very important elements of a college admissions essay, but they look more closely at its honesty. They check it against letters of recommendation and other factors in order to make sure the student actually wrote the paper. 5. “Balance vs. Risk”
Colleges want to see that a student has challenged him- or herself by taking AP classes and other advanced academics, but they also want to see good grades as well. In order to avoid burning out or failing through overload, try and seek the best balance between seeking out challenges and obtaining scholarly achievements – this is what schools look for over one or the other. 6. Admissions boards keep profiles of different high schools.
There is no need for students to bend over backwards explaining what sorts of opportunities may or may not be available at their high schools. Most colleges keep a profile of private and public institutions alike that updates them on the curriculum, distributions, offerings, competitiveness, and other very important factors. 7. Students can get a good education almost anywhere.
In order to alleviate some of the anxieties associated with the college admissions process, Dean Christiansen points out that pretty much any institution of higher learning in the United States will still yield a world-class education. Do not fret over prestige – focus more attention on finding the best fit. 8. Keep a list of desired colleges private.
Opening up too much about how many and what schools have received applications so far only adds extra pressure to students. When too many peers and authority figures become invested in the process, too many earnest questions about progress and success crop up – and if the answer is negative, it only causes the student to feel more stress. 9. SAT scores matter…
…but they aren’t everything. As Dean Christiansen notes, because SAT tests are only a one-day event, an entire college admissions packet cannot hinge on it alone. The schools need them. The schools want them. But they know standardized tests aren’t the be-all, end-all of academia, either. 10. Don’t get too emotionally caught up.
A student’s self-esteem should not become wrapped up entirely on his or her successes or failures when it comes to the college admissions process. Pre-suicidal and suicidal thoughts and activities sadly crop up all too often when a student receives a rejection notice. It is heavily advises to try and create a healthy degree of emotional distance between a college application and one’s sense of self. 11. Fill out Financial Aid forms.
Alleviate some of the stresses regarding qualification for Financial Aid and apply for it anyways. Most people will be surprised to find out how much they can get to help them pay for college. 12. Financial Aid doesn’t just come from the government.
Even if the feds do not want to pay up for a college education, most institutions offer their own grant and loan programs with completely different standards for qualification. Be sure to apply for these as well. 13. Private colleges may not always cost more than public.
Depending on any scholarships, grants, waivers, Financial Aid, and other factors, some private colleges may actually end up costing a student the same as or less than their public counterparts. There is no universal answer, however, as circumstances shift from student to student. 14. Territory managers usually read through applications first.
The college admissions process does not hinge on one administrator alone, and most colleges – not just Vanderbilt – stick with a standard matrix to decide what applicants would and would not fit. The details change from college to college, however, but the first to read through is usually someone who has previously visited and recruited from the student’s high school. 15. Then a second reader comes in.
After the territory manager completes a run-through and makes notes, a second reader will come in to offer another opinion. Both administrators should be in agreement about the student before moving his or her admissions packet to the next step. 16. Then it moves to a senior staff member.
Also known as a Sign Off Officer, this individual approves or disapproves of the first two readers’ suggestions and furthers the decision from there. 17. Approved applications do get held.
Just because 3 members of the admissions board approve of a student’s application, this does not mean that the acceptance letter will be sent right away. Most schools just wait until all mailings have been received and analyzed before shipping out notices. Knowing this should quell some of the anxieties students face as they pine away and try to analyze why they must tarry so long to hear a response. 18. Territory officers do advocate for students.
Some applications are absolutely approved, some absolutely denied. But the majority end up in a “maybe” pile for various reasons. Held in limbo, these information packets are then supported by the officers assigned to each region in front of a council of 3. Even if they are not there to see it, there is almost always somebody going to bat for every student’s acceptance. 19. Give deep thought to letters of recommendation.
Having a teacher, librarian, administrator, boss, coach, or other authority figure with whom a deep rapport has been established write up letters of recommendation is the most prudent route to take. College admissions officers seriously want to see their take on how a student has grown over the years rather than a generic listing of their positive traits, so be sure to choose wisely. 20. Know the school.
Colleges and universities absolutely want to see that students have invested their time researching the schools they apply to, as this shows a genuine investment in their own future rather than seeking acceptance for the sole purpose of having somewhere to go. Attend as many functions as possible and make an effort to communicate with the faculty and staff to foster familiarity and understand the school’s goals and culture. 21. Print out applications a year or two in advance.
Dean Christiansen recommends that sophomores and juniors in high school visit the websites of schools they deem worth pursuing and print out a copy of the application form. While they should use the latest version when the time comes to actually submit, the earlier forms serve as an excellent, handy resource for them to consult when it comes to making decisions about activities and academics alike. 22. Be real.
Apply to a school that genuinely inspires enthusiasm and interest. Admissions administrators can tell if a student appears halfhearted and disinterested, especially when they forget to edit the Word document and accidentally leave in the name of another school! “Ask the Dean” at College Confidential 23. Thank those who wrote letters of recommendation.
Although it is not a requirement to formally thank teachers, coaches, bosses, clergy, and others who pen letters of recommendation for a student, it is always a good idea to extend the courtesy. Cards containing a personal note of gratitude suffice, though small and thoughtful gifts may be extended as well. They deserve something for their assistance, no matter how seemingly insignificant it may seem when compared to increasing one’s chances of getting into a college or university. 24. Formulate schedules with a guidance counselor.
While most schools do not want to see a high school student succumb to overexertion, they still want to see applicants with the most challenging schedules they can muster. Meeting with a guidance counselor when it comes time to set up a semester or trimester serves as a valuable tool to helping one achieve his or her collegiate goals. These administrators are extremely familiar with these scenarios and have the resources and training necessary to assist in finding a setup that works. 25. Don’t hesitate to ask questions about the interview.
Schools requiring an interview as part of the application process may make special concessions for students in difficult situations, such as living out of state. Make sure to call and speak with an admissions officer to see what degree of flexibility the college is willing to give. 26. When in doubt about a transcript, hold it back for rolling admissions.
If anxieties about grades begin fizzing up, it may be a good idea to wait for an improved transcript when applying to colleges with rolling admissions. Doing so can be dicey, of course, but it will help one’s chances of acceptance if the grades will undoubtedly be better. It is also a wise idea to write the schools and inform them of why they needed to wait for a copy of the transcript. 27. Colleges can ask for deposits before their application deadlines.
Though it may be a practice that heaps additional stress onto a student, some schools can and do request a deposit before application deadlines. Intended to gauge how much interest their candidates actually hold, the schools nevertheless are required to give the money back should the individuals in question decide not to attend. 28. Explain every incomplete in detail.
Incompletes happen. Deaths in the family, prolonged illness, and other factors sometimes prevent otherwise active and competent students from fulfilling the requirements of a course. Should one appear on a transcript, it is vital to explain circumstances to the school. A guidance counselor really ought to help with this to add veracity to the claims, but students can (and should) send their own claims as well. 29. Donations and activism may not always pay off.
Parents who make donations to colleges and universities may only end up with a negligible increase in their child’s acceptance – barring, of course, instances where a rather portly sum of money changes hands. Volunteer work actually carries more weight than financial assistance, but even then legacy will still not fill in any potential holes in an application. 30. Send improved standardized test scores at any point.
Even if they yield positive results, some students re-take the SAT, ACT, and other standardized tests to see if they can do even better. Should these new-and-improved numbers happen to fall after a college’s stated deadline, a guidance counselor can still contact schools and give the admissions office updated information. Many institutions understand this odd situation and will make allowances, though others may not. Ultimately, it is there decision – but there is no harm in making an honest effort to let them know. 31. Bouncing from school to school isn’t as detrimental as one would think.
Some students who have had to move from high school to high school may panic over what colleges may think of their erratic experiences. Unless said transfers involved serious scholastic or behavioral problems, many admissions administrators may actually view this as a very positive mark of adaptability and resourcefulness – most especially if the individual attempted to continue his or her activities after a switch. Generally, the worst result involves trying to explain any possible transcript problems that crop up. Which, of course, students are very much advised to do. 32. Take action when application pieces appear missing.
No matter how much time an applicant takes to ensure his or her admissions packet is completed to a school’s exacting specifications, it is still entirely possible that part of it gets misplaced after reaching its destination. Maintain a cool head and speak respectfully to an administrator regarding the situation. Should it prove to be an item the student has little control over sending – such as a transcript or a letter of recommendation – make sure to (nicely!) inquire those in charge of them about any possible hiccups on their end. Karen Stabiner at The Huffington Post 33. Ditch the prep courses.
Shelling out hundreds of dollars for a standardized testing preparation class may not actually prove worth it in the end. Karen Stabiner points out far cheaper methods of boosting a student’s academic skills that can possibly yield similar results. 34. Early application is dicey.
According to the article, around 25% of most incoming classes is comprised of early applicants. Depending on one’s qualifications, however, the chances of acceptance may or may not improve by taking this route. It may seem like an attractive option at first, but extremely careful consideration must go into deciding whether or not to apply early. 35. Write to Financial Aid about special circumstances.
When it comes time to fill out Financial Aid forms, some students who have to tuck away money because of health reasons or dependents or any other mitigating circumstance may appear unqualified on paper. Do not be afraid to write a letter about the situation at hand and clearly explain why Financial Aid is sorely needed in spite of what the forms say. It is surprising how many allowances the system can make for those who truly need the money. 36. Keep a few basic writing tips in mind when writing the essay.
Karen Stabiner advises parents to take a back seat when it comes time for their kids to write out the admissions essay, lest they exert too much influence and compromise the authenticity. She does, however, point out a couple of basic grammar and stylistic tips and tricks that they can look for when it comes time to proofread – some that the students themselves ought to keep in mind as well. Avoid using a passive voice, learn the difference between “its” and “it’s,” and allot only one adjective per verb are a few things to watch out for when firing off a formal essay. 37. Tour, tour, tour!…Somehow!
Colleges can gauge seriousness based on whether or not a student made an effort to explore the campus and decide how well it meets their needs. But there is no reason to panic or feel compromised in situations that require expensive travel or other circumstances that prevent setting up a visit. Many schools offer virtual tours on their websites, and some third-party services offer up DVD versions of multiple institutions as well. In addition, applicants who take the initiative to contact and establish a rapport with faculty and staff members through e-mail or phone calls can also show off how seriously they take the admissions process without having to shell out the money to visit in person. 38. Know the different applications.
Some colleges and universities require the Common Application. Others prefer the Universal Application. In spite of the fact that the two share a multitude of similarities, many schools will absolutely not accept one if they prefer the other. Make absolutely certain to double- and triple-check before submitting the paperwork (or, as is more common these days, virtual paperwork) to ensure compliance with the preferred application. 39. Stay active once the application process is over.
Waiting on a positive or negative response from a college or university can prove absolutely agonizing – especially if some unexpected potential problems crop up after the fact. In order to quell some of the anxiety and pressure, it pays to try and become immersed in hobbies and other activities until the acceptance or rejection letter pops up in the mail. Remaining passive only serves to further stoke the stress. 40. Consider Adaptster
iPhone users can pay $17.99 for the Adaptster application as a means of accessing standardized test preparation at any point in time. The Adaptster Flex sells smaller question blocks for 99¢, targeting those with less money or less need for the fuller version. But those without access to Apple technology have little to fear – applications for other smart phones as well as web-based tutorials (offered between $10 and $15) are on the way. 41. It’s not all about the Ivy Leagues.
Ivy League colleges and universities may provide students with an excellent education – but they are not the right fit for everyone who submits a qualifying application. Everyone focuses their attention on prestige, but this mindset usually proves disheartening in the long run. The truth is, high school students have a much higher chance of finding an institution of higher learning that meets their needs if they apply to a broad spectrum of schools. Keeping an open mind and understanding that a good education can be found anywhere (yes, even community colleges!) is the key to finding relaxation and satisfaction. 42. “Senioritis,” when kept in check, is mostly harmless.
High school seniors in their last semester undoubtedly want to kick back and enjoy themselves before having to walk across the stage in a silly mortarboard hat. This is natural, even helpful, for their overall sense of happiness and well-being. But, as in all things, they need to remain responsible for their actions. Because most schools want a final transcript, noses do need to stay at the grindstone. And it goes without saying that behavioral or legal trouble needs avoiding at all costs. However, there is no harm in allowing a senior a bit of fun or placing any further pressure for him or her to make valedictorian, either. Find a workable balance. Hard-working and dedicated kids have certainly earned it. 43. Public schools send notifications earlier.
Although this article focuses on controversies regarding University of California’s skyrocketing tuition rates, Karen Stabiner does bury one nugget of advice in amongst the chaos. Public schools generally send out their acceptance or rejection letters before the private. So students fretting over the reasons why one school has gotten back with them over another ought to keep this in mind as they scurry to and through the mailbox. 44. Rejection is not a poor reflection on the student.
As Karen Stabiner mentions, students who receive rejection notices from a college or university usually pass through Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s Five Stages of Grief. This is natural, of course, but they need to understand that being turned down does not necessarily mean that they are undesirable. It merely means that the institution did not deem them a snug enough fit for the community they are trying to compile and speaks little of their personal or academic value. The rejected should be allowed to grieve, but parents should make an effort to let them know that the reality isn’t intending to slice away at their self-esteem. The Princeton Review 45. Always have a safety school.
They may not always be a student’s first choice, but safety schools are kind of a necessity when it comes to the college admissions process. Whether for academic or financial reasons, applying to schools that are (almost!) guaranteed helps ensure that college-bound high schoolers have an educational future ahead of them. Even if their preferred schools ship out rejection letters, they will have the security of knowing that there is somewhere to go when fall (or spring!) rolls around. 46. Essays should be reflective.
In order to show colleges that they are engaged citizens capable of growth, applicants should use their essays as a means of looking inward and sharing their experiences – not merely talking about them. Likewise, humor can always help boost one’s chances with certain administrators. However, as taste is subjective, this must also be carefully executed so as not to offend, come off as immature, or lower one’s chances of acceptance. 47. Write to a school who waitlists.
Should a student find him- or herself waitlisted at a college or university that they absolutely, passionately want to attend, it is a good idea to write them a very detailed letter of intention. Tell them that, should they accept an application, enrollment will follow. Be sure to maintain competitive grades and stay active in extracurricular projects. Guarantee these statements and request that they be added to a file so they know the exact level of dedication. It may even be a good idea to volunteer for an interview. This effort could very well mean the difference between acceptance and rejection. 48. Remain realistic about waitlists.
Regardless of the initiative some high schoolers put forth to make themselves more attractive to schools who waitlist them, they may end up rejected all the same. It is important in these admittedly stressful situations to maintain a realistic outlook – and if it comes down to the wire, some students may have to commit to a different college than the one they would prefer. 49. Trying again may not be a good idea…
Some students who do not get into their first choice of schools may decide to take a semester or year off before applying again. This is inadvisable, as they run the risk of perpetual rejection that only pushes back their education. Instead, they should attend a school that does want them for at least a few semesters. Earning excellent grades and remaining active in the academic and/or surrounding community may open up opportunities for them to try and apply as transfer students instead. 50. Make an effort to understand common essay questions.
Although some colleges throw their applicants a curveball when it comes to an essay topic, most end up sticking with a few tried-and-true prompts. Before tackling admissions packets, put forth the time and thought to become familiar with some of the more common ones out there. It definitely helps to approach them with at least some idea of what to write ahead of time. 51. Turn schools down politely.
No matter how many schools fill a mailbox with acceptance letters, students can only attend one of the colleges. Always stay polite when rejecting the schools that did not make the cut for whatever reason, especially if a rapport with any administrators cropped up along the way. If the selected institution does not prove a worthwhile fit in the long run, they may very well provide better opportunities down the line. Do not burn any bridges by acting callously. 52. Thank everyone.
Not only do adults who penned letters of recommendation require thanking, but everyone else – parents, guidance counselors, admissions officers, administrators, and others – deserves a bit of recognition as well. It does not have to come in the form of a card or a gift, of course, but make an earnest effort to let them know how much their assistance and support truly means. 53. Know the difference between early decision and early action.
The Princeton Review heavily recommends understanding exactly what early decision and early action offerings entail. Students accepted through early decision do end up obligated to the institution. Early action, on the other hand, affords a much greater degree of flexibility and does not require applicants to enroll afterwards. Both methods have their advantages and disadvantages, so the college bound really do need to dedicate serious thought to which one fits their needs best. 54. There is no shame in deferring enrollment.
College students at all levels sometimes find themselves in the prickly situation of having to push back their enrollment for any number of reasons. This does not deplete their status or reputation with the institution, nor does it make them any less of a student. Make sure to completely understand exactly how the process works, as it does vary from college to college. Doing so is especially important for incoming freshmen. 55. Keep a few things in mind when e-mailing colleges.
As this article by The Princeton Review illustrates, there are a couple of different elements one must consider when e-mailing an administrator or faculty member at a desired school. Potential applicants especially ought to keep these tips – which include staying succinct and listing contact information – on their mind. 56. Colleges prioritize based on graduation year.
Juniors who contact colleges will likely have to wait for them to get back with them once all seniors have been taken addressed. The same goes for sophomores, who must contend with both juniors and seniors – and so on. Admissions officials and other administrators must contend with a very high volume of mail every day, so do not take their silence as a sign of disinterest or rudeness. They just typically prioritize with preference towards those closer to their graduation date. Always practice patience and respond politely in these situations. 57. Freshmen – feel no fear!
Making the transition to high school carries with it a number of unique stresses and anxieties. While the more driven freshmen may waltz right in with college on the brain, it is a better idea to prioritize and focus more on the new layout and experiences than the future. However, The Princeton Review does offer an excellent and comprehensive guide to a few things that first-year high schoolers can think about when it comes to making an investment in the college applications that will come crashing down 3 years later. 58. Sophomores – start off slowly!
Once 10th grade begins, students already know what to expect in high school, allowing them to focus some of that energy on thinking about what colleges and degree plans appeal to them. This is not a time to be formulating anything definitive or huge, but it is a good idea to begin making a few preparations to help alleviate the strain from the junior and senior years. As with freshmen (and other class levels), The Princeton Review provides a handy, flexible schedule of what to do and when to do it. 59. Juniors – JOLT!!
While the senior year marks the final round of the application process, juniors face the roughest go. 11th grade is an excellent time to begin college visits, take the SAT, ACT, and other standardized tests for the first time, buckling down on grades, volunteering, sticking with extracurricular activities, establishing connections with important people, and more. It is a busy, stressful time in the future college student’s career – but ultimately rewarding. Be sure to explore The Princeton Review’s suggestions for juniors in order to gain a much more detailed perspective on their recommendations for juniors. 60. Seniors – stand up!
Senior year should build upon the foundation established from the freshman through junior levels, though generally with less anxiety than 11th grade. As graduation crawls closer and closer, it is a good idea to begin writing essays, submitting applications, getting in some last-minute visits, retaking standardized tests, and maintaining those previously established grades, relationships, and extracurricular activities. By this point, it should come as no surprise that The Princeton Review provides an insightful guide to help seniors prioritize and get the job done right.
Beyond these resources, it is a good idea to explore what other experts and insiders have to say about the admissions process. However, the ones listed here nevertheless provide a great framework to help future college and university students relax a little and know almost everything they need to succeed in their applications.