Playing the college admissions game to win!

June 6, 2008

10 Tips for College-Bound Students

Fact number one is that the student who gets admitted to the greatest number of colleges is not necessarily the winner of this "game". Fact number two is that neither is the student who is admitted to the most prestigious college or the student offered the greatest number of scholarships. Fact number three is that everyone can  win this game. Everyone.
That's because winning means winding up at a college or university in which you'll be both happy and successful. And, it's not that hard. Below are ten tips to help. If you follow them all (especially #8 and # 10), you can be free of the anxiety so many students experience in the college selection process. In fact, you may find the college search process interesting and even a bit of fun.

1. Be sure to take the most challenging high school courses you can handle. Don’t take the easy way out (as many students do, especially in their senior year). Strong academic preparation makes you a better candidate for admission and greatly improves your chances for success in college.
2. Take either the ACT or SAT as a high school sophomore, if possible, if only to practice, get on some college mailing lists, and determine your relative strengths and weaknesses as compared with students throughout the country, students against whom you may be competing for college admission. Take both the ACT and SAT, after preparing diligently for them, in your junior and senior years.
3. Before making a list of colleges to consider, spend some time putting together a list of the criteria most important to you (location, size, academic programs, campus environment, co-curricular activities, etc.). If you are thoughtful and thorough in this phase of the process, it will be much easier for you to create your “colleges to explore” list, the next step in your college.
4. When you begin putting together your “colleges to explore” list, consider both your college choice criteria and the academic profiles of students most likely to be admitted to each. Keep in mind that you do not have to be at the top of all the listed ranges in the admitted student profiles…that’s the good news. The bad news is that even being at the top of every range is no guarantee of admission, particularly at the very most selective institutions. Hey, who said this would be easy? On the other hand, don’t panic. Most colleges (80% +) admit more students than they deny, and there really is a college or university for (almost) everybody.
5. Do not eliminate colleges from your “colleges to explore” list because of their “sticker price”, as financial aid (available in many forms) may greatly reduce your actual cost of attendance. More on this later.
6. Do not count on activities to get you into college. They may be a “tip” factor in your favor, but unless you have exceptional talent in athletics, music, etc., they will not “save the day” for you. Strength of preparation (coursework), grades, and standardized (ACT or SAT) scores carry far more weight. And, understand that colleges are generally more impressed by real commitment to a few co-curricular activities than limited participation in many.
7. Do not rule out colleges whose names you do not recognize. Attend college fairs, meet with college representatives visiting your school, read the literature you receive in the mail, talk to your counselor, and use the many great resources available online. Explore lots of options and seek information aggressively. If you snooze, you lose.
8. When you make your “colleges to apply to” list, don’t be afraid to include a few “reach” schools, but be realistic about your chances. And, include at least two very carefully chosen “safety” schools. “Safety” or “fall back” schools are colleges you are confident will admit you, institutions you will be able to afford without hardship, and (most of all) colleges you would be happy to attend. Take great care to choose your safety schools well, because if you do you’ll be “bulletproof”.
9. Visit as many colleges as possible, ask lots of questions, spend as much time as possible at each institution, and, if possible, have your family accompany you. Your family knows you better than anyone else, thus their observations and opinions may prove very helpful to you (even if you agree on nothing else)
10. Never attend a college or university you have not visited. In fact, experienced educators often say this is rule #1. Rule #2, by the way, is that there are no exceptions to rule #1. There are countless stories about students whose visits saved them from bad decisions. Conversely, there are just as many stories about folks who made bad decisions after choosing to attend colleges and universities they failed to visit.

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