When I was searching for and applying to colleges, this was what I thought I knew:
- College X is known for giving terrible financial aid, so I’m definitely not going there.
- I don’t need to visit College Y; I’ll just go after I receive my acceptance.
- You need to have a perfect SAT score, perfect grades, and a million extracurriculars to get into the Ivy League.
- College Z is my top college choice. If I get in there, I’ll definitely go.
- I can learn all I need to know about getting into college online!
Long story short, I was super duper wrong about all of these things.
Looking back now, it definitely seems like I knew absolutely nothing about the process of applying to college. But it turns out they’re pretty common college search mistakes. So don’t let them happen to you!
Here’s what I learned—and what you need to know so you don’t make the same mistakes:
College X is known for giving terrible financial aid, so I’m definitely not going there.
Despite what online college forums and friends said about this particular college being notorious with their financial aid (both need- and merit-based packages), College X ended up giving me a full merit-based package for all four years. A friend of mine also received a similar package from the school. The point is, you really don’t know what will happen until you apply! Find colleges that fit you first, then apply, file your financial aid papers prior to the deadline, and wait for the college to send you its decisions. You never know how much aid you’ll get—and you won’t find out until you’ve gotten your admission decision and financial aid award letter.
I don’t need to visit College Y; I’ll just go after I receive my acceptance.
Yup, I thought this. I only visited two of my prospective colleges—even though I applied to 13. Learn from me: if you have any chance at all to visit the colleges you’d like to attend, definitely go. You have very little time to visit the colleges you’ve been accepted to if you’re waiting to hear back from schools on March 31 and need to hand in your final college decision by May 1. It might be hard to get there, but if you’re stuck between schools, you’ll find yourself even more stressed and overwhelmed when it comes to actually picking a school if you’ve never visited it.
You need to have a perfect SAT score, perfect grades, and a million extracurriculars to get into the Ivy League.
While I’m sure having perfect SAT scores, perfect grades, and a few different extracurriculars wouldn’t hurt you when it comes to getting into the Ivy League, you shouldn’t stress yourself out when it comes to this. Work hard to get good grades, and participate in extracurriculars you enjoy. Study for the SAT and retake it (once—two times tops!) if you’re not happy with your score. Remember, there is no formula for getting into the Ivy League! If you feel you belong at one of those eight colleges universities, you have nothing to lose by trying. Don’t count yourself out if you don’t fit the stereotypical mold of what an Ivy League kid is supposed to be. Just be yourself and work hard!
College Z is my top college choice. If I get in there, I’ll definitely go.
Some people stick with their top college choice—but others don’t. It could be that you got a better financial offer elsewhere, or maybe you just reconsidered. Whatever the case may be, keep your options, mind, and heart open, because you might not end up going where you once thought you would. And that’s okay.
I can learn all I need to know about getting into college online!
Yeah, I thought this too. Unfortunately, the college admission process is different for every school. I thought I could find out the likelihood that I would be accepted to a specific college from online forums and articles. And though gauging your chances of acceptance is part of deciding whether a college is one of your safety, match, or reach options, these online forums did not accurately predict my trajectory for success or failure. My advice: avoid reading forums with people asking about their likelihood of getting into a certain college. These can set you up for a false outcome.
The opinions of random people on the Internet will not determine your college admission decision, so do not let them determine whether or not you apply somewhere or even how you approach applying there. If you’d like to know more about the college admission process or your likelihood of getting in, contact the college directly, scope out its admission statistics online (you can find college profiles here), and then just apply to it if it’s a good fit for you. Another great resource would be to speak to current students directly; you might be able to talk to alumni from your high school or connect with students on a campus visit.
When you’re applying to college, so many ideas fly around your brain at once: Where should I go? Should I leave the state? How far should I go? Can I pay for college? Will I even get in? At times, these big questions are enough to make you want to put down your computer and college brochures and replace them with less overwhelming things like hot cocoa and a Snuggie. Unfortunately, these tough questions will probably never go away; they are simply part of the college search and application process. But if you think about it, the challenging nature of this process is good, because college is a big decision and you should be thinking hard about it!
And even though I wish I could’ve done away with my misconceptions during the college application process, hopefully, they will help you with yours.