Cartoon of man in suit running away from his own scary shadow monster

5 Scary College Search Mistakes to Avoid

Do you have the college search scaries? Squash those fears and see what mistakes to avoid so the application process doesn't haunt you.

Happy Halloween college searchers! It’s one of the spookiest times of year in the college application world. So in honor of All Hallows’ Eve, we’re going to squash some of your fears and go over the scariest college search and application mistakes to avoid. Take it from those who have been there before: you do not want to make one of these faux pas during the process. For an extra spooky touch, we’ve paired each of these common mistakes with a classic Halloween quote—they might even inspire an admission essay idea or two. Here’s to making your college search and application process full of treats and no tricks! 

1. Don’t avoid campus tours like the plague

“Believe only half of what you see and nothing that you hear.”  Edgar Allan Poe

While a college tour won’t tell you everything you need to know about a school, it’s crucial to try to go on one before you apply. If that’s not possible, be sure to visit the school’s campus in person before sending in your enrollment deposit. There are plenty of scary consequences that can come from not visiting—you might not like the school’s location compared to the pictures in the brochures, or maybe you just won’t feel the general vibe of the students. 

Truth be told, walking around a campus can answer more questions than any college admission counselor can. Are the students generally happy? Are they social? Is the walk to classes insufferable? How good or bad is the weather, really? A visit is worth a thousand words to get the answers to these questions, and perhaps some you’d never have thought of. And one last word of caution: if you visit a school and don’t even want to sit through the entire tour, it’s probably not the place for you. 

Related: Campus Tours: What to Expect and How to Prepare

2. Don’t get obsessed with one (and only one) school

“I beheld the wretch—the miserable monster whom I had created. He held up the curtain of the bed; and his eyes, if eyes they may be called, were fixed on me.” — Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

A dream school has the power to make a “miserable monster” out of any applicant. After all, having your eyes fixed on only one school can certainly make you pretty miserable if things don’t work out in your favor at the end of the process. If you’ve found yourself stuck in love with one school in particular, it’s important to make sure you haven’t formed a fantasy bond with the institution. Talk to current students and professors, visit the campus, and do your research before deciding that this is the school for you. In fact, most students should have a good mix of safety, reach, and match schools on their college list. 

If you still feel like this college or university is the one for you, then it should be pretty easy to find some of your favorite qualities about said school at other universities or colleges. For instance, if your dream school is a small liberal arts college in the Northeast that is Division III and has a rural campus—and you know for a fact that those are the things you love about it—do a quick Google search for schools with similar qualities. You might be surprised at how similar “the one” is to other institutions. 

3. Don’t wait until the last minute to write your essays

“By the time Halloween arrived, Harry was regretting his rash promise to go to the deathday party.” — JK Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Did Harry Potter regret his promise to go to that party because he had a November 1 Early Decision deadline that he hadn’t written an essay for yet? …Maybe. Don’t let this happen to you! The summer before senior year of high school is the perfect time to write your essays. Some high schools even offer programs this time of the year specifically to help rising seniors write their essays. See if your school or other schools near you offer a program like this that you can sign up for. Plus, the sooner you get your essays done, the more eyes you can get on them before actually sending them in—the more proofreaders the better for such an important piece. 

Related: College Application Essays: Our Best Advice

4. Don’t let the sticker price shock you

“Ichabod was horror-struck on perceiving that he was headless!—but his horror was still more increased on observing that the head, which should have rested on his shoulders, was carried before him on the pommel of his saddle!” — Washington Irving, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow 

While some colleges’ sticker prices might seem as shocking as running into the Headless Horseman on Halloween night, don’t let them trick you. Many people qualify for some sort of financial aid, scholarships, or grants that can majorly take down that seemingly high price. Before you rule out any school, give the financial aid office a call and see what their options are for prospective students in your situation.  

5. Don’t hate your safety schools

“But I am not in heart to describe beauty, for when I had seen the view I explored further; doors, doors, doors everywhere, and all locked and bolted. In no place save from the windows in the castle walls is there an available exit. The castle is a veritable prison, and I am a prisoner!” — Bram Stoker, Dracula

We’ve all had this scary thought while applying to colleges: What if every school I applied to rejects me? While it’s not likely, “doors, doors, doors everywhere, and all locked and bolted,” can be the unfortunate reality of the end of your college application process. To keep this from happening, you need to apply to some safety schools—and you have to take searching for and applying to those schools as seriously as you would for your dream school. If every school rejects you other than your safety but you can’t stand that school enough to think about enrolling, then there was really no point in applying at all. Even if you don’t end up getting into your top schools, having a safety you’d be happy to go to can be a real silver lining. Finding a school like this might require a more detailed search process, but it’s important to do just in case! 

Related: How to Tell If a College Is Right for You

All these circumstances can be a little overwhelming if they happen to you. But there are ways to get past these common college admission concerns and mistakes. Take a deep breath, center yourself, and reassess your situation to figure out what’s best. You can avoid these mistakes with a little bit of work and intention.

You know what makes the college search a little less scary? Using our handy College Search tool!

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