When I was searching for and applying to colleges, this was what I thought I knew:
- If a college is known for giving terrible financial aid, I’m definitely not going there.
- I don’t need to visit colleges; I’ll just go after I receive my acceptance.
- I need to have a perfect SAT score, perfect grades, and a million extracurriculars to get into Ivy League schools.
- If a school is my top college choice, I’ll definitely go if I get in.
- 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 there are things a lot of other high school students get wrong too. So don’t let them happen to you! Here are those top five assumptions I was wrong about in my college search and why.
1. If a college is known for giving terrible financial aid, I’m 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 with a school's financial aid package until you apply! Find colleges that fit you first, then apply, file your financial aid papers (on time!), 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.
2. I don’t need to visit this college; I’ll just go after I receive my acceptance
I only visited two of my prospective colleges—even though I applied to 13 different schools. 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. Start visiting as early as possible. If you’re thinking of applying to a lot of schools but know the ones you’re definitely applying to, visit those before applying. Then you can assess later the ones you still need to visit if you definitively decide to apply.
3. I 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 schools! 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!
4. If a school is my top college choice, I’ll definitely go if I get in
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. A lot of students get ideals in their head regarding what they’re top schools are like, only to later find out the school isn’t quite what they wanted. Accepting that something may be better for you instead of sticking with your first instinct school. 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. The most important thing in the college search and decision process is to find what school is best for you, your dreams, and your goals, and whether that’s your first choice or your fourth, no one else can tell you what the right decision is.
5. 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, 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.
Get it right
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! Even though I wish I hadn't been wrong about these things during my college application process, hopefully, they will help you get it right.
Make sure you have the right ideas about the college search process with more advice in our College Admission section.