Originally Posted: Sep 17, 2018
Last Updated: Aug 31, 2020
Many of us in high school are thinking about how to be our best selves for our college applications. With this comes a lot of advice from your family, friends, counselors, and the internet. School has taught us how to find a good source online, but it can be hard to navigate the credibility of others. Here are some useful tricks for checking your advice from different sources and making that advice meaningful to you.
Utilize your parents
For me, the most difficult advice to handle is advice from my parents. It’s hard to look at the people you love and respect and realize they’re not experts. Your parents hold extremely valuable advice if they can cater it to your personality. Your family has spent a lot of time with you, so if you’re having trouble writing a personal essay or picking a summer job or internship that matches your needs, they can be your go-to people for ideas.
Unfortunately, your parents may not have been in college for a while, if they went at all. The college application process has changed! Your parents’ experiences may not apply to your experience. The best thing you can do is collaborate their advice with other sources. If your parents told you colleges only want students who can cliff dive, you would want to check that information, right? While their advice may not be that out there, sometimes outdated info can be that inaccurate.
Your parents might only know about the college they attended or the career path they pursued. And unless you’re following directly in their footsteps, this advice might not help you. The best thing to do is check your parents’ advice against other sources. This is especially helpful with strict applications. If you already have a narrowed-down list of colleges you want to apply to, check out their websites and confirm what that college is looking for.
Talk to siblings or friends already applied to college
Those who have just gone through this process are your best resources! This is especially true if you’re interested in the same career or college as your friend or sibling. Ask them as many questions as you can. If you don’t know what to specifically ask about, have them give you an overview of what their application process was like, what parts were especially difficult for them, and how they overcame those difficulties. The more recent someone’s experience is, the more helpful it will be. If you don’t have any friends who just applied to college, make an appointment with your school counselor and ask them if there’s anyone they could connect you with who just applied.
Go to your school counselors office
School counselors are there for a reason. It’s their job to give you advice on how to apply to college. The one downside of your school counselor is that they may not know you very well. It’s hard to give tailored college advice when you only know the basic facts about a person. Try to get to know your school counselor, then you can ask targeted questions. Remember, many schools require recommendations from school counselors, so the more they know about you, the better!
Find application advice books
There are plenty of books about application advice and information about colleges. I find a lot of these books only serve to stress me out more, but others find them helpful. I like Get It Together for College by the College Board. This is essentially a planner with advice and answers to frequently asked questions. The Princeton Review also has many books on application advice and college rankings.
Advice coming from a book is definitely going to be fact checked, so you don’t have to worry about outdated information if you get the most recent edition. However, some of the books say you need to take more prep classes or sign up for programs as a way of promoting their companies. There’s nothing wrong with this, but it’s important to be aware that you don’t need to buy every prep book they publish.
Do your own internet research
The internet is a large source of information, but make sure you’re looking for college advice from reliable sources. Obviously, turn to CollegeXpress first [Editor’s note: Thanks for the shout-out, Rebecca!]. If you want more information, websites such as Khan Academy and PrepScholar also have free resources. U.S. News & World Report also has their 2018 Best College Rankings posted, with overall information about colleges.
Just like prep books, free resources will give lots of information about any prep courses they offer. So make sure you give yourself a moment of thought before signing up for things. Also, look for the dates the information was published. You don’t want to study information about the old SAT when you’re taking the new one.
Overall, make your college advice search fun! Find information that interests you and ask lots of questions. The more informed you are, the less stressful applying to college will be.
For more advice on navigating college applications, check out our College Admission section!