Mistake #1: Applying to Too Many Colleges
Offender: Students and Parents
College acceptance is a numbers game, and not just GPA and SAT numbers. The more applications you submit, the more chances you have of getting in somewhere…Right? Not necessarily.
It’s true that more students are applying to more schools, so you don’t want to be at a disadvantage by keeping that number lower. But after a certain amount, you hit a point of diminishing returns, when the quality of your applications suffer because of the amount of work you have to do for them.
Think seriously about how much time you have to create quality applications, with well thought-out essay responses that have been edited several times.
Senior year can be a huge time drain, between relentless classes and homework, long evenings of extracurriculars, last-minute testing, and senior social events. Add sleep to that list and your application time dwindles fast!
Shoot for a list of 10-12 schools, with a maximum of 15. (Ones with shared applications, like the UCs, count as 1, so there’s a bonus round in there.)
Try to come up with a list that balances schools into three categories: backups (>70% chance of acceptance), targets (approx. 50% chance of acceptance), and reaches (<70% chance of acceptances). Get 2-3 backups, 2-3 reaches, and the remainder in the target category. The reason so many people feel compelled to apply to 20+ schools is that they haven’t thoughtfully considered each school. It means that they have been sloppy in their selection process.
Get to know schools from marketing materials, websites, colleges fairs, campus tours/interviews, and talking with other people. Due diligence in this process will ensure you have a manageable, exciting list of schools you will be happy to attend–and apply to.
Mistake #2: Allowing Someone Else to Write Your College Essays
Offender: Students (but we’re looking at you, Parents)
You have been committed to your children’s development throughout their lives, and you want them to live up to their potential and succeed. Why let their lackadaisical ways get in the way of that?
You are tired of nagging them to do work on their essays, and if someone doesn’t do it, it won’t get done, right? The obvious next choice is to take matters into your own hands–or hire someone else’s hands. After all, you’ve been cleaning up after the kids for seventeen years, what’s one more time when it really counts?
These well-intentioned efforts are a mistake. Students are often resistant to doing college applications because they don’t know where to begin, feel intimidated by the process and overwhelmed by competing priorities, and have underlying fears about flying the coop. Some dig their heels in as their way to gain a sense of control over all this change. Instead of pushing them onto an unfamiliar path they don’t even know if they want, try starting a conversation about what they want out of their college experience.
Check your own agenda at the door for a minute and listen to what they are saying. You will find that you share more common ground than you think, and will inspire students to view the essays as the first step to controlling their own future.
Mistake #3: Putting off Applications until Senior Year
Have we already stressed how busy senior year is? Do you need anyone else to tell you that? You know it! So why put off the most important and time-consuming task of your academic career until you’re smack in the middle of a last-minute hurricane?
Some reasons are simple: humans naturally put off what isn’t pressing until it is. Other reasons are a little sneakier: fear of the unknown tops that list.
Not only are you unfamiliar with the college life for which you are signing up (sight-unseen), but you are also unfamiliar with what an application consists of, what essays are, how to write them, how long all this will take, and how to prioritize it all. The only thing simple here is that it’s simply overwhelming.
Remember that knowledge is power. A little investigation goes a long way to alleviating stress and motivating you toward progress. Ways to start the investigation include scheduling an appointment with your high school guidance counselor. Most school counselors are too overwhelmed to track you down, so you need to be proactive here. (An added benefit is that they will be writing your letter of recommendation, so the more they know you, the better the recommendation will be!)
Ask them if they can give you a timeline of tasks, a task organizer or checklist, and resources that might help. Use an online service that lays out the entire process for you and sends you reminders and tips as you go step-by-step through the process.
Get organized at home by creating a file folder just for college application stuff.
Label each section: letters of recommendation, transcripts and test scores, general college/campus tour info, essay info; then, label a section for each college to which you are applying. Here you can store materials from each school, essays that you are writing for that particular college, business cards of admissions reps you meet at fairs, and other notes you take on the school. Schedule a block of time each week to work on one aspect of the process.
These steps will go a long way in keeping you organized, efficient, and motivated to prepare for college. Think of this as your time to take control and make big decisions about your adult future. Pretty Powerful!
This guest blog was provided by College Copilot, who offers students a unique approach to college applications and choice. For other common admission mistakes (and more!), visit their College Copilot Blog.
Westface College Planning helps navigate the financial aid process from start to finish. To learn how we can minimize college cost, call us at 650-587-1559 or sign up for one of our Tackling the Runaway Costs of College Workshops or Webinars.
Photo Credit: B Rosen