What I wish I’d known about applying to college


Every successful college career begins with a successful application. But no matter how nice your handwriting or how profound your essays, the only benchmark for success in the college application game is whether or not you get in. Coulda talked about your community service instead of your school play? Woulda applied to a few more safety schools? Shoulda taken a personal tour without your parents yakking about when they were freshmen? Don’t wait ‘til after you get in—here’s what college students wish they’d known before applying.

  • Visit—and visit again: “Visit twice before deciding. Parents, tour guides, and boring lectures usually accompany the first visit. Try and go with another student, or stay with someone you know there.” – Kristina, Indiana University at Bloomington
  • Enlist a proofreading pro: “I would suggest finding an English teacher that’ll help you with your essays and critique them correctly.” – Courtney, RIT
  • Get real: “I’ve always been a gifted writer, and I figured I could throw together a great application essay that would wow admissions officers and make up for my average grades and slightly above-average test scores. I was most definitely wrong.” – Matt, UC Davis
  • Make a summer break strategy: “Seriously consider filling out your applications in the summer. The fall semester of your senior year can be extremely busy, so get some applications under your belt before crunch time.” – Amanda Nardi, Hamilton College
  • Get the real deal: “Even if I’d just stopped a few students walking around and asked them about their personal experience at a school, it might have helped.” – Jordan, Johns Hopkins University
  • Apply on your own terms: “Avoid being competitive with peers. If only I had known that I would end up where I was destined to be, I would have saved a lot of energy.” – Emily, UCSB
  • The more you know: “Dig into the current news of the university. Is the school receiving money for new buildings? Are the businesses in the surrounding area cutting jobs? Is there a star sports player bringing media attention to the school? All of these factors of the future are just as important as the history of the school. You need to look at past, present and future in making your pick.” – Chelsea, Syracuse University
  • Don’t care? Don’t apply: “If you cannot bring yourself to invest everything you can into an application, then you are not seriously considering that school. The care you use to craft an application shows itself regardless of attempts to hide indifference.” – Tiffany, USC
  • Take the SAT seriously: “When I got that rejection letter I realized that the SAT did count for something. It made me wish that I had taken that stupid SAT prep class and actually looked at that $30 study guide my dad bought me instead of sitting by the pool all day.” – Iva, Virginia Commonwealth University
  • Narrow it down: “It will save you loads of stress, and also time and money, to narrow it down to about four schools you could actually be excited about attending. Of course, you should absolutely have a backup plan, especially if you’re applying to particularly selective schools.” – Anna, Sarah Lawrence
  • Declare the unexpected: “Certain majors are more popular than others, which WILL affect admissions. I know people who have come into UCSD, a school known for its biology and engineering programs, under [a different] major, and then switched to [more popular departments like] biology or engineering. Sneaky? Yes. Smart? Yes.” – Ashley, UCSD
  • Early Decision is not for everyone: “The benefits of Early Decision are meaningless if you’re not 100% sure that you know which college is your first choice. I chose to apply early decision to Vassar because I thought I’d have a better chance of getting in. Now, I often wonder about what could have been, or which I would have chosen if I’d applied and been accepted to both [Vassar and another college]. Also, if you don’t get into to your ED college, you only have a week or two to fill out other applications.” – Rebecca, Vassar College
  • Reach for the stars: “Don’t underestimate yourself…[E]ven though you should always have a safety school, you may also get into schools that you never thought you could.” – Brittany, WVU
  • Be yourself: “Your college essays should reflect exactly who you are. If you have quirks, throw them in. Don’t have your parents or your college counselor write them for you. It is difficult, because everyone in high school is used to writing essays in the same structured fashion, but the essay is the one chance to be yourself.” – Chelsea, Syracuse University
  • Just do it! “College applications are the teenage equivalent to adults having to file taxes. They are a pain in the ass. So take a weekend and just get them over with. Remember: if you don’t apply, you don’t get in.” – Jane, Miami University