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5 Tips for Keeping it Real While Applying to College

Roland Allen & Amy Warren | Instructors, The Road to Selective College Admissions

The college admissions process can be complicated, overwhelming, and let’s face it – stressful! From writing your resume, requesting references, and racking your brain for the perfect essay topic to demonstrate your personality and your strengths, completing the application process can be time consuming and daunting. To help you through the college application process, we’ve came up with our 5 tips for “Keeping it Real” – and maintaining your sanity – to ensure your applications are postmarked by the application deadline. Check out our tips below, and learn more by enrolling in our edX course, The Road to Selective College Admissionsedx[dot]org/course/road-selective-college-admissions-st-margarets-episcopal-school-col101x-0 )

  1. Be yourself.

The fact is, the best story you can tell is your own. Many students tell us that they want to stand out in the college process. Yet, these same students often seek to imitate what they think has “worked” for others—friends, neighbors, random postings online. This is not the place to start. The best college applicants are the ones who do the hard work of getting to know themselves by setting goals, and assessing their strengths and weaknesses at the start of the process. These applicants also approach their college applications by thinking about what they want colleges to know about them, rather than trying to guess what they think colleges want to hear.

  1. Be open.

The perfect college for you could be one that you have never heard of before you started the search process. We tell our students to spread a wide net when it comes to assembling their college lists. With so many colleges to choose from, it is important to keep an open mind as you explore college options. Also, if you find a school that piques your interest, stay focused on that interest. If others seem more focused on magazine rankings or “name brand” colleges, just remind yourself that you have done the research and know yourself the best.

  1. Be realistic.

While it is okay to reach, you want to make sure that your college list does not include only highly selective schools. When it is time to choose which colleges you would like to attend, you want to have choices. Likewise, be realistic about your finances. Talk with your parents early on in the process to access your family’s financial resources and what might be available to you. Use the Net Price Calculator on each college’s financial aid website to gauge what you and your parents will be expected to contribute to your education if admitted. Also, think in advance about how much loan debt you’re willing to take on, if finances are a concern.

  1. Be thoughtful.

A successful college process does not happen by accident. You need to understand deadlines, application requirements, including standardized tests, and the financial aid process. Additionally, you should create time in your senior year schedule to research colleges and draft your applications. In reality, applying to college is similar to completing a major long-term class assignment. You’re required to think through each step in advance, do your homework, and then work towards managing the project over an extended period of time. As with other parts of this process, we recommend sketching out a game-plan with your school counselor, teacher, or other trusted adult.

  1. Be bold.

Put yourself out there. If you do not know the answer to something college related, ask people who know the answer. Utilize your school counselor, or if the answer is college-specific, call the college admissions or financial aid office. Some students need more information on specific academic programs at colleges. We advise our students to go to college websites and look for contacts in academic departments of interest. They’re happy to help you understand their offerings. At every point in the process, seek competent advice from experts who can help you.

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