15 Things I Wish I Knew When I Applied to Colleges

Posted by Marina Orievsky on

This article was inspired by our book, "How to Ditch Your Parents".  Learn more here.

Applying to colleges is, for most, a nerve-wrecking experience. For me, senior year was spent procrastinating, followed by tears and the fear that I would be a barista for the rest of my life. I knew there was something bigger in store for me than washing blended-coffee-drinks out of my hair every night. 

Planning was not my strong-suit, but after several months of scrambling, the last-minute-queen (me) got her act together and it all worked out for the best. I got into a great school and made it through just fine - but getting there was no cake walk. This is not intended to scare anyone away from college. The application process doesn't have to be as terrifying as mine was.

15 Things I Wish I Knew When I Applied to Colleges - Papersalt

I am well aware that I made some classic mistakes, which is why I was beyond thrilled when my University of Washington welcome packet arrived in the mail. The envelope had little bright confetti all over it and, I can't imagine they send out rejection letters with confetti on them-- that would just be mean!

And while there are plenty of resources on the web to help you get through the process, I felt like I already had too much homework. I didn't want to sit at my computer and read through several "guides-to-success." And the truth is, I should have done that extra work. Because by the time I remembered that I wanted to go to college, this procrastinator was too embarrassed to ask for help. 

If I could go back and do it all over again, there is a lot I would do differently. But instead of singing my coulda- shoulda-woulda's, I've compiled a list of the basics that will hopefully help make the college application process a little less grueling for you. 


1. Start thinking about college options early and talk about it with your parents: 

Let your parents be involved in the process. After all, they're most likely going to be the ones paying for it. Be thankful to the people investing in your future and make sure they know their help and attention is appreciated. 


2. Talk about money:

It's not fun but its necessary. When applying for colleges, it helps to know what kind of tuition you'll be paying. Should you need financial aid, you can start the application process early and read through all of the fine print. 


3. Do your research: 

Just in case you don't get a chance to visit every school you apply to, take the time to browse the school's website, be aware of application deadlines,  learn fun facts about the campus and find out what kind of SAT and ACT scores you'll need to get into your dream school.


4.Meet with a counselor or a teacher who knows what kind of student you are:

If you don't have any schools you're excited to apply to, talk to someone who might be able to steer you in the right direction based on what you want to study, groups you want to be affiliated with or any other specific interests you might have.  Find out where your favorite teacher went to college and see what kind of words of wisdom they can offer. 


5. Stay organized:

Make check lists, keep a calendar and mark all application deadlines. Also set personal deadlines for yourself, like when you want to have the first draft of your essay done. 


6. Make sure to give teachers plenty of time to write your letters of recommendation: 

Teachers are extremely busy so be sure to respect their time and appreciate their willingness. 


7. Write thank you notes to everyone who helps you get through the process: 

This is a good life skill to have. Be sure to thank teachers, counselors and, especially, mom and dad. If you take a college tour, send a thank you email to the person who volunteered their time to show you around.

These "Thank You" greeting cards make it easy to do just that - check them out here.


8. If you don't understand any particular part of the college application process, ask for help:

Don't guess on instructions. College admissions boards go through stacks and stacks of applications and they're not very forgiving with small mistakes. Skipping a section or filling it out incorrectly might mean you have to re-apply later on, so instead of letting laziness get the best of you, get it right the first time. 


9. Read directions  and essay prompts carefully:

Make sure your essay has a narrowed focus and stays on topic. Keep in mind that you will most likely have a 500-700 word limit so stick to one story. Read it out-loud and make sure it showcases who you are. 


10. Don't obsess over your GPA:

Some schools are harder to get into than others. Schools want students who will positively contribute to their environment so if your GPA is a few grade points too short, apply anyway and make sure you have one heck of an admissions essay. 


A cliche but good piece of advice: Take chances, believe in your success and you might be surprised with what you accomplish. You won't get into every school (I absolutely didn't), but the best thing you can do is try. 


11. Do NOT procrastinate:

Leave time for editing essays and double-check your applications for any silly mistakes.


12. Brag about yourself:

Don't forget to mention your strengths. Sell yourself! Schools get thousands of applications each year and you want them to pick you over the kid who lifeguards and plays four sports!


13. If you're going to visit colleges, take notes:

Explore the campus' popular hang-out spots and make sure it's an environment you'll feel comfortable in. See if you can sit in on a class or attend an event for prospective students.


14. If you can, talk to people who already go to schools you're applying to:

Get an outside perspective. College life can be a tricky transition-- you'll want to have a reliable resource who can answer questions. Just like in any new environment, no one expects you to know everything.


15. Most importantly, college is YOUR experience. It's what YOU make it.  You can be as involved as you want. Pick a place that you will enjoy for four or more years and make sure you get your money's worth. 


Check out our book, How to Ditch Your Parentsthat serves as a helpful guide for those moving out for the first time or a great graduation gift for high school and college seniors. 



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