The Old College Try and the New College Trial

By Cullen Knowles

University of South DakotaThis spring, hundreds of thousands of high school seniors will make one of the most important decisions of their lives: where they will go to college, and what they will study at their new school. Unfortunately, the process leading up to this paramount decision is excessively long, frustrating, and arduous for most high school seniors, and the majority of these seniors are drastically unprepared for applying to colleges and universities. In other words, many seniors fail to realize the significance of this decision, and many of them underestimate what it takes to get into any college. For example, far too many juniors and seniors place too much value in their GPA’s and lose focus on the absolutely imperative ACT. As a result of this mistake and many others, thousands of seniors do not even get accepted into the school they desire to attend. Here are a few of the most common mistakes that seniors make:

  1. Putting off the ACT until their senior year: this is possibly the worst mistake a senior could commit during the college application process. If a senior waits until the fall of their senior year to take the ACT, or even worse, the winter of their senior year, then they will lose the opportunity to retake the test and delay the submission of all of their applications. This will have a variety of negative impacts on that senior’s chances of getting accepted into the college or university of their choice. For example, being forced to submit an application after Christmas Break will decrease the senior’s likelihood of receiving competitive scholarships.
  2. Believing that a 4.0 GPA allows students to be accepted into any college or university: this is another horrible misconception that seems to plague the vast majority of seniors. After all, any student who earns straight A’s and completes all of their graduation requirements should automatically be admitted to Dartmouth College, right? Wrong! In fact, a 4.0 GPA is almost meaningless unless you have taken multiple AP and Honors courses and done well on the ACT. Even though high schools constantly brag about how many of their students earn straight A’s, they almost never speak about the rigor of the courses their students take. Why? High school is extremely easy compared to college, and most high schools fail to prepare students for the difficulty of the courses they will face in college. This is one reason why taking Advanced Placement and Honors courses in high school is so important. Furthermore, the rampant GPA inflation that plagues almost every high school in the nation undermines the effectiveness of a 4.0 GPA.
  3. Applying to a school that you’ve never visited and/or know absolutely nothing about: Every year, hundreds of unfortunate seniors apply to colleges that they have never even heard of before. Sometimes these situations are actually beneficial for students, but they usually result with a disgruntled senior visiting a college for the first time and discovering that they absolutely hate it. However, there is an even more atrocious option for seniors who apply to colleges without visiting or researching them; they could decide to attend an institution they have never even visited! Believe me, there is nothing worse than showing up to a supposedly decent public university and discovering that it is nothing but a gigantic football factory with phony courses and phony professors (or even worse, an empty barn in the middle of a cornfield). Overall, applying to an institution that you know nothing about is merely a waste of time and money.
  4. Writing your admission or scholarship essay about the time when your dog died: Overall, the most stereotypical topic for a student’s admission essay is the death of a loved one. The loved one could be a relative, a friend, or even a pet, but the essay still wouldn’t stand out to an admissions representative or a scholarship committee. When writing an essay for an application or a scholarship, a student should choose a topic or a prompt that will reveal their essential characteristics, and an essay about the death of a student’s grandmother will usually fail to accomplish this. According to Dave Marcus, an admissions representative at Brown University, a student writing an essay for a college should “avoid the D’s. The D’s are divorce, disease, death, (and) disabilities.” As a result of this, seniors should choose unique topics, such as the failure of their freshmen Rube-Goldberg machine, for their admission and scholarship essays.
  5. Failing to ask admissions representatives questions: Admissions representatives are there to help you throughout the application process, and being shy is a poor strategy when it comes to applying to colleges and universities. If you need to know an absolutely imperative piece of information about a college, then do not hesitate to ask an admissions representative; they cannot refuse to help any student.
  6. Failing to be proactive about the application process: When seniors apply to a college, they must demonstrate how serious they are about attending the institution. This requires communicating with the college via emails, phone calls, and even social networks on a regular basis. In addition to this, a student who completes their application materials in a timely manner displays a greater level of seriousness than a student who procrastinates on their application until the last minute. This aspect of the admissions might not seem to be of much importance, but it can make or break an application to some institutions, especially Ivy League schools and other extremely prestigious colleges and universities.
  7. Beware of what a college’s admissions department tells you about the school’s prestige: This is more of a piece of general advice than a mistake. An institution’s office of admissions will always be honest, but some schools have been known to withhold some pieces of information from prospective students. For example, a particular private university in Iowa said they had exceptional music faculty, but further examination proved that they did not have exceptional music students despite their renowned music faculty. In addition to this, a college with a good pre-medicine program might display their 75% acceptance rate into medical schools in 2012, but they may not display their 70% acceptance rate into medical schools in 2013. As a result of this, it is prudent to take any information that an office of admissions displays on their website with a grain of salt. Every college and university has some graduating classes that are far superior to others, and the statistics of an institution’s class of 2012 could be significantly different than the statistics of the same institution’s class of 2013.

Overall, the college application process for seniors is often extremely difficult and frustrating. However, there are a multitude of mistakes that seniors make every year that exacerbate the strain of the process, and avoiding these mistakes can make the lives of every high school senior significantly easier. In final analysis, the best way to get through the college selection process is to remain positive, proactive, and realistic throughout the ordeal.

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