The Five Biggest Mistakes Students Make When Choosing a College

Okay, you’re a senior and getting ready to apply to colleges, but the question is which colleges? Some students begin thinking about colleges their sophomore year, but most students avoid the topic until the last minute. Remember, it’s never too late to come up with a good college list.

Unless you’re a glutton for punishment, you’ll probably apply to no more than 10 or 12 colleges. How are you going to come up with that list? Which colleges fit you are as a person and student? How do you avoid the five biggest mistakes students make in choosing colleges? Here they are:

1) Not doing any research on yourself

The place to start a college search process is determining who you are and what you need in a college. What kind of college do you want to attend? Big, medium-sized or small? Is it important for you to be in a particular kind of setting, e.g., in a city, college town or rural area? Do you want to be in an academically demanding environment and one that’s laid-back? What kind of students do you want to be with? People like you or a very diverse group, including international students?

2) Not doing research about colleges

So how do you get quality information about colleges? There are a number of ways. First, there are the excellent college guidebooks such as The Fiske Guide to Colleges, The Insider’s Guide to the Colleges and Colleges That Change Lives that provide information about colleges from a student’s perspective. You might also talk to people you trust–parents, your counselor, teachers, and students from your high school who are now at different colleges–about which colleges they recommend. Attending different college fairs where admissions representatives come to talk about their colleges is a particularly good source. And, of course, there are online resources such as the Internet college searches. From your research, come up with a list; check out what the GPA and test scores stats are for the colleges and how they match yours.

3) Being too scared to take a chance

Sometimes students underestimate their chances for college acceptance, particularly if they have a learning disability. Know that colleges are very sympathetic to students who have learning issues and often are forgiving of less than stellar grades and test scores. Students who are gifted athletes and/or have special talents sometimes don’t realize how interested colleges might be in them. Be smart in putting together your college list by applying to an equal number of Reach schools (where you have a 25% chance of being accepted), Good Chance schools (where you have a 50% or better chance of being accepted) and Pretty Sure thing schools (where you have a 75% or better chance of getting in). A good college list includes a range of college choices, but every one should be a school that you would like to attend. Finally, some students are afraid to be away from their friends, family or even their hometown. Most students usually go through some form of homesickness during their freshman year. The better you do your homework about colleges, the less chance there is of homesickness being a real issue.

4) Being too arrogant

Some students who have stellar academic records and strong test scores confine themselves to applying to a handful of the most selective colleges. They leave Good Chance and Pretty Sure Thing schools off their lists. This is a big mistake and a kind of admissions arrogance or naïveté. There are plenty of documented cases where 4.5 GPA/2340 test score applicants are turned down by colleges. Colleges and universities are very idiosyncratic in terms of whom they choose. Therefore, it’s really important that you select a series of schools that offer the characteristics you want, including some that may not be highly selective. The worse outcome is to wind up not being accepted to any of the colleges that you applied to because all of them were Reaches. With careful planning, that doesn’t need to happen.

5) Being too Lazy

Applying to colleges these days is not easy. It takes a good deal of research to determine how your personal characteristics and individual colleges match. After you have a good college list, you need to spend time completing the applications in a way that maximizes your opportunities. Keep in mind that college applications that are a little better and a little different than the competition’s are the ones that end up being the most successful.

Finding which colleges to apply to can seem like an overwhelming task. By avoiding the five biggest mistakes you can increase the chances of having many colleges accept you.

Copyright (c) 2010 Marjorie Hansen Shaevitz


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