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The 5 Things Students Wished They Knew Before Applying to College

Underclassmen, take note. High school seniors have some advice for you. With admissions decisions looming, they are ready to share all the things they wished they knew before starting the admissions process.

If they could hit the "redo" button, this is what they tell me they would have done differently: 

1. Visit as many colleges on their final list as they can, especially their likely and target schools.

Many students take their likely and target schools for granted. They think they will automatically get admitted simply by having strong grades and test scores. They often choose not to visit these colleges. But colleges don't want to be viewed as a back-up. They also don't want to waste an acceptance on a student who is unlikely to enroll. If you have heard of a high achieving student who didn't get admitted to a likely or target school, it usually is because they didn't visit or put forth the effort in their application. 

2. Continue to take challenging classes and do well during senior year. 

Many students choose to take fewer classes or a less rigorous curriculum senior year to create more time for other things. Other students let their grades slip thinking that they won't factor into the admissions process. But first quarter/trimester grades can impact Early Decision and Early Action applications, and first semester grades are typically reviewed before a decision is made in Regular Decision. When the competition is so stiff, one too many B's or C's could keep the student from getting admitted.

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3. Realize that test scores aren't everything.

As much focus as there is on standardized tests, they don't have to limit a student's choices. There are now hundreds of colleges that offer test optional policies, and they range in selectivity providing students with many options. Test optional policies permit a student to withhold their test scores in the process. In other words, at a test optional college, the admissions committee would never have to see a student's scores. 

4. Get more done during the summer.

The ACT is now offered in July (and September) which is a great opportunity for a student to take their last test before senior year gets too busy. The SAT is offered in August as well. Essay prompts for the Common Application are usually available in January (six months prior to a student's senior year) and applications are updated over the summer. Students can finish standardized tests, essays, and even their applications over the summer so the start of senior year is less stressful. 

5. Don't follow the crowd.

Whether it comes to academic interests, extracurricular involvement, essay topics, or even the colleges where a student applies, being different is often what makes them stand out in an applicant pool. So much of high school is about keeping up with everyone else. When a student has the confidence to pursue their own path or think differently about themselves it can have a transformational effect on their application and how it's viewed.  

For underclassmen there is plenty of time to make adjustments and make the most of your high school career. These words of wisdom are a collection of statements I hear again and again from seniors going through the college admissions process. If you can follow these tips, you will surely get the most out of this process.