5 Things I Wish I Knew When Applying to College



Despite applying to college being one of the most important decisions and investments a person can make, everyone we’ve ever spoken with (including ourselves) feels like they could have done a better job and that there were things they did not know about until after they completed the application process.

As a kid finishing up high school and getting ready to go off to college, it’s an exciting time, but it’s also quite daunting. You’re not sure where to go, what to do, what not to do, what to major in, and even how to do laundry ๐Ÿ™‚

So, in an effort to help diffuse some of these challenges, I put together a list of 5 things I wish I knew when applying to college below. Enjoy!

1. You can negotiate with schools:

Before I go into this one, I just want to point out that while you can and should negotiate with schools when it comes to financial aid, make sure you realize that you won’t be able to knock down the price of tuition by a massive amount. You can however make a case for yourself to receive some additional aid or scholarship dollars.

If you’re in the position to do so, meaning you are a well-qualified student with several good offers on the table, you can let schools know this and see what they come up with to help make your decision a bit easier. It’s a valuable yet sensitive situation, so play it carefully.

As long as you’re not asking for the moon, lying or looking to persuade a top-tier school such as Harvard or Stanford, things might just work out in your favor.

2. Personalization matters…a lot:

When I was applying to college, I thought the only things that *really* mattered were grades and test scores. I thought all of that talk on essays and extra curricular activities was just to keep our hopes up.

Boy, was I wrong.

It’s true that grades and test scores matter the most, but this does notย mean that they are the only things that matter, nor does it mean that you cannot make up for areas that you lack in with additional interesting achievements, characteristics and abilities.

For instance, a friend of mine wanted to go to Loyola University at Maryland more than anything, but he was wait-listed. As summer came and went, he had his bags packed and deposit sent to a different school where he thought he’d be going. Instead of just sulking and blaming others, he decided to handwrite a letter and send it through good old fashioned snail mail to the Loyola’s admissions office. As luck would have it, he was admitted over some other talented students because of his desire to attend the school.

TL;DR You never know what will happy unless you try ๐Ÿ™‚

3. Use social media to your advantage

We wrote about using social media to your advantage before, but I cannot stress this enough. Everyone’s first instinct is to set all of their profiles to private.

While that’s not a bad thing, it inhibits your ability to show your true self. If you’d like to get ahead and stand out, try sharing things you’re proud of on social media. Maybe you just won an award at a science fair or a trophy at your soccer league. Did you code up an app or enter an art competition?

All of these things make up your personal brand, and can be extremely valuable while applying to college. So, get creative and show it off!

4. Quality over quantity:

Most students tend to believe that the more clubs they join and events they volunteer at, the better off they will be. This is actually not true, and in some cases it can be counterproductive.

What colleges really care about is not how “well-rounded” you are, but how effective and committed you are at what you do. Rather than just joining 10 different clubs, pick one or two that you’re especially interested in and actually contribute to them, whether it be running for an officer position or just putting in real work that is actually helpful and rewarding.

As the saying goes, you get out what you put in. Same applies to extra curricular activities.

5. College rankings mean very little

When I was applying to college, I thought that the college’s rank on various sites was the most important factor in judging a school. These rankings aren’t completely meaningless, but they’re subjective and they judge schools on a macro level, and do not take into account things like what school best fits your major, personal preferences, prices, etc.

A much, much better way to evaluate schools to to first figure out what region you’d like to attend. You do not have to settle on just one region, but do your best to narrow it down as much as possible.

Focus on what you’d like to study. Not sure what you want to major in or pursue after graduation? No problem, either pick a school that has a wide variety of choices or pick a school based on subjects you’re interested in.

For example, you may not know exactly what you’d like to do, but you know that you’re good in math and enjoy. Pick a school that has a good reputation for their engineering and computer science programs to make sure that you have options.

Applying to college is a major decision, and a ton of research goes into it. It’s tough to not get caught up in who’s going where, what their grades / test scores were and so forth. But, none of that is really all that important.

What is important, is that you choose a school that “fits” you. That means you’ll actually enjoy going there, it offers the programs that you’re interested in, and if will offer you the greatest opportunity upon graduation.



  • susiewatts

    Applying to college is confusing and all the information families can have will make the process less frustrating.