10 Things About College Admission That Might Surprise You Reply

Portrait of stressed female student in library

A lot of stuff can surprise you in the college admission process—and they’re not always the good surprises, like finding money in your jeans or those magical extra French fries at the bottom of the bag.

Luckily, we’re here to take some of the shock out of these common college admission surprises. Because the more you know, the less likely you are to be caught off guard…

  1. Surprise! Taking tough classes is better than getting a high GPA

College admission folks would rather see you get a “B” in a challenging class than an “A” in an easier one. They want to see you pushing yourself academically—and they definitely don’t want to see you pad your GPA. So take the toughest course load you think you can handle, especially if you have any AP, honors, or other advanced classes available to you.

  1. Surprise! A long list of extracurriculars won’t impress colleges

College admission reps would also much rather see that you committed yourself to one or two extracurricular activities, especially over a longer period of time. That’s way better than joining 17 clubs spring of junior year. Admission counselors are looking for depth, not breadth of involvement. They want to see passion! So join the clubs you love, devote as much time to them as you can, and look for leadership roles that fit you.

  1. Surprise! That “optional” interview isn’t actually optional

Okay, it’s not like you won’t be considered for admission if you don’t participate in an “optional” interview. But college admission interviews aren’t that common, so when a school suggests participating in one, they probably think interviews are pretty important. Also, participating in an interview shows you’re really excited about attending the college. Admission counselors call that “demonstrated interest”—and it could give you a little bit of an edge compared to the kid who didn’t participate in an interview.

  1. Surprise! A recommendation letter from a VIP isn’t that helpful

You might be tempted to e-mail someone like your state senator, school superintendent, or Neil Degrasse Tyson in hopes that they’ll write you a college recommendation letter. But unless the VIP happens to know you really well, don’t waste your time (or theirs) trying to get a recommendation. Colleges only want to see recommendations from people who know you well enough to speak to your character and strengths, whether it’s your favorite teacher, mentor, coach, drama director, employer, pastor, etc.

  1. Surprise! The most expensive colleges on your list might be cheaper in the long run

Here’s the thing: financial aid changes everything—and you never know what kind of financial aid package you’ll get until you apply. It’s totally possible that the most expensive school on your list will offer you enough aid to magically become your cheapest option. Or you might find the school offering you the biggest financial aid package made a huge chunk of that “aid” student loans. Or you might get a big scholarship from one school that only lasts freshman year, whereas another school offers a smaller scholarship that gets renewed all four years and is ultimately worth more… Confusing, right? Instead of hunting down the cheapest colleges you can find, focus on applying to schools that really and truly fit you. Then make sure you fully understand your financial aid award letters when you get them (they come with your acceptance packages).

  1. Surprise! Admission counselors are looking at your social media accounts

You might’ve already been warned about this: yes, colleges look at your social media accounts, and, yes, you should delete any questionable posts. However, you don’t want to erase yourself from the Internet. In fact, you want admission counselors to find you and see all the fun, interesting stuff you do and care about. Look at your social media through a college admission counselor’s eyes: do your posts reflect the kind of thoughtful, creative, passionate student they’d want to admit?

  1. Surprise! Asking for financial aid can sometimes hurt your chances of admission

Learn these two terms if you haven’t already: need-blind admission and need-aware admission. Colleges with need-blind admission don’t care if you apply for financial aid, and they won’t consider it when they review your application. But colleges with need-aware admission do consider it—and they might weigh your financial need against you. It’s not necessarily an admissions deal-breaker. But, at need-aware colleges, all else being equal, the student who doesn’t need aid will get in before the student who does need financial help. You can typically figure out if the schools on your list are need-blind or need-aware by doing a little online research, or you can e-mail or call the admission office to ask.

  1. Surprise! The PSAT matters

It’s not just a practice run for the SAT. The PSAT is also the qualifying test for the National Merit Scholarship Program. If you score high enough (in the top 50,000-ish test takers), you could be eligible for a National Merit scholarship. (Here’s the breakdown of how to qualify.) Not only that, but most colleges love admitting students who crack the top 50,000, even if they don’t end up winning an official National Merit Scholarship. That might get you a leg-up in admission—and maybe even an institutional scholarship. So give the PSAT your best shot.

  1. Surprise! The college that sent you brochures and e-mails might not accept you

Yes, colleges and universities send out marketing materials to students they think might be a good fit for their institution, students they very well might accept. But they also send brochures to lots of students in hopes that lots will apply—which might boost their selectivity rate. At the end of the day, you should absolutely, positively apply to any and all schools that fit you. Just remember, a brochure isn’t a guarantee.

  1. Surprise! Admission counselors actually read your application essays

They really do. Why would they ask for them if they didn’t? Colleges use the essay to get a sense of your personality, values, motivations, and college readiness. It helps them see if you’re a good overall fit for their institution—and the kind of student they should admit. So take advantage of your application essays. Show the admission committee why they should invite you to join their campus. And tell the story only you can tell.

Did anything on this list surprise you? Or have you encountered any other surprises in your college search? Let us know in the comments!


Jessica Tomer, Editor-in-Chief, CollegeXpress

Jessica Tomer is the Editor-in-Chief for CollegeXpress, a free college and scholarship search site designed to guide students through the entire college journey—admissions, financial aid, majors, campus visits, you name it. She is an education advocate, storyteller, and grammar nerd. Like many of her fellow Emerson College alumni, Jessica is a news junkie and bookworm. You can get in touch with her on Twitter: @CollegeXpress or @JessicaTomer.

A Step By Step Guide to Writing the Best College Admissions Essay Reply

Office of Admission Sign on WallCollege admissions essays are seen as an insurmountable obstacle in your college application. Most students haven’t written an essay quite like it before, and now this piece of writing will confirm whether you get into your chosen university? It’s too much pressure.

It helps when you have a guide you can follow. This step by step guide will show you how to go about writing your essay, and give you tools that will help. Soon you’ll have an essay that you can really be proud of.

Step One: Really think about your prompt

Many an essay has floundered because the writer hasn’t quite grasped what the question was asking of them. They may have read it once, got the wrong impression, and then started writing. Really spend some time reading, rereading, and thinking about the prompt. How can you relate to it, and what experiences can you bring to it?

Step Two: Brainstorm your ideas

Now you need to get together all of the ideas that are floating around your head. Sit down with a piece of paper, and start writing down everything that comes to mind when you think of the prompt. Get down as much as you can, as you’ll be narrowing down your ideas soon. Reflect on all the experiences you have, and which ones will be relevant to your essay. Write down the ones you think will work in your essay.

Step Three: Plan out your essay

This is the point where you’ll be writing out your outline for your essay. It’s important that you don’t miss this step, as if you do you’ll find it much harder to write the essay. Plan out what you’re going to say, when you’re going to say, and how it will answer the prompt given. Use the information you got in the brainstorming session to inform your plan. You’ll pick the best ideas and experiences from that to include in your finished piece.

Step Four: Get writing

Now you’ve done all the planning, so you need to get writing! Sit down at your computer, and work on a rough draft. Don’t worry too much, just get it all down. You’ll be editing it in the next steps. As you’re writing, remember to be yourself. The admissions committee are looking to see what you’re like as a person, so be tempted to show off, or pretend to be someone you’re not. Just let your real self shine through.

Step Five: Proofread and edit

Proofreading and editing is one of the most important jobs you’ll have to do with your essay. You’ve got your basic rough draft, now you need to polish up. It’ll take a few passes until it’s perfect, but keep at it. Look for spelling and punctuation errors, confusing or run on sentences, and incorrect facts. A good tip is to give the essay to someone else read over. They’ll be able to spot errors you can’t, as you’re too close to the text.

Step Six: Use online tools to polish your work

Writing The College Application Essay: This resource has detailed instructions for the different sections of your essay. Also, there’s a plenty of samples to check out and take inspiration from.

Australian help: This educational portal can be used almost anywhere to brush up on your skills. Watch tutorials and do short tests to get you feeling confident in your chosen topic.

The Writing Center: This guide gives you some detailed, usable advice for writing your essay. It includes advice on avoiding too much style in your essay, and how to research your ideas.

Personal Insight Questions: This video gives you some ideas on how to present yourself in your essay. You’ll think about what answers you’ll need to give to tell the committee what they need to know about you.

Readability Score: Your essay needs to be easy to understand, but how do you know how readable it is? This tool allows you to check it against several readability tools, so you know the committee will be able to really get what you’re telling them.

UK Writings: It’s not that easy to write, edit and proofread a great essay. This interactive online writing tool will work with you to organize and plan your essay.

Examples of Awesome Personal Statements: It’s always easier to write when you have some examples of successful essays to hand. This is a great depository of such examples to draw on when you’re struggling with your own essay.

EssayEdge: Get admission essay suggestions from experts in their field, all graduates from Ivy-League schools such as Harvard and Yale.

If you follow this step by step plan, you’ll be able to write the best essay you possibly can. You’ll wow the committee reading your essays, and convince them they’re the student they want for their university.


About Gloria Kopp

Gloria Kopp is a web content writer and an e-learning consultant from Manville city. She graduated from the University of Wyoming and started a career of a creative writer. She has recently launched her Studydemic educational website and is currently working as a freelance writer and editor.


All views and opinions of guest authors are theirs alone and are not representative of the views of Petersons.com or its parent company Nelnet.

Decoding your College Awards Letter Reply

Multi generation meeting at the coffee bar

Sharing the news of a college award letter.

Typically, colleges for which you have been accepted will send an awards letter to you in March or early April. This letter contains important information. From it, you should be able to determine your total cost and the financial aid you are offered. Unfortunately, there is no standardized format for these letters, nor is there a standardized set of data that must be reported in the letter. Each school formats their letters a little differently, and so it can be very difficult to decipher.

On your letter, you may see several acronyms. Let’s go over a few of them so that the letter itself will become clearer. Prior to receiving your Awards Letter, you received a notification from FAFSA which included your EFC – your Expected Family Contribution. This is the amount that you or your family will be expected to cover, using loans or other means. Your COA – is your cost of attendance. It is the amount listed on the letter that shows the total cost to attend the school. Your FAFSA of course, is your Free Application for Federal Student Aid and is the application you completed to start the whole process.

The letter should outline your COA, so that you understand the overall costs. If you are comparing schools, this is often a very important number. You will also see the Net Price, which is the COA minus your gift aid. Gift Aid is considered the scholarships and grants that you were awarded through the school and the FAFSA. While COA is an important number, the Net Cost can be even more important. The Net Cost is the Cost of Attendance (COA) minus the financial aid you received. This includes all grants, scholarships, and loans. The Net Cost is composed of your EFC plus a GAP, which is the difference between the total cost and the EFC – something that goes beyond your expected family contribution.

The Net Cost can be important because, even if the COA of one school is higher than the other, that higher priced school might have more aid available. This could mean that by looking at your net cost, you may find that you could actually pay less to attend a more expensive school because they have more scholarships and grants available.

Once you have decided on a school (if you’ve applied to more than one) it is important for you to review the Awards Letter and return it to the school. When you review your Awards Letter, you will be accepting some or all of the Financial Aid offered. It is important to get this done as soon as possible so that your aid can be applied to your account at the school. You can choose to accept or not accept any portion of your financial aid. When looking through your aid package, you’ll want to accept all grants and scholarships first, followed by any federal loans prior to accepting private loans. This will help ensure that your overall costs stay low.

Top Tools to Help You Write Awesome Admission and Scholarship Essays 1

Writing application essays has to be the hardest part of the college admission process. You have already taken the standardized tests and your GPA is fixed. You’ll get some recommendation letters, and fill in the application form without any serious obstacles. The only thing that stands in your way is the admission essay, which has to be great if you want to present yourself as a candidate that every college would like to have on campus.

The scholarship essay is a story of its own. You have to consider the requirements of different programs and present yourself as a suitable candidate.

The following list of tools will help you complete successful admission and scholarship essays!

You won’t achieve success by submitting a confusing paper that lacks proper structure. The basic essay format works effectively for completing admission and scholarship essays. The chart above, provided on the website of Monash University will help keep your content focused.

If you have any questions about essay writing in general, this is where you’ll find the answer. Feel free to use the search option before you post a thread; it’s likely someone has probably faced the same issue and already received an answer by the forum members. You can even use this website to get feedback on the drafts you’ve written.

Paper writing service Ninja Essays is a great solution for college and scholarship applicants who face serious obstacles during the process of essay writing. You can collaborate with real writers, who will assist you along the way and help you increase your chances of getting accepted into the school of your choice.

This is a collaborative and supportive community of writers with different skills and interests. If you are willing to deal with constructive criticism, feel free to ask for advice. The membership at this website is free and you’ll benefit from it not only during the admissions, but throughout your college education as well.

Story 2 has a specific aim: to help you write better admission essays. This is a writing course based on the Moments Method, which has helped many college applicants construct successful essays.

This site offers tips, sample essays, exercises, and prompts that will help you understand what universities and colleges expect to see in an application. The available resources can help you write great admission essays, as well as fellowships and scholarship applications.

This section of the Teen Ink website is a very useful source of inspiration. Remember one thing: you must never copy or rewrite other people’s essays. The papers featured here can serve as an example, but base your admission essays on your personal experience, interests, and qualities.

This guide breaks down the different aspects of a successful college essay. The tips may seem theoretical in the beginning, but they will lead you toward completing a specific, clear, and concise admission essay.

Before you start writing the paper, you need to know what exactly you’re supposed to deliver. This guide, provided by US News, will get you on the right track. Your admission essays should be accurate, coherent, and vivid. This guide can show you how to achieve that.

A scholarship essay is different from the admission papers you write, according to the requirements of different colleges. This guide, provided by ScholarshipsAndAwards.net, informs you about the standards you need to achieve in order to be considered as a suitable candidate for a particular program.

Regardless of the tools and guides you use while working on your application essays, you should always keep in mind that this process requires a lot of time. Start writing as soon as possible!

Robert Morris is an educator and writer from NYC. He is developing his first online course on English literature, and loves yoga and edtech. Follow him on Google+!

Crash Course in College Essay Writing – 12 Tips to Get You Started and Your Juices Flowing Reply

WritingSuccessfulCollegeApplicationsThe clock is ticking and you are a new high school senior (or parent of one!). The summer flew by without even a thought about what to write about for your college essays. Were you too busy with SAT prep? Driver’s ed? Hanging out with friends? Working? Procrastinating? Don’t worry, because help has arrived. Follow these dozen tips below and (hopefully) your juices will be flowing. Also, be sure to pick up a copy of Writing Successful College Applications and start reading and getting inspired. But for now, here is your “Cliff’s Notes” version of what you can do to get started: More…

“Show, Don’t Tell” – What the Heck Does That Mean When Writing? Reply

MagnifyingGlassOne of the most common suggestions given to students writing an admissions essay is, “Show, don’t tell.” While this sounds good and seems helpful, many applicants struggle to figure out precisely what the advice means. Is it suggesting that you use the most complex words possible when writing? Maybe it’s saying you should use lots of adjectives and adverbs to ensure your descriptions are extraordinarily vivid? Or could it be that you should actually try painting a picture and submitting that with your app rather than writing anything at all? Let’s dig into this deceivingly complex piece of writing instruction and examine what it means in the context of admissions essay construction. More…