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.

High School Juniors: It’s Time to Gather Your Application Materials for College Reply

When applying to college, you’ll need to gather all of your pertinent documents require for the application process. Along with the school’s application and depending on the program you’re applying for, you’ll want to have a resume, writing samples, letters of recommendation, portfolios, audition tapes, statement of purpose, and any other documents that the college is requesting.

College Resume

Student filling out a resume for college.

A resume for your college admissions packet is different than a work resume. For the college resume, you’ll want to include everything of note that you have already accomplished and will accomplish by the time that you graduate. Include anything from experiences that show a passion for your major to publications, awards, volunteering, jobs, extracurricular activities, sports, and hobbies. For help brainstorming and organizing a formal resume, do some research online for a good template and ask your parents and mentors for help. You want to ensure that your resume is easy to scan and shows that you’re professional enough to put the time into creating a great resume. Whatever you do, don’t just throw a resume together and expect it to be good.

Likewise for all writing samples, portfolios, audition tapes, and anything else that you’ll submit along with your application, be sure that each is formally presented. Be sure to label everything with your name, phone number, email, address, and name of your high school at the top. Admissions departments have so many applicants each year they will appreciate an organized and well-thought application.

When you send your application materials, be sure that you know that all of your documents and application actually get to where you send. This can mean that if you send it through the United States Postal Service that you request a tracking number and notice of delivery. If you send your documents digitally, follow up after a couple of days with an email to the school’s admissions department to be sure they got it. Also, if they don’t reply to your email, be sure to call them during normal business hours to ensure they received everything. It would be a good idea to call admissions if you send everything through the USPS as well after you receive a notice of delivery, just to be sure.

The most important part to the admissions process is to ensure that you have done everything properly and submitted the required documents so that your application isn’t delayed. Be sure to ask your teachers, mentors, and parents for help creating the perfect application packet.

It’s March – Which College Should You Apply To and When? 1

So you’ve gathered a list of prospective colleges and you are ready to apply. But with applications fees stacking up creating a financial burden, which ones are the right ones to apply to?

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Girl pushing university button on search toolbar of virtual screen.

By now you should have a good list of 5 to 10 or more colleges that you are considering attending once you graduate high school. These colleges should include colleges that are a long shot, some conservative selections, as well as safety nets like local universities and community colleges. The reality is, everyone wants to go to the best college, but a lot have to go to a more conservative option due to a number of reasons, including the cost of attendance, how far the college is from family, and what the college has to offer.

Whatever the case, March of your junior year in high school is a good time to start narrowing down your list of schools. But, how do you know which school is the right school for you?

There are many factors that come into play when choosing which school you want to attend, and ultimately the decision is up to you. However, there are a few things you should keep in consideration no matter what your particular situation is, for example, the cost of attendance, what majors the school has to offer, and the geographic location of the school in terms of where you want to live and how close you want to be from home. Other things to consider are extracurricular activities, such as clubs, sports, and special programs, housing options, and last but not least, the facilities on campus, like science labs, theaters, and gyms.

Each of these things should be carefully considered when deciding where to apply to. You don’t want to end up paying for application fees to places you don’t plan to go to anyway. Some of the can be upwards of over $100 to submit your application.

Get the best information on how to choose the right college for you with Peterson’s.

Getting Ready for College as a High School Senior Reply

Student Loan

Student loans and scholarship money.

It’s crunch time for high school seniors preparing for college. For many, the end of the prior school year and the summer before senior year was spent applying for scholarships and grants  and spent September applying to colleges.. Most students will have a decision from the colleges they have applied to by April, but there are things that need to be done before then.

Finishing up scholarship applications:

High school seniors should be finishing up the application process for most of their scholarship requests. It is important to review the scholarship application deadlines as well as ensure that all requested information for each scholarship is completed correctly. Many scholarships are very competitive and incomplete or incorrectly completed applications are often not considered. Others may require essays or letters of recommendation or transcripts. It is important to take the time with each scholarship that has not already been submitted to ensure that all requirements have been accurately completed.

Even though college starts in the fall, it is not too late to continue to look for other scholarship opportunities. This may be a good time to check with local social and philanthropic organisations in within the community for further opportunities. College expenses add up quickly and any extra fund sources, even smaller scholarships, are worth the time to investigate.

Two misconceptions regarding completing the FAFSA:

It is time to complete the FAFSA application, if it has not been completed already. Some students and parents think that they must wait until after 2016 income taxes are completed. Others think that they cannot apply for financial aid until they have been accepted by a college. Neither of these are true. FAFSA applications can be completed prior to income tax returns, and can be amended once the returns are completed. If a student has applied for more than one college, information on all colleges can be included in the FAS application.

With the FAFSA application, timing is everything. Many of the grants and financial aid options offered by the FAFSA are offered on a first come, first served basis. The sooner the application is completed, the more opportunities for financial aid will be available.

Most applications to college are decided in March or April. If a student has applied for Early Decision or Early Action, then likely he or she has already received the decision. It is important to speak with admissions counselors and understand the complete admissions process. Regardless of the admissions process for the individual college, having the FAFSA completed will simplify the process.

Learn more about what seniors in high school should be doing for college applications with Peterson’s.

Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath and Your College Decision Reply

checkmateMalcolm Gladwell is one of those writers who is always interesting to read, whether or not there are flaws with his reasoning, argumentation, or evidence. If nothing else, his books always give you something to chew over. In his most recent book, David and Goliath, he puts forward the notion that students should not necessarily go to major, prestigious universities just to take advantage of that prestige. Instead, students should go to universities where they are likely to truly and notably excel. This Business Insider article does a pretty good job of summing up Gladwell’s argument, and critiquing that argument. So what should you do when you’re making decisions between schools, both for applications and for acceptances? Where should you aim yourself?

More…

Fear the Book of Faces! …Or not. Reply

iStock_000001927691SmallRyan Hickey points to two articles in his Monday Link Round-up about social media and how it’s being used in the college admissions process. We’ve talked about this on Peterson’s before, too, in an article about how to use social media in your application, and in an article about how to use Facebook carefully and intelligently with regard to admissions. It’s not news that admissions officers are looking at social media when they make their decisions.

So why does it keep coming up? What do you need to know to be safe, really? How worried should you be?

More…

Recommendations for Grad School – Choosing a Recommender Reply

We just added a new article on the site designed to answer some of the most important and basic questions about letters of recommendation for graduate school. In this first release, we focus on how you should decide on someone to write your recommendations. Check it out:

http://www.petersons.com/graduate-schools/graduate-admissions/choosing-a-recommender/

And be sure to stay tuned, as we’ll have another related article up in the coming weeks that focuses on some other important considerations when it comes to your recommendations. Have further questions or ideas for an article we could write on this topic? Let us know in the comments!