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What are some common mistake made in applying to college?

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Subject: Career question for you

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Kali’s Answer

Hi Daniela! I do not work in an admissions office, but I am a college administrator who has reviewed college applications and worked with students who are applying to graduate programs. Some common mistakes that I’ve seen on applications are things like not reading the instructions carefully to make sure that you’re addressing all parts of the questions being asked. I’ve also seen people get sloppy about writing in their applications, particularly when answering supplemental questions. Because they’re short, people often rush through them. But admissions folks tend to read carefully through everything submitted, so it doesn’t impress them when they run across regular spelling and grammar errors, or when your answer is slapped together so quickly it’s hard to follow what you’re saying. That’s why it’s important to take a lot of time on your applications and get a friend, mentor, or family member to help proofread your application materials, if you can.

Also, letters of recommendation from teachers can be really important in this process. Take some time to build relationships with your teachers, if you haven’t already, by speaking up a lot in class and chatting with them during breaks so they get to know you better. And when you ask for recommendations, have a conversation with them about it- ask if they feel like they would be able to write you a strong letter and what is information you could share with them about your accomplishments and goals that would help them write it. I know some students find this challenging and feel like they don’t have a lot of options in who to ask, but it’s definitely a red flag when admissions folks see a letter that is lukewarm, or even explicitly brings up some negatives. Talking with your teachers ahead of time should help you vet whether this is someone you want to be asking to speak on your behalf!

Thank you, this was helpful!!! Daniela T.

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Amanda’s Answer

I'd like to respond to your question as it relates to picking which schools to apply to. I think students are too preoccupied with going to the best and most impressive school they get into. Instead, they should really focus on what their personal interests are, and find programs for that particular field. Also, I fear too many students take on massive debt in order to finance education at fancy schools, not realizing how damaging that debt can be to their long-term financial future. Not all big-name degrees are worth the investment and will pay off financially. Instead, I urge students to consider the price tag and seek out as many scholarships, grants, and work opportunities as possible.

Thank you!!! Daniela T.

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Melissa’s Answer

In addition to Amanda's response, I noticed that so many courses I took could have been completed at a junior college and transferred over. This would have saved an incredible amount of time and money which would have provided more time to spend on learning my career specifics instead of in the base courses. Also, many of my friends and colleagues cared more about the college name instead of their career and ended up with degrees that haven't helped their career path and insurmountable debt. Each person's path is different, and hindsight is 20/20.

However, you know what works best for you. Do you enjoy learning in a classroom setting? Are you able to retain information from lectures? Is your preferred learning more hands on? Do you already know what career path you want to go down? Think through these things critically and do as much research as possible before applying.

Once you've chosen your colleges to apply for, Kali nailed it. Take time to understand what's being asked and don't rush through it. That said, don't delay/procrastinate so you have to cram in so many essays, etc.
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Mariana’s Answer

One of the big ones - not understanding the full financial picture. Make sure you understand the differences between need based and merit based financial aid, grants and loans, "sticker price" and actual cost of attending, need blind and need aware admissions. You don't want to get heartbroken at the last minute if you are accepted to your dream school, but your parents tell you they can't afford it. And you don't want to saddle yourself for life with untenable loans either.

There is a website - myintuition.org - that allows you to input your data and get an idea of what it would cost you to attend a range of well known schools. Once you start looking at specific schools, don't forget to input your data into their net cost calculators to see how much they expect you to pay and what kind of scholarships you might be receiving. When you are finalizing your list, make sure you have several financial safety schools, meaning, you know for sure that if you are admitted there, you'll be able to afford it.

Good luck!
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Katherine’s Answer

Hi Daniela,

I think one of the common mistakes I made was worried about where I thought I should be and where I was expected to go, rather than actually thinking critically about what I wanted. I think a smart thing to do would be make a list of majors, coursework, clubs, and other important characteristics that you think matter to you in a school (ie. university size, class size, location city vs suburbs, test scores) and then make a realistic list about what schools you want to target. I would also highly suggest going to visit campuses and taking informational tours. Try to image what you would feel like living on that campus for 4 years.

Hope this helps!
Katherine
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