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15 Key College Admission Tips

Advice from the Experts


Applying to college can be more daunting than the SAT, more important than yearbook photos and more talked about than prom.

Every year, millions of American teens apply to the universities of their dreams. The College Board reports that the average application fee is about $35, and if your teen is looking at up to a dozen schools, your wallet could be taking a major hit before you have even stepped foot on campus.

Expense aside, the college application process can be a difficult one, but MainStreet has found 15 great tips from Life’s Little College Admissions Insights: Top Tips from the Country’s Most Acclaimed Guidance Counselors by Eric and Cole Yaverbaum, which was released this month by Morgan James Publishing.

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Mix Up the College Visits


Robert Bardwell, president of the New England Association for College Admission Counseling, says, “Do not visit your first college choice first. Students should save the first choice for somewhere in the middle or for the last visit, so they have many other schools to compare it to before visiting their first choice.”

Picking a school is a major investment in your (or your child's) future. Don't you want to comparison shop?

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The FAFSA Is Vital


As Pennsylvania counselor Valerie Simmons says, "In order to qualify for need-based financial aid, you need to fill out the FAFSA. You should file prior to February 15th."

It might seem obvious, but the Free Application for Federal Student Aid is the most essential financial part of any college application. The form, which gives students and their parents an idea of how much money the federal government expects them to contribute for education, must be filed on time for students to be eligible for need-based financial aid.

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Keep an Open Mind


Joyce Slayton Mitchell, author of 8 First Choices: An Expert’s Strategies for Gettting into College gave this tip: "Students should have eight first choices. Prioritizing before you get in closes minds."

Evaluating your options before you are even admitted can lead to disappointment and confusion. Don't count your chickens before they hatch and wait until those acceptance letters start rolling in.

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Admission Officers: Your New BFF


Nathan J. Heltzel, a counselor in New York, says schmoozing can go a long way: "College admission officers need to 'feel the love.' Don’t just tell them by applying early action, show them by multiple contacts!"

If admission decisions were strictly a numbers game, colleges wouldn't have admissions officers. Making a connection to another human being can help sway an admission decision in your favor.

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Throw Out the Rankings


Chicago counselor Lisa McDeonald has this to say: "College rankings do not promise a better college experience, competitive career placements, or higher salaries."

College is what you make of it. Success in life can't be measured by who was the 26th most competitive school in the Midwest.

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"Perfect" Is a Dirty Word


Sandra K. Moore, Director of Guidance at a Pennsylvania academy, says students should stay flexible: “Students spend much time trying to find the 'one' school that is perfect. Students need to have an open mind and visit schools that only seem mildly interesting. It’s amazing how these often turn out to be diamonds in the rough for the student.”

A college on paper might give you a different impression on a visit. Don't throw out a school because it doesn't seem to match up to the others on your list at first glance, you might be missing out on what could be a great match for you.

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Money Matters


New York guidance counselor Betsy Sherwood says college cost is becoming more of a factor because of the recession. “Money used to be the topic that was whispered about in the corner, many feeling shame for using cost as a determining factor as to where to go to college. Those days are gone."

Don't feel bad if those expensive Ivy Leagues are the first off of your list because they simply cost too much. Now, publications are highlighting the colleges that offer the best value for your education, and those are the places you should be looking at.

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Persistence is Key


Cristiana M. Quinn of  College Admission Advisors, LLC, says sometimes the application process is a waiting game. "Apply early to as many schools as possible, and be prepared to receive several waitlist responses that may drag into summer, and pursue those avidly if you want an acceptance at those schools."

Giving up on your dream college because you were waitlisted may be eliminating a great opportunity. If you really think a certain college is the place for you, persistence can move your name up the waitlist.

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Future Debt Can Knock Out Some Options


Independent College Search Consultant Deborah Shames says the classic rankings of "reach," "solid" and "safety" schools need to include financial considerations too. "They need to be sure to include a 'financial safety school.' In these tough times, families need to discuss the realities of going into debt to finance a $50k/year school that may or may not do a great job of helping their child get an education and, ultimately, a great job."

If your teen seems to be looking only at the most expensive schools, direct them to some less expesive options and talk about what the financial constraints are on the price of their college education.

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Edit Your Online Self


High school guidance counselor William Slocum says colleges, just like employers, are going online to find more info about applicants. "Students have to be more careful this year regarding online activities. It seems that admission officers, in greater numbers, are starting to pay more attention to the MySpace, Facebook, blogging, tweeting generation. It is more important than ever that students safeguard their online reputations."

This one goes without saying. It's 2010, not 1990. The quickest way to get the scoop on an applicant who is on the edge of getting in is to Google them.

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What's in a Name?


Florida counselor Cynthia Ann Markoch says, "Many colleges do not have well-known names, but have produced excellent students who go on to do great things either in the workplace or graduate school."

This goes back to our earlier slide on hidden gems. Who knows, one day you might find yourself working at MainStreet.com even if you didn't go to Harvard.

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Keep It Simple, Stupid


President of Options for College Keith Braman says a well-focused essay trumps a zany idea. “In writing your essay, clarity is the equivalent of uniqueness. Applicants who are understood in a cohesive manner get in.”

You might have the brilliant plan of writing your essay as Yoda would, but an admissions counselor would probably struggle to get through that sentence structure.

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Know What You Can Afford


Lora K. Block of Independent Educational Consultants Association says that “Each family should do an affordability assessment before the student sends in his or her applications, to be sure that 'financial safety' colleges are on this list.”

Taking a minute before you send in applications can save you time and money. If your teen has a reach school that would be impossible to finance, spending the money to apply seems illogical. Take that money and apply to another solid school or reach school that's affordable.

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Research Program-Specific Financial Aid


Wisconsin counselor Jenifer Muffick advises applicants to “Research scholarship opportunities within the different departments and colleges at the university you apply to. Available student aid varies greatly on what degree program and college you choose to enter.”

If your teen is set on becoming a rocket scientist then, just like the iPhone's apps, there's a scholarship for that. Many schools offer academic scholarships that are program- or degree-specific because they want to keep a strong program. Take advantage of an alum's generous donation.

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Variety is the Spice of Life


Colorado counselor Robert F. Kennedy says applicants need to mix it up. "Diversify your college search. Look at large, medium, small, private and public. Look in the Midwest! Great deals on the Great Plains."

You might have thought since birth that a local state school is the place for you, but that same kind of school one state over might have a better science program or nightlife that you find desirable. Try to experience as many different colleges as you can.

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