13 Insider Tips From College Admissions Counselors
College is a consequential decision, and the admissions process can be complex and stressful. To give families a head start, we at LifeLaunchr compiled this selection of insider tips from college admissions counselors in the country – people who have helped thousands of students identify and gain acceptance to top-choice schools, make college affordable by identifying and securing scholarships, and decide if a gap year is right for them and identify programs that fit their needs.
Advice like this from experts can be invaluable to parents and students as you navigate the complex world of college admissions. If you have questions as you read this, please ask them on your LifeLaunchr Member Dashboard, and an expert will answer your question.
TIPS ON FINDING AND GETTING INTO “REACH” SCHOOLS
There’s nothing like the feeling of identifying a great school that might seem a little out of reach – and then getting in! It’s not easy, but for those who figure it out, it’s a great accomplishment AND a great start to their future. Here are some expert tips to get started towards the college you really want.
1. Tell a compelling story about taking academic initiative
Barbara Austin, whose blog helps students identify great schools and get merit scholarships, advises students to tell a compelling story about taking academic initiative. Maybe it’s a story about how you overcame adversity to get your grades and GPA. Maybe it’s how you took an academic passion and ran with it. Colleges want to know not just what grades you have, but how you got there.
2. Have a great answer to “Why do you want to attend this school?”
If you’re applying to a school where your grades aren’t as high as the incoming average, the school should be a great fit for you. If they have a specific program that is a good fit for your academic goals, or if the school’s size or culture fits your personality and need, be clear about it in your application.
3. Be selective in applying to reach schools
Pick 1-3 schools where you feel you’d be a great fit, rather than applying to lots of stretch schools, since your likelihood of rejection is significant. It is hard for students to be rejected at many schools, even if this is not a personal slight.
4. Challenge yourself academically, intellectually, and socially
Linda King, graduate instructor and long-time college counselor, suggests that students should research the admission criteria for each college, and challenge themselves academically, intellectually, and socially. When a student feels something is hard, embrace it rather than withdrawing or dropping out.
5. Find your “bullet” early
Stephen Wells has this advice: Imagine a scenario in which an admissions officer is looking at five applications that are identical in all academic respects. He can only choose one. Now ask yourself, “What can I do to increase my chances of being the one selected?” The answer is that you need to find what I call your “bullet,” the one element that makes you special. The bullet can be entrepreneurial, athletic, extracurricular, volunteerbased, or even a legacy. But it needs to stand out. Which is why it’s important to “know the ropes” as early in your school career as possible.
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To find schools that might be reach schools, try LifeLaunchr’s College Match, where you can search by over 35 factors, including GPA and test scores. Then get reminders of deadlines and explore college virtual tours and get tons of useful information about each school.
TIPS ON AFFORDABILITY AND SCHOLARSHIPS
Getting into a college is exciting, but with college costs and student debt already high and increasing, figuring out how to afford school can be an essential element of choosing the RIGHT school. Here are insider tips about making college affordable, including key suggestions for seeking and securing scholarships.
Finding a school which awards you merit scholarships can save as much as $80,000 on the costs of going to college. Most schools guarantee merit aid as long as you maintain your GPA, so you don’t have to re-apply each year.
6. Consider out of state public universities
80% of students stay in-state to go to university. But many state university systems out of state offer big merit scholarships that can reduce the cost of attendance. So consider schools further away: you may be able to get an excellent education for a fraction of the price. If you’re applying to a school where your grades aren’t as high as the incoming average, the school should be a great fit for you. If they have a specific program that is a good fit for your academic goals, or if the school’s size or culture fits your personality and need, be clear about it in your application.
7. Pick colleges where you’re ahead of the pack
Pick colleges where you are ahead of the incoming average GPA, and they will often give you merit aid. If your GPA is 3.5, and you apply to a school where the average GPA is 4.0, you’re not going to get merit aid. However, a school with an average GPA of 3.0 may be a great school which will work hard to attract and keep you.
8. Pick schools that award merit aid
Not all universities award merit aid. Ivy League schools, for example, don’t give any merit-based aid. Many do offer need-based assistance, but your excellent grades won’t help with the cost of college. And many state schools are limited in funds.
9. Show interest in the school
Linda King, graduate instructor and long-time college counselor, suggests you should show interest in the university you are applying to as soon as you think the college is on your list. They want to know you’ll come if they offer you aid, so showing interest, by emailing admissions officers, visiting the campus, and speaking to professors.
Find Schools You Can Afford
To find schools that will offer you scholarships, try LifeLaunchr’s College Match, where you can search by over 35 factors including GPA and test scores. Then get reminders of deadlines and explore college virtual tours and get tons of useful information about each school.
TIPS ON GAP YEAR AND SUMMER PROGRAMS
If you’re a freshman, sophomore, junior or even a senior wanting an alternative experience, maybe you need to find a great summer program. For many students, a gap year before they go to college is the right choice.
10. Find out ahead of time if the schools you’ve applied to will grant a deferral of admission and merit scholarships
Many colleges are supportive of gap years and will offer a deferral. Some, such as Princeton, even encourage it, ask in advance.
11. A summer program is a great way to preview your dream school
If you think you’d like to attend a university, try a summer program after sophomore or junior year. You can often get credit for a college course, and it’s a great way to experience life on campus.
12. Don’t simply sign up for a summer program to impress admissions officers
Admissions officers aren’t always impressed by summer programs, if they aren’t really related to what you’re passionate about. Find a program that you’re interested in, and show how you benefitted. Impressions matter.
13. Doing a gap year program may not add to your cost of college
Even though gap years can be expensive, they may save you money in a college education. As many as 40% of students don’t graduate from college in five years, and one reason is the constant changing of majors and lack of focus. If you come back from a gap year with a clear focus and direction, you could make up for the lost year easily.
Get More Help
Working with a counselor can be a great way to make sure you navigate the complex process of college admissions effectively. Email or call LifeLaunchr at 855-236-6363 and we can help you get into a college that fits your needs, budget, and goals.