Each year, more and more qualified students are applying to college, and that number is growing. This means that acceptance rates are plummeting. In the spring of 2008, Harvard only accepted 7.1 percent of applicants out of a pool of over 27,000.
Part of the reason for the increased number of applicants is the introduction of the online application, says Joie Jager-Hyman, founder of CollegePrep360 and author of B+ Grades, A+ College Application. This is motivating students to apply to more colleges, which drives up application numbers.
And if applying for college weren’t stressful enough before this, the increased competitiveness is really having an impact on students. According to the New York Times, students experience stomach pain, headaches, and lack of sleep. This makes educators worried that this stress can lead to eating disorders, depression, and other mental health problems.
1. Identify priorities. What is a student really looking for in a college? Jager-Hyman recommends getting rid of the labels of what a “top-notch” school is vs. what a student really wants. Important factors include location, size, mix of students, and academics.
2. Work with a guidance counselor. They are experts on applying to college and work closely with admissions officers. They can help students with “selecting college preparatory classes and getting information on financial aid.”
3. Narrow choices. Students can save time and money by strategically selecting schools. Students should apply to a few that they feel confident about getting into and then a few that are more competitive.
4. Be organized. Disorganization can be a student’s downfall when applying to college. Christel Milak-Parker of College Connections recommends designating a room to store all college application-related materials so they don’t get lost. Keeping a spreadsheet of progress on each application can also be a helpful tool.
5. Visit several colleges. The more information students have about each college, the better. Students should make the most of campus visits—giving themselves plenty of time to explore everything the college has to offer, as well as having visiting time in dining halls or student centers. Talking to students about their experiences is also helpful.
6. Don’t go crazy for extracurriculars. The University of Miami says that more activities aren’t necessarily better—colleges are more interested in the commitment students show to dedicated activities than the number they participate in.
7. Know deadlines. Nothing would be worse than missing out on an application because of a missed deadline. Students should carefully keep track of when things are due, including deadlines for financial aid and scholarships.
8. Be yourself in admissions essays. Aaron Brown, a senior assistant director of admissions at the University of Southern California, says not to go crazy nitpicking over every single word and comma. While grammar is important, colleges want to see who an applicant truly is.