When I was going off to college, I had the benefit of being a younger sister and among the youngest in my group of high school friends, so I got to see 2 rounds of college applications before it was my turn. My first piece of advice for the application process is to really pay attention to the due dates, and move them up to fit your life, if you need to. For instance, my applications all seemed to be due at the end of December, but my sister and friends were all coming home for the holidays before that, so I made sure to have all of my applications complete and in the mail early, so that I didn’t miss out on visiting while everyone was in town.
Second, go to as many events that your prospective schools invite you to. Usually, you will get to meet alumni and/or current students at these events so you can ask questions about campus life and classes you will be taking. You can really get a feel for the way the school wants to be seen, and its true personality.
When the financial aid letters come in, pay close attention to what they are offering and what the final cost will be. Make a side-by-side comparison of each of your offers, to help you see what each school is talking about. You can use a shopping sheet like the one offered by the Department of Education, or you can make your own so long as you break out the aid that you will not have to pay back (scholarships and grants), the aid that you will earn as you go (often called work-study), and the aid that will accrue interest (loans). Make sure you include the expected family contribution in your comparison, as these may vary noticeably.
Lastly, visit the campuses that you are most interested in. Most schools have visitor programs where you can arrange to spend the night on campus, and attend classes in your area of interest, so contact the admissions office to arrange an experience that will best give you an idea of what your life on that campus would be like. While you may have three schools that seem equal on paper, a good campus visit can show you which one really best suits you, and the results may surprise you.
Caroline also had some tips to share on the application process. Readers, do you have any tips to share with students who are applying for college?
When you’re applying for college, if you know where you want to go, apply as early as possible. I was confident of my college choices early on, and got an acceptance very early-on. It helped minimize stress during my senior year.