The Blog

As a newspaper columnist, Nancy Devlin, Ph.D. has written over 700 articles on subjects related to education and parenting. Welcome to her Classroom!

Tips on College Applications

This is the time when parents and students are making
decisions about college. I have been through this process three
times with my sons and would like to share with you some of the
things I learned about choosing and surviving college.

The process of applying to colleges can be time-consuming and
discouraging. Many students begin enthusiastically investigating
and visiting colleges only to become discouraged and “burn out”
when they are faced with the application forms. As a result,
important deadlines are unmet. My first piece of advice,
therefore, is to begin early and to do a little bit at a time.

Students who know they are going to apply to college
should begin keeping records as early as possible. They should
list everything: clubs, jobs, community activities, sports,
trips, special events and so forth. When faced with an
application form, most students forget very important
information.

Students usually know that they have to take the SAT
(Scholastic Aptitude Tests) as part of the admission requirement
to most colleges. Many students do not realize, however, that
many colleges also require achievement tests. It is best to take
these tests immediately after the student has completed the
course in high school. Not only is information fresh in the
┼ástudent’s mind at this time, but this system also allows the
student to space these tests over several years.

Most college admission offices agree that the interview is
not very important. What is important is the essay required by
most colleges. I believe the best essays are those written from
the heart. One applicant wrote an essay in which she described
her room and told what everything in it meant to her. Her
choice of subject matter made great sense, since she was certainly
the world’s expert on the topic. She was admitted to the college
of her choice.

Selectivity in college applications is important, not only
because they require so much work but also because of the expense
involved in each application. It is best to apply to no more
than five colleges and one of the five should be a college the
student knows will accept him or her. This is not as difficult a
task for the students who know what they want to study as it is
for those who have no major choice. Since most schools are not
strong in all departments, students should choose the school
which has an outstanding department in the major of their choice.

Students who choose a college because it is “in” that year,
may be setting themselves up for disappointment. Many students
feel that they are at a great disadvantage if they do not get
into the prestigious colleges and they they have somehow failed
before they even start. The idea that there is only “one”
college to go to in order to be successful is simply not true.
What makes students successful in college is the effort they put
into it.

Since few students begin their major studies in their
freshman year, there is always a good chance of transferring to
their first or second choice college in the junior year. Many
colleges have high attrition rates in the first two years.
Colleges that are difficult to get into in the freshman year, are
sometimes easier to get into in the junior year because there is
not as much competition. Another reason is that grades are a
better predictor of college performance than SAT scores.
Students who do well at another college have proven themselves
and college admission offices are taking less of a chance on
their future success than they are with freshman applicants.

No matter what the final choice is, however, students need
to remember that they can succeed anywhere, since it is what they
put into the experience that makes the difference. Many students
decide after the first semester, that they do not like the
college they choose and want to come home or transfer. I would
suggest that you encourage your children to stay at least two
years at their college. Most students come to love the schools
they are attending and when properly motivated, get very good
educations.

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