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May 18, 2020

Admissions Retrospectives

Okay. May 1 is history. Most of you high school seniors have made your enrollment decisions and, where necessary, sent in your enrollment deposits. So, your college admissions process is pretty much, if not completely, completed. You're now an experienced college applicant who perhaps has had some ups and downs along the way.

Sometimes it's fun to play "What if . . . ?" What if I had visited Tufts before Wesleyan? What if my Dad hadn't lost his job last winter? What if I had applied to more (or fewer) colleges? What if I had spent more time on my essays? And so on.

There's an excellent thread on the College Confidential discussion forum about looking back across the college admissions process. It's entitled "What I wish I had known about college admissions: Admissions Hindsight and Lessons Learned." The original poster notes, "The most valuable advice comes from those who have had more experience--especially in college admissions, so let's share our best advice. Mine is: follow your heart, and take advantage of all opportunities that speak to you, and never look back."

I encourage you to read over and participate in this thread. Plus, feel free to post your comments here. We want to know your lessons learned. Here's a sampling of some comments from the thread:


I think that the most valuable advice comes from those who have had more experience--especially in things like college admissions. College Confidential is chock full of people with incredible advice and interesting stories, and I think it would be great if we started to kind of compile a single thread upon which applicants, high school and college graduates, and parents alike could answer the simple (but ever-helpful) question, "I wish I had known..."

The class of 2014 has applied and heard back from their respective schools--kids all over the country are now slowly sorting out their futures. With that comes the joy of success--or the pain of regret--but no matter what, we all have something to share about what we've learned about high school experiences or college admissions. I realize that this is very similar to some other threads out there, but this one should not be purely limited to admissions lessons--I think that one of the most important side effects of the admissions process is self-growth, and advice concerning that is often the most helpful.

I suppose it's only fair if I go first!

This is going to sound really cliche, but truly: follow your heart, and take advantage of any and all opportunities that speak to you and never look back. I went to a large public high school, and sometimes running away from the pack to chase something no one else was going after was a little scary. The fact of the matter is, though, that open doors generally have nothing but good hidden behind them. Take the leap! In the end, your heart and mind will benefit--no matter what school you apply to or get in to.

Please, please share!


Do proper research on the colleges you plan to apply to.

Don't base your opinion on what you've heard from other people - call the colleges and ask them questions time and time again until you get all your answers. Posters on CC or your friends will not know if they give good financial aid or if SATs matter as much, only the college will.

Don't be scared.

Remember that you lose nothing from trying...

Have faith in yourself...


A couple of things:

Start your essays early! Or, at least, earlier than I did...then you won't be freaking out when the due date comes closer and closer.

Make sure that you are aware of any EA deadlines that your schools might have. I thought that none of my schools had EA, but I learned after the fact that one actually did. I got in anyway, but it would have been nice to know in December that I had at least one good option in case I got rejected in all of April.

I know this is cliched, but don't get caught up in "name brand" schools. When I would tell people that my top choice was Carleton College (I'm from the Northeast), 99% of the time they would give me a blank stare and go, "so...where's that?" As long as YOU think it's a fantastic place to be, stick with your heart!

And last but not least...don't get too caught up on CC! I do love these boards, but contrart to what many CCers would have you believe, not everybody who gets into a top school has a 2300 SAT, perfect GPA, and zillions of extracurriculars. And definitely DON'T let CC intimidate you from applying to a school.

(Of course, I say this ironically, as a frequent CCer...oh well).


I feel like I had a good experience with the college admissions process and I hope that these tips will help any of you out there!

-Try the ACT and the SAT at least twice! Most of my classmates only took the SAT a few times and only a small percentage even tried the ACT. I did okay the first time I took the SAT and then saw my score go down quite a bit the second time. I took the ACT three times and increased all three times and finally got the score I needed. Many people did better on the ACT than on the SAT... please just try it!

-If you do take the ACT, don't read the long intros to the science questions. Only go back if a question has an answer located within the intro. A good amount of questions only require a quick skim or just looking at the graph.

-Don't rule out a college just because it seems like you wouldn't get in. I got into a selective college that I didn't think I would get into and feel so lucky.

-Don't rule out a college with a ridiculous "sticker price." I've seen some people get great financial aid from really expensive schools but I, too, have seen people get horrible ones from expensive schools and cheap schools. You never know.

-When you don't feel like working on an assignment or something, go on your dream college's site and remind yourself why you're working so hard. I found this to be helpful. I hung pictures and logos for my college in front of my desk and found myself looking up at it every time I felt like stopping.

-Don't let one bad college visit or whatever ruin your impression. My friend now LOVES a college she wasn't in love with on her first visit.

Good luck to everyone applying to college this year!


Everybody is entitled to their opinion, but here's my two cents (both of my first two-of-four-kids were accepted th their 1st choice schools):

1. Apply to about 5-7 schools, ONLY schools you'd truly attend if accepted (otherwise you're wasting your time, your parents' money, and potentially taking a spot from someone else)

2. Don't take the SAT or ACT more than twice, or you'll appear obsessive and less confident

3. Apply EA to as many schools as possible, but apply ED to one school only if you don't need financial aid and love that choice clearly above all others

4. GPA is THE most important stat (of course the essays, LOR's, SAT-II's, etc. are important too)

5. Don't stress too much! There are plenty of schools you'll be happy at.


Visit schools before you apply.

Recommendation letters are more important than you think; don't blow them off.

Your guidance counselor will probably forget.

WRITE YOUR ESSAY ABOUT SOMETHING YOU LOVE (NO MATTER WHAT THAT IS). Looking back on my acceptances (and rejections), the consistent theme was that in schools that I was competitive, but not a lock for (schools who didn't emphasize test scores in my case), I was accepted to the ones where my Essay showed my quirky personality, and rejected from the ones where I wrote about "serious topics".

Now you may think that you are an amazing writer, and that you can pull off the ultra-serious essay, and maybe you can! However, I got into Rice with an essay about cooking catastrophes and by using a Chuck Norris picture in my personal "box".

...Just my experiences.


The wealth of wisdom in this thread is significant. High school juniors and sophs: Note! Take the time to benefit from those who have gone before you. Don't reinvent yet another unfortunate wheel.


Be sure to check out all my admissions-related articles and book reviews at College Confidential.

Written by

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

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