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Articles / Applying to College / Avoid College Application Regrets: Tips For Getting It Right the First Time

Avoid College Application Regrets: Tips For Getting It Right the First Time

Written by Sam Jaquez | April 28, 2023
Photo by Yan Krukau

Decision Day occurs each year on May 1st and is the deadline for students to inform the college of their choice of their intent to attend through submitting an enrollment deposit.

As decision day approaches, many students are considering their offers of admission and preparing to make their final decision on where they will be attending college in the fall. In reflection of the application process, College Confidential posted a few polls as a way to gauge how students felt about their experiences.

What would you do differently if you had to apply again?

157 students answered the first question which asked what they would do differently if they went through the application process again. These were the results:

  • 27 percent would not do anything differently
  • 25 percent would apply to different schools
  • 25 percent would apply to more schools
  • 19 percent would apply to fewer schools
  • 4 percent would pick more safety schools to apply to

Highlighted by the 50 percent of students reflecting that they would apply to different or more schools, the importance of doing adequate research before applying to schools is one of the most crucial steps in college planning.

What’s your most surprising outcome this decision season?

For the next poll question, 133 students answered with their most surprising outcome from decision season:

  • 26 percent received merit aid that they were not expecting
  • 23 percent got into a very competitive school
  • 21 percent were admitted to one of the reach schools
  • 19 percent were rejected from one of their safety schools
  • 7 percent received a very generous financial aid package
  • 4 percent did not get into any of the schools they applied to

With 44 percent of students surprised that they were admitted into a very competitive school or one of their reach schools, it is clear that applying to a variety of schools can result in a positive outcome.

Tips for Applying to College

When asked to elaborate on their experience with applying, preparing, and choosing a college or university, several community members who took the polls offered tips that helped them succeed. By far, the most common piece of advice for students was to start the application and preparation process early.

Here are additional tips given by the CC community members based on their experiences this application season.


  • Make sure to speak with your school counselor early in the process, as they can often have great advice: “[My son] was lucky to be advised by the school counselor to apply early to all colleges that offered this option. Though we thought that was not necessary, later we found this was the most valuable advice we have ever received” –sherik

  • Consider seeking out help from an admissions advisor for additional guidance: “Should have hired an independent admissions advisor (even just for 2 or 3 sessions) to help through the process of applying to east coast schools, for reviewing essay, knowing what schools would offer significant financial aid.” –pnwner

  • Setting up a dedicated admissions process email will make it easy to stay organized and help keep your inbox from being overloaded with all of the school emails you’ll be receiving: “The number one thing I would have done differently would have been to set up a dedicated email account just for admissions. So much email. SO much.” – Mrspresidio

Essays and Testing

  • Start writing your college essays the summer before senior year: “had [my son] start essays early in the summer and the time and attention really paid off.” –socalmom007

  • Take a test prep course before testing: If you plan on submitting test scores as part of your application, taking a test prep course can help you prepare for what to expect, possibly help improve your score, and can help you know what to expect for test day.

School Tours

  • Create your list of prospective schools early in junior year before going on school tours: “Our college research started the summer before junior year, so we could have a list of universities to visit that met [our] needs and preferences. This meant we could visit a lot of colleges during junior year, and leave just a couple for September of senior year.” –ProfSD

  • Start visiting colleges during junior year: "I want us to visit more schools early in the game, like junior year. I thought it made financial sense to wait and focus our visits on where my [daughter] was accepted . . . But with late March / April 1 acceptances, that meant an exhausting, complicated scramble to visit a bunch of schools quickly—and some we just couldn’t get to and, as a result, didn’t really consider seriously, though they might have been good options. Next time, early visits! Then we can always go back if it comes down to a short list of real options." –Brillig

  • Attend virtual events hosted for prospective students

  • Visit a variety of campus types to find the type of campus that feels right (big, small, city, suburb, public, private, etc.): “A good idea sometime during Junior year is to go to a place like Boston where there are MANY types of schools/campuses. That way you can narrow down preferences - big/small/big sports/urban campus.” –TonyGrace

  • A good alternative for going on tours, if that is not possible, is to search for “day in my life” videos on social media sites: “I wish I had found small liberal arts colleges that had the vibes I wanted which is why I wish I either visited or watched day in the life videos to figure out.” – ducky22

Application Tips

  • Pay closer attention to application deadlines and make a calendar of important dates: “I would have worked to understand the deadlines for each of these schools. She applied to so many that she missed scholarship deadlines and was overwhelmed with so much information.” –syr2023

  • Consider applying early admission: "I would recommend encouraging your kid to try ED1 and ED2 especially if they are aiming high. It doesn’t always turn out but you haven’t lost anything by trying." –Techno13

  • Apply to schools that you can truly see yourself attending or you might feel limited with your choices come decision time: "Personally, I would have applied to more schools that I could see myself at . . . I applied to a few and I got in, but I didn’t see myself being happy at all but one of them." –ducky22

  • Don’t be afraid to apply to more competitive schools even if you feel like you might not have a change of acceptance: “If I could have done anything differently, I would have applied to less safeties and more competitive schools. I was admitted into schools I never could have imagined getting into” –Talulazzz

  • It doesn’t hurt to apply to schools that have a free application fee: “My 2023 HS grad would have applied to more colleges if he had realized most small [liberal arts colleges] have a Zero application fee.“ –CoastalGirl7

  • Demonstrate interest throughout the application process: “Even though she was accepted to all the schools she applied to, many schools did not offer scholarships, so learning to demonstrate an interest in those schools she loved was key.” –syr2023

Choosing Schools

  • Set realistic expectations when choosing potential schools

  • Choose a school for a focus/major/program rather than the school’s rank

  • Talk with current students at potential colleges: This is a good way to get a student perspective of the school and program you’re interested in that you won't get on an official tour or by talking to a representative.

  • Make sure that the school you choose aligns with your expectations in all aspects: “I would look more closely at the student population, it’s diversity, and where most of the students came from (distance-wise from the school). I think I focused on the strength of the school in the field I’m interested in, cost and merit awards, and activities that were on and off campus that I might enjoy well, but forgot that if there’s not much diversity in the population base of students, and I don’t fit into that base well, it makes it difficult to fit in.” –klagman

To share your tips and for more discussion on decision day and applying to college, make sure to join the CC Community!

Written by


Sam Jaquez

Sam is a freelance writer. She studied at the University of Massachusetts Boston where she earned a degree in English.

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