Good advice on college for teens: Your dream campus may change. Apply to more safety schools.

I get almost daily e-mails about new college-focused web sites launched by industrious and creative young entrepreneurs. is one of them. Started by three ambitious young women from Harvard, the site is aimed at college and high school students and offers practical advice on admissions and adjustments to college.

It has a lot of advice on the social aspects of college — “A Freshman Girl’s Guide to Frat Parties” — and what to wear –  “20 Ways to Wear a Plain White T.”

But I thought this list of “Ten Things No One Told You About The College Application Process,” reminiscent of the advice I shared here a few weeks ago from the author of a well-known college guide, was useful to share with teens. I am not sure it’s true that no one has ever told students these 10 things, but they are worth repeating.

So here is the list — edited a bit –  from Her Campus:

10 – The application process can put a strain on friendships and relationships. Even though you and your best friends are the real-life ‘Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants’, applying to college can hurt even the best sisterhoods. Some of you may stress out about the process while others don’t, one of you may get into your dream school and another doesn’t, and you may be able to pay for college even though your BFF can’t.

9 – Labels stop mattering after high school. While who’s popular, who’s smarter, and so on may dominate most of your thoughts in high school, those labels stop mattering after graduation. Why is it important to know this as you’re applying to college? Because you shouldn’t feel like you have to compete with your classmates to get into the best schools. If you apply to schools that not many people have heard of or ones that are labeled as “easy” to get into, be proud of that.

8 – Your dream school may change. Just like Rory Gilmore in Gilmore Girls, who had dreamed of going to Harvard only to discover she loved Yale more, your dream school may change as you’re going through the application process.

7 – If you don’t get into your dream school, it’s not the end of the world. Go ahead. Have a good cry. Your best friend got into the school you’ve been dying to go to since you were 3 years old, and you didn’t. But after you’ve used up three boxes of tissues and eaten four pints of Ben & Jerry’s, it’s time to come up with a new game plan.

6 – Always (we repeat: ALWAYS) apply to multiple safety schools. So you’ve applied to Harvard, Northwestern, Stanford, NYU and Boston College. You’re bound to get into one, right? Not necessarily. No matter how high of a GPA you have, always apply to a few safety schools (schools that you are likely get into) in case those Ivy Leagues or other top tier schools send rejection letters. And by a few, we don’t mean just one, because you aren’t guaranteed a spot at a safety school, either.

5 – Senior grades DO matter. After you’ve applied, your grades don’t matter anymore … right? Wrong! Colleges have caught on to students who think they can stop doing homework after those applications have been sent in, and many now require you to send in your final grades after you’ve been wait-listed or accepted.

4 – Consider Early Decision II. You’ve probably heard of early decision and early action, but have you heard of early decision II? This option, provided by some colleges, is similar to early decision in that if you are accepted, it is a binding agreement. The difference is that you apply later than early decision (December or January) and receive a decision later (usually in early February). Applying early decision II is great in that it gives you more time to research and visit schools and make sure the school you’re applying to is your first choice.

3 – Parents will probably be more involved than you think they will be. Most parents are involved in the everyday lives of their children, and they will be actively involved in the application process – every step of the way. Dad may want you to apply to his alma mater, or mom may want you to apply to the school where she always dreamed of going. Yes, it can be annoying at times, but parents can also be most helpful.

2 – You may doubt yourself and everything you have done in high school. As you fill out your college applications, you may think that the Spanish club and the school play aren’t enough to get you accepted. Don’t stress out and make your four years of hard work seem meaningless. Everyone has different strengths and interests, and it’s important to play up what makes you unique. Sure, you may only have one club to put on your application, but maybe you became the president and that kind of thing doesn’t go unnoticed.

1 – No matter what, this is your decision. Advice is helpful, but when it comes time to eventually making a decision, students should shut everyone and all of their expectations out in favor of themselves. Applying to college isn’t easy, but making sure you do so with confidence is essential. It may be a decision that could dictate the best four years of your life, but if it doesn’t, transferring is always an option.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

10 comments Add your comment


November 2nd, 2011
12:54 pm

They forgot “Look at the cost and what your resources are.” This is a crucial consideration that teens typically ignore while they are being courted with slick marketing brochures and avidly reading about school’s party status in USNWR, but which will saddle them with debt and restrict their post-college choices in four (or five) short years. Don’t assume that 18 year olds are too young to understand financial consequences; get into the nitty gritty before they get their hearts set on a cool climbing wall or late night coffee lounge.

Teacher Reader

November 2nd, 2011
2:48 pm

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Teacher Reader

November 2nd, 2011
2:59 pm

I believe that considering a two year community college as a way to save money and find out what they really want to do in their life. Finding yourself in a four year college or university is very costly.

I agree with Shar. Finances are finances and being realistic with the amount of debt that one is going to leave college with is crucial. I remember wanting to attend my first choice in the worst way, was excited when the acceptance letter came, and then when I figured out that I’d be in more debt than made any sense, a back up school with much cheaper tuition was fine, and I believe a better choice in the long run.


November 2nd, 2011
3:37 pm

But, Shar, don’t go by sticker price. Get a realistic look at what YOUR costs would be, before you discard ANY school.

Case on point: We were living on less than $25.000 per year, yet my daughter fell in love with a $30,000 per year school. We investigated what her FA was likely to be, but did not rule the school out until we knew for sure. Turns out, it was cheaper for her to go there than to UGA. Gets dicey when you are applying early decision, however. Younger daughter wanted to go to a $35,000 school, applied Early decision. I had to make some careful inquiries about FA to be sure we were in the ball park, as FA packages don’t come out till much later. Perhaps that new FA estimator would be helpful, but it is no guarantee. And most private schools have gotten awayfrom meeting all need, or their figures are much more conservative.


November 2nd, 2011
3:39 pm

The most important thing about going to college is FINISHING.

Rik Roberts

November 2nd, 2011
11:34 pm

If the OWS movement should tell us anything it’s that there are a lot of young people that are somehow surprised that their BA in French poetry degree is not landing them the high paying job needed to offset $150,000 in student loans. #1 advice to me is to make sure that the education you are buying is worth it. The purpose of college is not to party or to find oneself. The sole purpose of college is to get a degree that will allow you to get a job that you could not otherwise have. It’s okay if your goal is to teach school or be a pastor, but understand the salary that comes with those jobs is not going to pay off those loans anytime soon. And the last time I checked, a teacher with a degree from Armstrong State is paid the same as a teacher with a degree from Harvard.

Ole Guy

November 3rd, 2011
10:21 am

A DEGREE IS A DEGREE IS A DEGREE! A big name school moniker upon that diploma only goes so far. Of course, making grade is objective #1; concentrate on self-development. During your high school years, Mom and Dad; possibly teacher, etc ran block for you. At a young 20-something, the ball will be in your hands…the “man” won’t care who your folks are, where you come from, etc. Start now to develop both leadership AND responsible followership values. Become a part of campus activities/committee memberships. Learn to be a viable component of an organization.

If you are experiencing difficulty in academics, don’t waste precious time on remedials. If, say, Statics, Dynamics, or Strength of Materials is busting your spheroids, you probably didn’t receive a good grounding in high school trig, physics, or simply learn how to study. Get some tutoring; it will all fall into place. You didn’t go to college to make grade in remedial arithmetic. Remedials, in my view, is tantamount to droping back and punting. While you’re…euphamistically speaking…on defense, you can’t “score the academic goals” for which you decided to enter the collegiate pressure cooker. Stay on academic “offense”…that’s the only way to succeed.

If you’re a boozer, learn to “handle yourself” in social circumstances. There’s nothing wrong with being a party animal, tying one on occassionally, but keep it all in perspective. In the office/corporate environment, booze may become an integral component to conducting business…the three “martoonee” lunch, the after-hours soft ball game, etc. You damn sure don’t want to get wasted during these events.

Stay focused, even when/ESPECIALLY when the “water is lapping at your nose”.


November 5th, 2011
10:22 pm

We need to find a different, less costly way for our children to safely mature into adulthood. When we weren’t warring, the military was a good option. I’m in favor of a structured service period, maybe two years duration, where our graduated young adults can do some good for the country and in the process come to know themselves a bit better. How can you know which college to go to, or even if college is a good choice for you at all, unless you have come to know yourself in the real world, away from the defining expectations of parents and high school friends?


November 6th, 2011
9:42 pm

Maureen, thanks for posting this piece. It has some sound, practical advice for college-bound seniors from a youth perspective.


November 7th, 2011
1:04 pm

Fantastic piece. My oldest is in the process of applying to colleges now. I think I’ve reminded him of 2/3 of the points on this list on a near daily basis now since June. Today’s generation of college-bound youth have far too much of a sense of entitlement that everything should be convenient, pre-packaged, made-to-order, and easily consumable. It’s the same for them whether it’s iTunes downloads, doing a research project, or applying to colleges. I was appalled to hear one of my son’s friends gasp in disgust when he found out that there are some colleges to which you cannot simply transmit a canned application by clicking a button to distribute your application template (no doubt with the same letter of intent and essay answers copied and pasted into their respective text boxes) over the internet! Seriously? College is supposed to be hard. It’s supposed to be a challenge and a place in which you are expected to work hard, be challenged, experience failure, and come out the other side having learned and matured academically and socially from the experience. That opportunity exists for nearly every student willing to put the time and effort into locating the college for them that will best fit their needs. I went to a small private, liberal arts school in the Midwest and attribute 100% of my current success to my 4 years there in a major that is completely useless to me now. I learned how to work hard, to formulate and communicate ideas, to think independently and creatively solve problems, and how to learn from my mistakes. Others I know went to a 2 year school to learn a trade or technology that was in line with something they were passionate about, and have equally succeeded in life through the same principles and lessons I learned. Bottom line is that you have to do some soul searching, be realistic about what you want, how to get there, and how much it will cost you. If you don’t have an innate desire or passion to do something, succeeding in it is much harder, and not as worthwhile if you do. I see too many kids going to college in something they could care less about in hopes that it will get them a good paying job later in life. Guess what – my generation sees that as we interview college grads with those qualities, and we tend not to hire them – we’ll take a Valdosta State graduate who is evidently passionate about what they do and want to do and will work hard doing it than the UGA or Emory grad that is expecting to get the job I’m offering (or one just like it) just to fulfill a step in their pre-determined process to “success”.