“Follow this advice and I guarantee you’ll get into a great college.”
Dan Lundquist has worked in selective college admissions for over twenty-five years, at large Ivy League universitities and small liberal arts colleges. Every year he offers advice to students (and their parents) in the hope that they will have a more successful – and less stressful – college search:
- It’s important that you take the lead in thinking critically to get down to a short list of colleges. A student who’s been spoon-fed is the one who’s going to be disappointed when he or she discovers that other people’s interests and values drove the college search.
- Be realistic when developing a college list. Assess your interests, values, skills, and aspirations. And gather information about the colleges themselves: the range and diversity of our higher education system is wonderful, so never assume there are any universal policies, strengths, or preferences. Or that what is right for someone else will fit for you. Decide for yourself.
- For most students there isn’t one perfect college. In fact, against the backdrop of so many fine options – there are more than 3000 colleges in the United States – you probably have the talent and flexibility to succeed at a number of colleges. Please feel bouyed by the variety of options you have…rather than oppressed by competition and process.
- Applicants should redefine “best college” to “right college for me.” Concentrate on finding the right accessible college first, so you can say, “If this is the only college that accepts me, I’ll be delighted to attend.”
- Apply Early Decision only if is true love… not to “get it over with” or game the system.
- Even the “super candidates” should apply to less-selective schools. The most competitive colleges turn away thousands of stellar candidates every year…because they do not have room to admit them all. Fair? no;reality, yes. (“If you are smart enough to go to MIT, then you are – or better be – smart enough to apply somewhere else too!”)
- Don’t be overwhelmed by all that you have to do senior year. The “worst case” scenario of getting organized and staying ahead of deadlines is that you will find you have more room to maneuver and you may feel a bit saner.
- Note to students, you control two-thirds of the process; you chose where to apply … and then where to attend. Colleges only make admission decisions.
- Since most applicants to competitive colleges are admissible due to grades and SATs, it is important to understand that most offers of admission are based on the applicants’ personal presentation – their special talents, their background, their ambitions, and their ability to clearly and persuasively discuss the academic and personal match between them and a particular college.
- Remember that the goal of the admissions officer is to get an understanding of what makes an individual candidate tick. An application presented in one’s natural voice and style – be it serious, somber, wry, or humurous – helps accomplish that goal much better than an application that has been tailored to fit the perceived confines of an application form. Use the form as your forum!
- Don’t forget the “heart factor” when choosing your college. Objective criteria such as academic programs, size, location, and cost are important, but your choice also needs to make you feel, “This is home.”
Finally, please remember that your college education begins with the search process, and please keep it in perspective: though a serious process, you needn’t be deadly serious about finding the right college!