Despite endless online rankings lists, prospective students know less about colleges and universities than the schools know about them.
Writing for the Washington Post's "Grade Point," Jeffrey Selingo recently named the four most common mistakes that college applicants make. Here's how to help incoming students avoid these pitfalls.
1. Visiting too little or too late
According to VisitDays, a company that partners with colleges to schedule student visits, about 25% of prospective student visits occur in April and about 50% of these are first-time visits.
Selingo, a professor of practice at Arizona State University, a visiting scholar at Georgia Institute of Technology's Center for 21st Century Universities, and author of There is Life After College, says early visits are vital.
"A physical campus filled with students and faculty members feels and looks much different than the carefully crafted online virtual tours now offered by most colleges," writes Selingo.
Selingo says that many applicants may not realize they have the opportunity to see more of campus beyond the official tour. Make sure the students know they have the option to visit professors and courses in majors that interest them. The more applicants know about the teaching style at your college or university, the easier it will be for them to decide if it's a good fit for them.
Low-income students, high-impact recruitment
2. Overlooking opportunities for undergraduate research
Prospective students interested in research often make the mistake of narrowing their college search to big research universities alone, says Selingo. This misconception occurs because they think only large schools with generous funding from the National Institute of Health or the National Science Foundation will provide opportunities for hands-on research.
On the contrary, these schools often reserve prestigious research opportunities for graduate students, who also stand in for professors to teach undergraduate classes.
But at small liberal-arts colleges, Selingo says, undergraduates often have opportunities to work directly with faculty members on research projects that they might not have at a larger school.
3. Putting off a trip to the career center
Public scrutiny of graduates' career outcomes is at a high point, which means that colleges must focus on career development from the moment the student steps foot on campus. Be prepared to answer questions about internship opportunities and job placement details.
However, Selingo says many students still fail to consider career preparation "as a four-year journey," instead thinking of it as "just an office you visit the second semester of your senior year."
4. Misunderstanding the costs
Students often get their hearts set on one school before hearing or fully understanding their financial aid offers, says Selingo. Present financial aid information in a way that will help teenage students and their parents alike to comprehend what the aid will look like long term.
Families are more concerned about cost than ever before, says Emily Bauer, a managing director at Royall & Company, a division of EAB.
"Whether you look at longitudinal data from our surveys of parents or things like google search trends analysis, both are showing a dramatic elevation around issues related to cost," she says. Research shows that there's been a 50% increase over the past three years in the number of families listing cost as their top concern, according to Bauer.
"Now, 70% of all families are reporting cost as one of their top three concerns when approaching the college search process," Bauer says.
Despite all this attention, the real cost of attending a particular college can still be challenging for a prospective student to find out. Bauer notes that it's extremely difficult for students to anticipate their costs without submitting a FAFSA—around one million students fail to complete the form each year.
"Teenagers... don't know the cold-blooded financial reality until it's too late, usually after they begin paying their student loans," says Selingo. "If students have several choices at various price points, they are better able to figure out which one is the best academic fit and the best financial fit when it comes time to make a decision."
How do students really feel about affordability? Here's what they told us.
But the number one mistake students make when applying to college is not applying at all, says Peter Farrell, managing director and senior principal at Royall & Company.
"Choosing a college is complex and making a choice takes time. Students’ perspectives, needs and goals can change a lot in the course of their senior year," Farrell says. He tells students to make a broad list of colleges to apply for, which helps them keep their options open as they learn more throughout the process.
"As the great Canadian philosopher, Wayne Gretzky said, you'll miss 100% of the shots you never take" (Selingo, "Grade Point," Washington Post, 10/20).
How simple is the application process really? See what we learned when we asked students for their opinions
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