Top 10 Tips for Applying to and Choosing a College

By Rebecca Mitchell
Distinguished Young Woman of Maryland for 2011

No matter what stage of your teenage years you are in, it’s never too early to start thinking about colleges! The sooner you start preparing, the easier it will be for you. Hopefully these tips can help you get started and help you in this exciting step in your life!
10. GET EXCITED!!!
This is a HUGE step in your life, and you should be thrilled to dive into it! Have fun exploring colleges and preparing for the next stage—it’s an amazing adventure!! 
9. Don’t stress!
If you keep your cool and follow everything that you have to through the application process, things will work out, I promise! It’s not as terrifying as some people work it up to be. Just go in with a positive attitude, and you will be fine!

8. Look for scholarships!!
There are SO many different scholarships available out there, many of which you probably don’t even know you’re qualified for! Always keep your eyes open for opportunities, and work hard in school and extracurricular activities to make even more options available. Of course, if any high school girl is looking for an amazing and fun scholarship opportunity, look into participating in the Distinguished Young Women program! With free participation, it is a fantastic way to earn scholarship money. With the program, I am going to college for free!!!

7. Apply to as many schools as you can.
Only applying to one school and not having a backup is never a good idea, just in case something goes wrong. I would recommend applying to at least four or five. Personally, I applied to seven. It’s always good to lean on the safe side! Applications can be expensive, but in the long run, it is worth it!

6. Grades matter!!
Yes, we’ve all heard this a thousand times. However, I really didn’t appreciate just what it meant until I got to the Distinguished Young Women program and realized just how many amazing, smart young women (and students overall!) are out there. I only got one B in high school, and I was still beaten out scholastically by a number of girls in the program. Even if you don’t have a perfect grade record, keep working! Colleges also look for grade improvement through the years, and how you challenge yourself.

5. Be unique, but not crazy.
Yes, colleges look for students who stand out, and students who can add something unique to their campus. But don’t go crazy and start exploring the meaning of life or telling your birth story to answer a question of “tell us something interesting about you.” In the same way, though, don’t try to over-sell yourself. Don’t turn an essay into just a list of accomplishments. Quality over quantity. Rather than simply naming accomplishment after accomplishment, talk about your involvement in the activities and what they meant to you.

4. Pay attention to deadlines!!!
“I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.” I think we can all relate to this Douglas Adams quote in one way or another. However, when it comes to college applications, DO NOT WAIT! A lot of schools actually have scholarship deadlines. These scholarship deadlines tend to be listed as one of the school’s earliest deadlines, so if you just assume that you’ll have time to make one of their following application dates, you may miss out on getting any scholarships there.

3. VISIT. Visit, visit, visit, visit, visit.
If at all possible, visit the schools you’re looking at. It’s amazing how much the “feel” of a school can affect your decision. I walked onto a few campuses that I was seriously considering and immediately said “I could not imagine going here.” On the other hand, I looked at South Alabama online and said “There’s no way I want to go here,” and after taking a tour, turned to my mom and said, “I don’t want to leave.” Virtual tours, pictures, and facts are great, but there’s no way of telling how you’ll really like a school until you get your own first-hand account.

2. Explore all the options.
Make sure you know what is being offered to you, especially when it comes to scholarships. Research schools online to see what kind of options are available to you. There’s more than you know! Also, don’t underestimate yourself—you never know what you’re capable of until you try! 

1. Keep your mind open!
I cannot stress this one enough. I wish I had a flashing neon sign that I could send through the computer to emphasize this. From the time I was in sixth grade, I knew that I was going to attend a college within a two-hour radius of home, so I could drive home any time that I wanted. I would never go to a school that I would have to fly home from. Now here I am, attending the University of South Alabama (roughly an 18-hour drive home so I have to fly home for holidays, and the last school on my list), and I am loving it! I could not imagine a better match for me. So when you’re looking, don’t limit yourself! You know the expression “beyond your wildest dreams”? It’s true—expect the unexpected!
 
Rebecca Mitchell is a college freshman at the University of South Alabama in Mobile, Alabama majoring in Elementary Education. Originally from Ijamsville, Maryland, Rebecca was a participant in the Distinguished Young Women program and was selected as the Distinguished Young Woman of Maryland for 2011. Learn more about Rebecca here!

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