You're a high school senior who wants to go to college next year. It's a busy time, as you narrow down your choices, start to draft your essay and begin to send out applications.
However, the world has changed a lot. Social media is now a trip wire for many college-bound students. Also, tuition has risen so quickly that a college education is now out of reach for many Americans, unless they receive generous scholarships and grants from the school they plan to attend.
At the same time, in today's competitive job market, a college degree is more necessary than ever. It's become the minimum requirement for many jobs that used to just require a high school diploma.
Here's how to navigate the ever-changing college acceptance process, while avoiding some common and potentially costly mistakes.
Mop Up Your Facebook Account
College admissions staffers are increasingly apt to visit your Facebook page, and read what you've posted. Any potentially embarrassing or "private" information will then become known to the folks you are trying to impress.
These same admissions officers admit that they've denied students they otherwise would have welcomed, just because their Facebook status was iffy. So make sure to remove anything that puts you in a compromising position.
Even if you have excellent grades, and are admitted, you may not get as good of a financial aid package if your Facebook pages are questionable.
Better yet, never put anything on Facebook or another social media site that can possibly be misconstrued. Once you get out of college, potential employers will also pay close attention to your Internet trail.
Proofread Your Application
Although one spelling or grammatical error probably won't spell doom in your college plans, you want to prevent this at all costs. Multiple errors are sure not to leave a good impression.
Fill out your application, or applications, well ahead of time. Write your essay long before it's actually due. Then, you can read everything, over and over again, before sending it.
It's also a good idea to have your favorite English teacher take a look, just to check for typos or any mistakes you didn't catch on your multiple reads. Your guidance counselor can act as a second editor.
Above all, don't rush the application and send it off late at night while you're fighting sleep. This is when errors are likely to happen.
Get to Know Your Guidance Counselor
High school guidance counselors are invaluable. They are in close contact with admissions officers at various colleges and universities, all around the country. It's these relationships that can determine whether a particular student is accepted, and what type of financial aid package is awarded.
Colleges reserve the best packages for outstanding candidates. Your guidance counselor's recommendation carries more weight than you probably realize.
Don't Apply Only to Reach Schools
A "reach" school is one where the average admitted applicant has better grades and test scores than you do. Although you might get in, you certainly can't count on it.
If all of your choices fall into the reach category, you need to broaden your horizons and include some others. Aside from the obvious chanciness of a reach application, you also can't expect a lot of financial aid. That's because the best packages are given to students with test scores that set them apart. (Some Ivy League schools are the exception. They will meet full or near-full need of all accepted students.)
Unless your family is very wealthy, and willing to pay the full cost of attendance, which now can range between $30,000 to $60,000 a year, you could get accepted to your dream school, but, regretfully, find out you can't afford to attend.
Apply to at Least One Safety School
What is a "safety school?" In this case, it's the opposite of a reach school. This is an institute in which your credentials put you well above average, which means college admissions officials will practically salivate over the thought of you attending.
That's because all colleges seek to improve their rank and standing. So they roll out the welcome mat for applicants who can help them achieve this.
A safety school, in practical terms, is highly likely to accept you. It's also apt to give you tens of thousands of dollars in merit scholarships in order to make it possible for you to attend.