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Live and Learn

High school graduates speak out and share what they wished they had known when applying to college. Repeatedly, the general consensus was "start early". The following may provide additional insight into the process.

On your college visits, be proactive and look around for all the information you can. Even if you get into some great schools, making the choice is very stressful if all you know is based on reputation. So don't just take the official tours and glide through your visits - start preparing then and there to decide if this school is the one. As for admissions, I would elaborate on just "start early." Even if you're the type who has trouble writing without a deadline staring you in the face (as I was), set aside plenty of _dedicated, uninterrupted time_ just to think about the topics of your essays. My first application was far worse than all the others, not because I suddenly improved my writing in between, but because the topics of those essays were weak. The most important parts of a college essay are the core ideas and stories, and it can take a lot of time to find the right ones. If you can pin these down early, writing will become much easier.

~Princeton University, Student

I wish I'd known earlier to start applying for scholarships as soon as possible, not to wait until after college apps were over. Some fantastic scholarships (such as Coca-Cola, for example) have early deadlines in the fall, so these are easy to miss if one is too busy applying to college.

~Duke University, Student

University of Texas offered a small number of students "wait list" and if room was available in those students' 1st choice majors, they were offered admission after May 1. (Some of my friends did not get their 1st choice majors but were accepted outright.) I almost took my name off the wait list since I had to commit to a different school by May 1. When I was notified later that I could go to UT, I took it!

~University of Texas, Student

When I was applying to college, I wish I had approached college interviews differently. Instead of thinking about interviews like stressful auditions, I wish I would have used my time doing interviews to learn more about the university I was interviewing for and the interviewer. Interviewers are usually alumni of the school they are interviewing for and are therefore a great resource for understanding the things about a school that only come across when you meet people who go there. For example, Stanford has a bunch of traditions (some very strange) that I wish I knew about before I was a student. It would have helped me to picture myself there amongst the other students to better understand if it was a good fit for me. It ended up being a great fit but this was due to luck more than anything. There are some schools I really wanted to go to when I was applying to colleges that I would have hated had I gone there because after having met alumni, I don't think I would have fit in. The interview is a great place to find this out.

~Stanford University, Graduate

I wish someone had mentioned to me that it gets dark as early as 3:30 in the winter in Boston.

~Harvard University, Student

Walking 10-12 blocks in the snow to class is one thing; walking that far to find people to hang with is another.

~New York University, Student

I spent a lot of time worrying about how many credits I could enter college with and did not focus enough upon the core requirements that each school required. At Berkeley we had a slew of mandatory science and literature requirements that I had not known about before, and the same can be said for here at UVA. I never really took those things into consideration in my search -- it was all about the rankings for the overall school, my major, and general culture/location.

~Berkeley/University of Virginia, Student