We compiled a list of tips to guide you through the various aspects of the admissions process. Both counselors and students contributed their opinions based on their daily experiences at Middlebury. We hope you find these lists helpful!
We also have print friendly versions of these tips.
Top 10 Ways to Enjoy the Common App
10. Start Early: The Common App is open now – create an account today!
9. Think of a Suitable E-mail Address: Make sure you check this address often and exclude it from your spam filter – this is how colleges will communicate with you.
8. Pace Yourself: Don’t try and complete the application in one evening. Add the easy stuff first (name, address, etc.) Add your current high school in the Education section as soon as possible, particularly if your school uses Naviance.
7. Decide on your Recommenders: Ask them as early as possible – they will be getting many requests.
6. Don’t Stress about your Activities: It is OK if you don’t have ten entries, but make sure you have represented all of your interests. If you have more than ten activities to report:
- Prioritize them and enter the ten activities that are most important to you on the Common App
- Create an activities resume that lists all of your accomplishments. Most colleges will accept this via e-mail.
5. Current Year Courses are Important: Fill these out accurately – colleges will check them against your transcript if you are admitted.
4. Be Yourself: in your Common App essay, and keep these thoughts in mind.
- Don’t mention a specific college; the same essay goes to everyone.
- Be succinct. If you can say the same thing with fewer words, do so.
- Tell us something about yourself that isn’t already apparent in the application.
3. Watch for the Green Checks: The green checks indicate that the section is complete. Questions with a red asterisk require a response in order to complete a section and get the green check.
2. Know Your Supplements: Find out which of your colleges require additional essays. If you know you want to apply Early Decision, add your parent and guidance counselor in the Recommenders section as soon as possible.
1. Enjoy Yourself: With a little planning this can actually be an enjoyable process!
Top 10 Ways to Enjoy the College Process
10. Visit, if possible, at least some of the colleges that you are considering. Nothing will help you more to define the ideal learning environment for you, and to help you see for yourself whether the labels and stereotypes that get attached to some colleges really are valid.
9. Feel free to schedule an interview if you are going to be visiting, if the college offers individual interviews, and if it is a college that you are seriously considering. But don’t worry if you can’t have or don’t want one. Interviews are virtually never a required part of the process, and they may or may not even be what is considered “evaluative.” But having one could help you learn more about the institution, and it could help the college learn more about you. Once you’ve had an interview or two, you’ll find them amazingly enjoyable.
8. Share your reactions about the colleges you visit with your parents and others. Sure, it’s sometimes a pain that they want to be so involved with what ultimately will be your decision, but since they are frequently the ones who are going to be helping you pay for this experience, it’s important that they are on the same page with you.
7. Be thoughtful in your choices so that you don’t feel as if you need to apply to 15-20 colleges just because some of your friends are. If you are diligent enough with the steps above, you ought to be able to narrow it down to 6-8 attractive options fairly easily, and if those cover a range of competitiveness for you, you will be fine next spring. It will also be nice to save money on those application fees…
6. Apply Early Decision only if you felt like “lightning struck” during your college search and it is your clear first choice. Too many students apply ED for the wrong reasons (i.e., because of whatever strategic advantage they think it may give them in being admitted), but applying early can take you out of the “driver’s seat” of a very important decision. This is especially true for anyone for whom financial considerations are going to be important in their decision about where to attend. You and your family may wish to be able to compare different financial aid/scholarship awards.
5. Be aware that your SAT/ACT scores will probably play less of a role in your admissions decision than you may think. Most selective colleges do not have “cut off” scores below which applicants are not admitted, and most have a fairly wide range of scores represented among their admitted students. That’s because test scores only provide colleges with the roughest possible measure of your potential for success academically in college; your high school grades are a much better predictor of that. Higher scores are better than lower scores, of course, but even the highest scores are by no means a guarantee of admission to the most selective colleges. At most colleges to which you apply, it is likely that your scores will look quite similar to those of other applicants, which means it is unlikely that they will be a deciding factor in your candidacy.
4. Relax when it comes time to writing your personal essay and let it come from your heart. Yes, the essay is important enough to be required by most colleges, but please know that very seldom is the essay reason enough by itself to admit or reject anyone. We just want to get to know you a little better, and your grades and scores only paint part of your picture. Your essay can do that, but don’t forget to proofread and use your spell check . . .
3. Choose the teachers who write letters of recommendation for you carefully. Since those letters are another way for us to get to know you better, they should come from teachers who know you well, maybe even teachers who have had contact with you outside of their classrooms such as through clubs, teams, etc. And don’t forget that some of the teachers who challenged you the most may be able to write an even more meaningful letter for us than the ones from whom you got easy “A’s.”
2. Submit additional letters of recommendation only if they are from people who know you really well and can add things about you that others couldn't. Letters from friends of your parents who happen to be alumni of the college to which you are applying, for example, don’t usually shed much additional light for us.
And the Number One way to enjoy the college admissions process is:
1. Breathe deeply and always remember that a year from now you will very likely be attending some truly excellent college where you will get a first-rate education and have a wonderful experience. The great thing about higher education in the United States is that there are so many terrific options that almost everyone ends up having a really positive college experience. And don’t forget that the quality of your educational experience is far more up to you than it is up to the institution that you attend.
Top 10 Tips on Making the Most of the Liberal Arts College Experience
Due to their exclusive focus on undergraduate education, dedicated teaching faculty, superb resources, and strong sense of community, LACs can be a wonderful choice for one’s undergraduate years. Below are some tips on how best to take advantage of the LAC experience.
10. Talk with fellow students to find out who are considered the best professors, and take classes from some of them, regardless of the subject. Great professors tend to make any subject fascinating, and you’ll always remember those classes – and you might just discover a new academic passion!
9. Take advantage of the many support services available to students. LACs excel in the level of support they offer their students, be it advising, writing assistance, academic tutoring, mentoring, counseling, etc. Don’t hesitate to reach out and ask for help – this is one of the main reasons for attending a LAC!
8. Don’t overdo the extracurricular activities, particularly during first year. The transition from high school to a demanding college can be challenging. Pace yourself, choose a few clubs and activities to join; concentrate on your studies and a few well-chosen activities. Don’t over-commit. This is a case of less often being more.
7. Look for balance in your course selection. Each semester, try and choose a variety of courses, both in terms of subject matter (to explore and learn about a broad variety of disciplines and ways of thinking) as well as the type of work required (papers, exams, problem sets, nightly homework vs. long-term research papers, etc.).
6. Consider doing some kind of original research during your college years. Contrary to common assumption, LACs are great places to get involved in research, in virtually any discipline. Professors love to get their students involved in research, be it assisting them with their research, or mentoring you in something you find interesting. You’ll gain confidence, knowledge, valuable skills and experience for applying to graduate school, and possibly gain an important mentor and friend for life!
5. Decide what you want to do and then seek ways to make it happen. LACs are wonderfully supportive places, and encourage their students to create experiences for themselves. Many have resources and funds available throughout the institution to support research, internships, programs, or work experiences, be it term-time, during the summer, or post graduation. Talk to people about what you want to do – it can lead to places and experiences you’d never expect.
4. Meet and get to know as many international students as possible. International students often are among the most interesting and engaging students on campus. Join any of the international students’ organizations that interest you. You will make great friends, will be exposed to new perspectives, and will always have places to stay throughout the world!
3. Take advantage of your school’s alumni network and career services office. Many students overlook these resources until facing graduation. Alumni of LACs tend to be extremely loyal to their alma mater and love to give back in many ways, including serving as career resources to current students interested in their professions. Get into the career service office early in your college career and learn about the many resources it offers – don’t wait until senior year!
2. Consider doing some community service during college. Most LACs have offices to help students find service opportunities in the community where the college is located. You will get to know the community in a different way, will meet new people while providing a needed service, and will find the regular respite from the “bubble” of college life welcoming and rejuvenating.
And finally. . .
1. Relax, enjoy the experience, and take advantage of as much as you can. Compared to many high-powered high schools, LACs tend not to be competitive places – students work hard, but not in competition with each other. So forgo the temptation to compare yourself with others, and instead immerse yourself in the wonderful four years ahead of you, taking advantage of the many opportunities available to you.
Top 10 Things for Parents to Remember
It is good, of course, that students and parents approach this process jointly, but we all know that at its best, the process itself can prepare students for the independence that they will experience in college. The following list contains some possible symptoms of parental over-involvement.
10. Remember that this process is not about you. No matter how similar your children may be to you, they need to make their own decisions and observations.
9. Support and encouragement are more appropriate than pressure and unsolicited advice. Allow your children to seek you out and restrain yourself from imposing your viewpoint upon them.
8. Do not use the words “we” or “our” when referring to your children’s application process. Those little pronouns are surefire indicators that you have become too involved.
7. Help them prepare but let them perform. Encourage them to sleep well and put thought into a college visit, but once on campus, step back and let them drive the experience. This is good practice for the next phase of their lives—adulthood.
6. Encourage your children to make their own college appointments, phone calls, and e-mails. When a family arrives at an admissions office, it’s important that the student approach the reception desk, not the parents. We notice! Having control over those details gives them a sense of ownership. Don’t be tempted by the excuse that “I’m just saving them time” or “they are too busy”—students will learn to appreciate all the steps it takes to make big things happen if they do them.
5. Allow your children to ask the questions. They have their own set of issues that are important to them.
4. Prepare your children for disappointment. For many students this is the first time they could face bad news. Remind them there is no perfect school and that admissions decisions do not reflect on their worth as people or your worth as parents.
3. Never complete any portion of the college application—yes, even if it is just busy work. That also goes for friends, siblings, counselors, and secretaries. For many colleges, that overstep would be viewed as a violation of the honor policy at the school.
2. Do not let stereotypes or outdated information steer your children away from schools in which they would otherwise have an interest. Times have changed and so have colleges.
And the Number One thing for parents to remember about the college search process is:
1. Never, ever, during a college visit buy that souvenir sweatshirt or T-shirt from the bookstore in your size—it’s a dead giveaway!
Top 10 Things to Understand about Financial Aid
10. At need-blind institutions, applying for financial aid does not impact admissions decisions. The cost of a private college education is such that few families are able to meet the cost without some sacrifices, and frequently without some help. If you think you may need that help, you should not hesitate to apply for it. If you wait on applying for aid until you find out if you are admitted, you may be disqualifying yourself from receiving anything!
9. The Estimated Family Contribution (EFC) is not what a financial aid office thinks a family has “left over” for college expenses after they have covered all of their other living costs. Need analysis is much more a process of determining how much a family (including the non-custodial family, in cases of divorce) can afford to absorb in educational costs over time. That means that a financial aid office will take into consideration all accumulated assets, prior year and current income, and borrowing capacity. How a family meets its EFC from those three sources is a matter of personal choice, but all of them will be considered.
8. Assets, such as personal savings, home equity, and investments, are usually not the primary “drivers” that determine a family’s EFC. Families that have such assets are better off than those who do not, so they have to be taken into consideration, but for most families, the greatest portion of the EFC is derived from income, not assets. Families that have saved systematically in the past are still far better off for having done so, since they are in a better position to meet the EFC from those assets than those who have to borrow to do so.
7. Monthly debt payments are typically not taken into consideration by need analysis. Every family receives allowances (based on factors such as family size, location, and age of parents and siblings) toward housing, food, transportation and other living costs. However, need analysis does not factor in the actual amount that families pay for their home mortgages, car loans, and other debts. To do otherwise would run the risk of subsidizing with financial aid the choices that some families have made that others have not, since need-based financial aid attempts to treat all families equally.
6. Non-discretionary expenses (e.g., medical costs, siblings’ private school costs, etc.) are taken into consideration in need analysis. Every family’s financial situation is unique, and you should feel free to share any unusual expenses that your family confronts in case they could be factored into your EFC.
5. Support for other siblings in college counts! Families that are supporting more than one son or daughter in college at the same time can receive a substantial reduction in their EFC as a result. That is why there are no income “cut-offs” above which families are not eligible to receive aid. The amount of the reduction may depend upon the relative cost of the institutions attended by other siblings.
4. Familiarize yourself with the Financial Aid section of the college website. This is where you will find information specific to that college concerning financial aid application deadlines, the documents required to complete an aid application, the aid packaging policies, the components of an aid package, policies concerning the treatment of outside scholarships, whether financial aid is available for study abroad, and types and terms of various education loans.
3. Get to know the financial aid counselors at the colleges to which you are applying. In the long run, openly sharing information with them about your family’s financial situation may be even more important than getting to know the Admissions Office staff. Whatever institution you are admitted to and choose to attend, the familiarity of the financial aid staff with your family’s financial situation may be your most important resource.
2. Deadlines matter. In order to be able to receive any financial aid for which you may be eligible, you need to apply by the deadline. Missing a deadline may result in your not receiving any aid at all.
And the #1 thing that families need to understand about need-based financial aid is:
1. The primary goal of any financial aid office is to arrive at an EFC that makes it possible for any admitted student to attend that institution, and to do so in a way that is fair to all of the other families applying for financial aid. This is a goal that all need-based colleges strive to achieve. The more information you can share with the financial aid office about your family’s financial situation, the more able they will be to meet that goal.