According to Brittany, these are three tips you should follow when navigating your college search:
1) Start early, research often. Your path to college begins long before high school, but you’ll want to start the process in earnest around 9th/10th grade. Begin with learning about how the process works. What do colleges look for in applicants? How do they evaluate applications? Do I need to know what I want to study when I get there? Or when I apply? These are questions worth wrapping your head around early on, so you can best position yourself to be a competitive applicant at the schools where you determine you might be a good fit (and that you might be a good fit for!). Research should go beyond what your friends and parents tell you, too. You’ll want to reach out to people who you do not know and learn about their experience applying to and attending different types of schools. You’ll also want to see schools in person if you can, and if not, take virtual tours. Connecting with admissions officers is also a must, and if you do have a sense of what you might want to study, don’t be shy about reaching out to faculty and maybe even sitting in on a class or two, which you can do on campus or virtually.
2) Understand your goals. Take inventory of your short and long-term goals. Then, find a mentor who understands your profile and these goals. It’s not true that you only have one shot at applying to college; in fact, many people apply all over again as transfers. However, there is no need to spend the extra time and money on doing it all over again when you have the opportunity—with proper planning and feedback—to do it right (aka realistically!) the first time around. A good mentor is not someone who is going to tell you what you want to hear, but someone who has been where you want to go or has extensive experience guiding students where you want to go (like an independent college counselor!).
3) Be kind to yourself (and others). The process of applying to college can be anxiety-inducing. You’ll feel #allthefeels if you are doing it right. This is completely normal and totally okay. Try to be thoughtful about how you treat yourself and others during this time. Don’t be too hard on yourself if your normal schoolwork feels harder alongside the extra time you are putting in to finish applications or complete standardized testing. Cut yourself a break if you need to scale back on extracurricular or social commitments. In fact, scaling back can be a good thing in the view of colleges. Often, you’re not the only player in this process: you’ll hopefully have the support of parents or guardians, teachers, counselors, tutors, mentors, friends, and family members. The process is not always easy for them either, so don’t forget to ask them how they are doing, too. Show those who have helped you how thankful you are; just a simple thanks goes a long way!
Dr. Brittany Maschal is the Founder and Director of Brittany Maschal Consulting (and the Founder of Strategy Girl). She spent the first part of her professional career working in higher education and held positions in admissions and student services at the University of Pennsylvania at Penn Law and The Wharton School; Princeton University (undergraduate) and the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs; and the Johns Hopkins University-Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies. She has served on admissions committees with American Councils for International Education and the International Research and Exchanges Board; as an invited speaker to numerous programs in the US and abroad; and as an alumni interviewer and admissions representative for the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania. Brittany has almost 10 years of experience as an independent educational consultant, college admissions essay editor, and writing coach. The students she works with have earned spots at all of the Ivies, MIT, the most selective schools in Europe, art schools, conservatories, and everything in between. She is also an early career strategist, helping high school and college students explore career options, obtain internships, and eventually secure meaningful full-time roles.