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The right college should fit you just like your favorite pair of jeans. If you’re comfortable and feel great, it will enhance your best features. Many collegiettes would agree that picking the school for them would have been a whole lot easier with a few, easy-to-follow dos and don’ts. With all the fantastic schools out there, it’s hard not to be overwhelmed with all the choices. Take a deep breath, we’re here to help.

DON’T be intimidated to apply to schools.

“There were plenty of schools I wanted to apply to as a senior, but I heard they only accepted students that had tons of resume builders like building houses abroad or getting published,” says Jackie from MU Ohio. 

Many seniors are scared of applying to certain schools because of their reputation. 

Susan Weiss, college counselor at St. Ignatius College Preparatory in Chicago, Ill., says, “A common misconception is that you have to have had grandiose high school experiences to get into certain schools. People get wrapped up in the fact that they haven’t done anything extraordinary and they get down on themselves quickly. They forget that they’re just a kid.” Don’t psyche yourself out of applying or put yourself down. Sometimes having good grades or a great application is all it takes.

DO apply to multiple safety schools.

“I only applied to one college my senior year of high school because my grades and ACT score guaranteed I would be accepted. Something went wrong with my application process, and I ended up having to reapply. I was lucky that it was Early Decision because otherwise I probably wouldn’t have been able to enroll in the fall semester,” says Ally from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

Even if you’re 190% positive that you’re going to be accepted to the school of your choice, do yourself a favor and apply to a few other schools as safeties. However, don’t just apply to schools for the sake of having a fallback. Find a school that you would be happy at, even if it’s not as competitive. “I don’t believe that a safety school is a school that you can get in to, it’s a school that you want to go to,” says Weiss.

DON’T write a school off based on its tuition price.

“The price tag for SMU was steep for my parents because they were putting two other kids through school at the same time. I applied for financial aid and ended up being able to attend my dream school,” says Alexandra from Southern Methodist University.

Your options for choosing the right school are endless; don’t let the price tag of a university limit your decision. If a school seems too expensive, check out financial aid options, scholarship offerings, or the possibility of taking out a loan. Because of financial aid, a school with a huge sticker price could end up being the most affordable. Some schools have amazing financial aid. If you qualify, it can even be cheaper to attend than your state school.

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DO consider the location of your potential school.

“I applied mainly to schools in the Midwest because I live in Iowa. I liked the idea of only being a short car-ride away from home. I’m able to go home some weekends to relax or see friends, and I can spend every holiday with my family,” says Lizzie from the University of Iowa.

Location is a huge factor when it comes to choosing the right school. Instead of just distance, also consider what’s nearby your school. Will you be bored in a rural area, or will you feel too claustraphobic in a big city? Ask yourself, do I want a city environment or a small town? Do I want to be near a beach, or mountains? Things to also consider: the cost of a plane ticket home for breaks or if you’ll have a car at school.

DON’T choose a school that doesn’t cater to your interests and major.

“I attended a school for the first year of college that didn’t have any majors or classes that involved fashion. I ended up transferring to a fashion school in New York my sophomore year so I could pursue my dream of becoming a designer,” says Laura, an alumni of Fashion Institute of Technology.

Make sure the schools you are applying to cater in some way to what your future goals are. Even if they don’t have the specific major you’re looking for, research different clubs, extracurriculars and events that incorporate your interests. Beware of applying to schools with too narrow a focus, since often your interests may change once you get to college. Weiss, counselor at St. Ignatius College Preparatory, suggests considering a variety of factors such as academic programs, social fit and distance when looking at potential colleges.

DO take an overnight visit to the schools you are considering applying to.

“When I visited DePauw, I took a guided tour of the campus with my parents all day and then stayed overnight with a friend of my older sister’s. I got to see the academic side of the school and what it’s really like to be a student there,” says Caroline from DePauw University.

If you spend a night or two at a potential school, you’ll get a better look into the life of a student. Colleges set up great tours that will give you a good idea about the class size, the different housing and tips about the location, but experiencing it for yourself is the only way to tell if it’s the perfect fit.

If you can’t stay over for whatever reason, there are other ways to get the same experience. Explore campus for an hour or two without your parents right behind you, read HC’s Complete College Guide for insider info, and talk to students on campus or get their email addresses to talk later about stuff you don’t see on tours, like parties and what students do for fun.

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DON’T only apply to schools where your friends are applying

“I decided to go to a school close to home because most of my high school friends were going there. It was a safety net for me, even though I always wanted to go to California. In the last few months, I changed my decision and I could not be happier. I have met a lot of amazing people at Santa Clara and can’t imagine going to a different school,” says Maya from Santa Clara University.

You’ll meet tons of new people in college. Although it can be an intimidating transition, apply to schools that will challenge you to grow as a person. It may feel more comfortable at first to make the safe decision, but it’s rewarding to overcome your fears.

DO consider what you’ll do with your free time.

“I knew I wanted a school with a big Greek system because I always wanted to be in a sorority. I also wanted to continue to dance in college. I made sure all the schools I applied to incorporated both things,” says Elena from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Make a list of things that you’d like to do with your free time and check to see if the schools you’re applying to will have these opportunities for you. If you’re big on school spirit, make sure there’s a sports team you can cheer on. If you love to paint, see if there’s a place where you can take classes. Academics are important, but remember – you’re not only going to school at this new place, but also living there for the next four years.

DON’T apply to too many schools (or too few).

“I spent 95% of the first couple months of my senior year constantly applying to schools. I barely knew anything about most of them and continued to send in applications. Looking back, I knew I never wanted to go to most of them, it just wasted a lot of time,” says Grace from the University of Illinois.

On the flip side, applying to too few schools can leave you feeling stuck if you aren’t admitted to your top choice or have a change of heart after applying.

Your senior year should be the best year yet! Don’t stress about applying to schools. If you’ve got a good list and get things started early, you’ll be able to spend the rest of your year focusing on the fun stuff.

Caroline Finnegan is a rising junior in the College of Media at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign studying news editorial journalism. She is the Contributing Editor and Weekly Columnist of  U of I’s branch of The Odyssey, a Greek newspaper, as well as the leader of ceremonial services and ritualistic practices of her sorority Kappa Alpha Theta. She is currently working for a music promotions company and at her mom’s clothing store. Caroline hails from the Windy City and prefers everything Chicago style, including sailing on Lake Michigan, Jonathon Toews (and the Blackhawks), Wrigley Field and of course, Oprah. Some of her favorite things include: biographies, New Orleans. singing cards, and elephants. She aspires to become a writer for a television show like Saturday Night Live, or her favorite, Modern Family. Next Spring, she plans on studying in her Grandpa’s homeland of Italy. 
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