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The college admissions process can be a trying time for high school seniors. Depending on where you are in the process and how much support you have in terms of choosing your future institution, it can be easier to make the wrong choice than the one that is right for you. Being that I was once a high school senior making a similar choice, I hope to shed some light on what not to do during the college selection process.

1. I didn’t spend a lot of time researching colleges

During high school, I put off researching colleges until the very last minute. Yes, I waited until December. During that time I had just taken my SAT for the last time and started looking into state schools. By then, a lot of application deadlines had already closed and time was quickly running out for the ones that remained. Because of my last minute antics, I was precluded from my choice of schools as well as any benefits to be reaped from early decision. For those of you who have yet to start the process, be sure to spend some time during the summer before your senior year researching colleges. You’ll thank yourself when December rolls around.

2. I didn’t visit many colleges before applying

There were a few reasons I didn’t spend a lot of time visiting colleges. First of all, I didn’t see a point to visiting a school before I was accepted. Second, my parents and I had neither the time nor funds to devote to a road trip to different parts of the state. As a matter of fact, I only visited one school before sending out applications, and because of that I had no idea what I was looking for in a school. When it came time to choose from among the institutions that accepted me, I had little to go on except what other people around me considered to be a “good choice.” Before you accept an offer from a school, try to spend some time on campus and get a feel for the culture to the best of your ability. After all, this is going to be your home for the next four years.

3. I almost took my friends’ advice

In high school, you are surrounded by the same people every day for about 180 days. The opinions of others matter much more then than they ever will again. That being said, high school friends don’t always give the best advice for the future. It’s not that they are tying to intentionally harm you. They are just in the same stage of growth as you and don’t know as much about how something they haven’t experienced either should work.

My friends at the time were trying to help me make a college decision based on what would have caused me the least amount of pain. To them, going to the “easier” (if you can call an institution of higher learning that) school seemed like the best choice because it had better amenities and didn’t seem to be nearly as stressful as the other school I was considering. I took their advice seriously and was prepared to go home and submit my decision. Luckily, a teacher stopped me in class one day and asked where I was thinking of going to college. After hearing my various options, she insisted that I should pick the harder school for a myriad of reasons including better job prospects, better grad school prospects, and coming out of school with an excellent education. In the end, I chose the harder school and while it has been incredibly stressful at times, I was able to gain experience in a new field and forge great friendships that I may not have had the opportunity to have at another school.

Selecting a college can be more grueling than one might imagine. Don’t make the same mistakes I made. For those of you selecting in the future, be sure to do some background research early, visit campuses, and take advice from helpful sources. The choice you make now will affect you for the next four years.

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the author

Lauren Collier is a senior at the College of William and Mary studying English and Psychology. She spends her days in the developmental psychology lab researching family behavioral patterns. When she's not in the lab or writing for The Prospect, Lauren is usually cooking up a storm with her roommates or writing poems under the shade of a large tree.

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