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Students Ask College Prep Questions That Get Answers

02/26/2014 10:50 pm ET | Updated Apr 28, 2014

We don't have time or money to visit some schools I'm really interested in. What can I do?

College officers understand that not everyone can visit colleges. Between plane fare, rental cars and hotel stays, it can get costly. Students can visit colleges in their area to get an idea of college life and what they would like. Many college representatives travel and provide needed information during college nights. Attend college fairs to meet college reps and get questions answered. Do research on the Internet as most colleges have thorough websites with information. Speak to other students and know that social media is active at colleges with online chats, interviews and webinars. Lots of information will make your eventual decision that much easier.

What makes a school large or small and what are some advantages and disadvantages of each?

Larger universities offer some advantages over smaller colleges, and are good for students who can advocate for themselves. If a student wants personal relationships with professors and smaller classes then a smaller college would be a better match. Larger public universities can be state funded and therefore charge less tuition. However, smaller colleges may have large endowments with more money to distribute in grants and aid. More students and more alumni can mean more money. That gives large universities a multitude of resources, the ability to hire top faculty and sustain state of the art academic programs and recreational/athletic facilities. Smaller colleges may have more of a "community feel" and great resources as well.

If I haven't found the right extracurriculars, can I still appear to be a dedicated student?

It's important to portray yourself as a diversified individual on your college applications. The essays and activity resume are great ways to show other sides of yourself not represented in your grades or test scores. It is good to try different activities in order to find what you like most. Once you do, focus on that activity so that by 11th or 12th grade, you can show some initiative and leadership. Simple daily occurrences and hobbies can make for great essay topics. I am reminded of a pre-med student who loved magic. He taught himself numerous tricks and eventually did fundraising shows for his favorite charity. He wrote a great college essay about it!

What are the most significant, avoidable mistakes students make in the admissions process?

What seems to be the most obvious are common things students overlook during their college admissions process. I have seen the strangest email addresses that friends may think are just right. Students should use their name as an email address when communicating with college representatives. This may make them more familiar and also expresses interest in that college. Another mistake is that students are often set on just applying to specific selective colleges. It is important to research admission requirements and create a balanced list that includes colleges where students are likely to gain acceptance. Applying too close to deadlines is stressful and makes it more difficult to prepare well thought out applications. My advice -- meet and beat all deadlines!

What are the most accepted or exaggerated myths about the college admissions process?

Many students are convinced they need to travel to a third world country to do their community service or attend a program at an elite college to increase their chance of acceptance. Neither of these scenarios is accurate. Students seem to think that they need to add countless activities to their activity resumes when in fact college officers prefer to see fewer activities with more depth and continuity. Families rely too heavily on publicity and rankings. If they haven't heard of the college, it can't be good. Put your antennas up and explore the thousands of colleges out there!

How important are college rankings when choosing a college?

College students should use rankings as one factor while researching colleges if those rankings include essential variables such as; quality of faculty, retention rate, academic programs and career placement. Too often, rankings are viewed without consideration of other vital factors for a successful college experience. "Reputation" of a college can be a misleading marketing tactic. Rankings frequently do not include immeasurable aspects such as: cost, financial aid, course offerings, campus life and geographic location. Rankings can be considered but should not be the sole basis on deciding where to attend. If possible, a campus visit is best.

Tuition aside, what benefits and drawbacks exist by going to school in state vs. out-of-state?

It's hard to ignore the financial benefits of attending a state university. Other advantages include the numerous activities outside class such as clubs and social events as well as increased academic options. Generally in state colleges have a more diverse student body than smaller privates. Some private colleges don't have the multitude of resources available at larger publics. Large classes can be a drawback for some but many prefer it. Some state budgets have mandated increased tuition and faculty and course cutbacks, which make many private colleges more attractive.