Admission Counselors Share Tips for College Application Success


For many, fall is synonymous with pumpkin flavored treats and family traditions, but for high school seniors, it’s often one of the most stressful times of the year. November marks the beginning of the end for college applications. During this time seniors must submit college transcripts, supplemental essays, letters of recommendation, and test scores to their short list of schools. Students must also consider critical decisions such as declaring a major, relocating, and preliminary financial aid decisions. And all of those decisions and documents need to be submitted by the application deadline, which for many colleges and universities is in November. What a rush.

At Green Dot, the college application process starts prior to our students’ senior year, but even with this early planning and support, we know that applying for college can still be challenging. This fall, we spoke to five college admission counselors to learn how students can manage stress during the fall amid the looming deadlines. From selecting a major, to starting college, here are 10 helpful tips to navigate the college application process. 

Connect with Admission Counselors

Neli Avila, the Senior Assistant Director of Admissions for Mills College said students should reach out to Admission Counselors to learn more about the school before they submit an application. Students can use this opportunity “to ask any specific questions they have about the application process,” Avila said. “Oftentimes it can feel intimidating, but we are here to help make the process as smooth as possible.”

Colleges and universities typically have an admission page on their official website. From this page, students can email the admission team, leave a message on the website, find the direct number to a counselor, and find a series of helpful resources that students can use to learn about schools on their college lists.

Don’t Let Financial Hardships Stop You from Applying.

College applications can be expensive. The average student applies to six colleges and the average college application submission fee is $44. At this rate students can end up spending hundreds of dollars on college before they’re even admitted.

 If a financial hardship, especially related to COVID-19, will prevent a student from applying to college, Avila recommends reaching out to schools to learn if they offer college application fee waivers—and most do. The admission office can often be a starting point in locating fee waivers for students who qualify.

Sometimes You Don’t Have to Pick a College Major Right Away

Choosing a major is a critical decision that will impact students’ college admission, college courses, and future careers. Depending on the school, students may be able to apply to a school with an undeclared major.  

“Students who are unsure about their major should choose undeclared instead of choosing something without doing research on that major/career,” said Kayla Bailey, a Regional Recruiter for the University of Arizona. “Changing majors multiple times after being accepted into a university can be complicated. At most institutions, admission requirements vary among majors so when a student keeps switching their major it can put them back through the admissions process from the beginning, and there is no guarantee they will be accepted into the major they are trying to switch into.” 

Before students decide to apply to a school undeclared, they should schedule conversations with high school college counselor and admission counselors to see if choosing an undeclared major will work best for their academic career.

Talk About Financial Aid Before You Apply

“Students should be discussing affordability with their parents prior to applying to all of their colleges,” Bailey said. “Financial aid and scholarships may not cover the total cost of attendance, so knowing what your family can afford is very helpful when choosing what schools to apply to.” 

College and university websites often have calculations of expected college expenses, including tuition, books and fees, and housing. Even if students are expecting scholarships, they should not necessarily count on them right away. While many schools and organizations offer scholarships, students may not know the full amount they are eligible for until after they have been accepted to the college or university.

After You Apply, Determine Your Why

Bree Blades, an Admissions Officer for UC San Diego, said that understanding why you are going to college will help keep you grounded. “As a first-generation Black student trying to navigate the college process, there were definitely moments where I questioned if all of the challenges to obtain a college degree were going to be worth it,” Blades said. “One thing I always went back to was why I wanted to go to college and that made me think about the folks who made sacrifices for me to even be able to apply to college. I did not take that lightly and I used it to fuel my desire to further my education and career.”

Be Open to Change, But Adamant About Your Goals

“I always tell students that if you do not get admitted into your dream college, do not take it personally,” Blades added. “Your denial letter is not a reflection of your intelligence. Sometimes our journey looks different than the one we planned and that's okay. Be open to attending a community college and then transferring to a four-year college. Be open to taking courses outside of your major to learn how those new skills can contribute to your skillset.”

Participate in Virtual Open Houses

While the COVID-19 pandemic may have cancelled physical college admission events, schools have rebounded with virtual events. “Participate in virtual open houses that the universities are putting together, so that you can ask specific questions about the schools,” said Tilo Lopez, the Enrollment Outreach Specialist at Charles R. Drew University. “After holding a virtual event, we have had a lot of parents that were asking questions for their students. The students should definitely prepare questions for admission counselors.”

Never Be Afraid to Ask For Help at Any Point

“Get over the fear of asking for help,” Blades said. “Asking for help requires you to understand that in order for you to progress you will need assistance.” Blades said disassociating help with weakness now can help students throughout college, including in college courses. “Talk to the financial aid office if you need additional financial support. Talk to a friend if you are feeling overwhelmed. Seek a mentor who can open doors for you, hold you accountable, and support you.”

Include Your Family In the College Application Process

Lopez, who is a first generation college student, believes parent involvement is instrumental in the college application process. “Students need to have conversations with their parents early on about college and specifically the financing of college,” he said. Researchers have found that first generation college students perform better throughout college with the support of their parents. “Going to college is a generational impact that one person makes, and when they get a college degree, it impacts the entire family.”

Get Familiar with College Terms

The college application process can be filled with new terms. This is why California State University, Channel Islands has consolidated this list in their College 101 Dictionary. This online resource covers researching, applying to, and receiving financial aid from colleges and universities. 

Green Dot Public Schools is committed to providing a high quality education to all students. As a part of our college-going culture, Green Dot students can take advantage of several opportunities for application assistance, including our annual Senior Bridge sessions, College Readiness electives, and Advisory courses. Every one of our students has access to our ready-to-serve college counselors, alumni champions, and mentors to help them on their journey to and through college.

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