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Duke University
Duke University
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Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)

3 Mistakes to Avoid in the College Planning Process

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College planning can be a tricky process. Most students know that colleges hope to see good grades, strong test scores, and impressive extracurricular activities. Fewer students know some of the more subtle details that colleges are also looking for, so college planning can turn into a shot in the dark.


Luckily, at CollegeVine we’ve been through the college planning process hundreds of times and we know how to tweak the details in your favor. To learn about the top three mistakes students make during the college planning process, don’t miss this post.



1. Starting Too Late

The Mistake: Some students don’t begin to think about college admissions until app season is already upon them. At that point, they have to scramble to compile everything they need without much time to do so thoughtfully, and students often discover that they made mistakes early on in their high school careers that will be difficult to overcome.


The Reality: Students need to start thinking about the admissions process sooner, as early as ninth grade. When it comes to college planning, everything counts.


The Solution: Start thinking about college planning as soon as you start high school. This can mean little things like compiling a college list that grows and changes with you throughout high school, and it can also mean more consequential things like choosing classes that leave every door open for you later in high school.


In addition, remember that grades in ninth grade do actually count towards your overall GPA and will be included on your high school transcript. Yes, ninth grade is the best year to experience an adjustment period or some growing pains, but that doesn’t mean that your grades won’t matter at all over the long run. To learn more about how you can begin the college planning process as a ninth grader, check out these CollegeVine posts:


Make the Right Moves: Your 2018 Freshman Year Action Plan

Should You Worry About College As a 9th Grader?

Should You Start Planning For College As a Ninth Grader?

Parents: Why Freshman Year GPAs Matter



2. Not Building Relationships With Colleges

The Mistake: Many students don’t begin to interact with colleges until it’s absolutely necessary. When this happens, there is no or minimal communication between an applicant and the college  until the college application arrives to the admissions committee. Usually, this doesn’t stem from shyness but rather from a misunderstanding of what exactly college admissions committees like to see.


The Reality: Students need to begin to interact with colleges early in the application process in order to express interest. Colleges want to accept qualified applicants who are likely to accept their offers of admissions, and admissions committees keep track of each student’s interest from the first contact to end of the admissions process. This means that students who have communicated clearly with and about their top college choices but might be rewarded in the end.

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The Solution: Make contact with your top choice colleges early and regularly. When you attend college fairs or campus visits, be absolutely sure to fill out the contact information or attendance sheet.


Ask perceptive, authentic questions that highlight what you already know about a college but that also provide you with valuable, additional information. Don’t be shy about contacting the office of admissions with questions (if they are legitimate, and not just an excuse for contacting the office). If possible, visit the campus at least once, attend a formal tour, and schedule an interview or alumni interview. You might also reach out to specific staff at a college, like coaches or professors in your area of interest. If these people are impressed by you, they might let the admissions committee know.


Finally, if you are deferred or waitlisted, absolutely write a letter of continued interest to your top choice college. This way they know that they can count on your acceptance, should you be offered one.


At the same time, though, be careful not to bug anyone in the admissions office or elsewhere. Only ask questions that can’t be answered by looking at the website and don’t overreach by contacting them too often or about inconsequential things. Remember, they are very busy.


To learn more about making early and regular contact with a college, check out these posts:


Does Demonstrated Interest Matter in College Admissions?

Deferred or Waitlisted: Tips for Writing A Letter of Continued Interest

How to Express Interest in a College



3. Setting Unrealistic Expectations

The Mistake: Selective colleges are often an admissions goal for many college applicants, and some assume that the more applications they submit to selective colleges, the more likely they are to get into one. The misunderstanding of the statistics is actually not only a waste of your time, but also a waste of your money since you have to pay for each application you submit.


The Reality: Your chances of getting into a selective college remain the same no matter how many of them you apply to. Yes, some colleges are looking for specific hooks or niches to fill, but if a college only accepts 5% of applicants, your chances of getting in are still slim even if you meet most academic criteria.


The Solution: It’s important to understand how to compile your final college list. You will want to target the schools that fit you the best overall, which is a highly personal process. This means considering everything from academics and specific majors to students resources, class size, and geographical location. Don’t apply to a college simply because you like the prestige associated with its name.


When applying, be sure that you include a balance of reach, target, and safety schools. You can figure out where a school falls for you by comparing your test scores and GPA with those of admitted students. These statistics are usually easily available online. To learn more about creating a well-balanced college list, check out our post The College List, Decoded: Safety, Target, and Reach Schools.


For more about compiling a realistic and effective college list, check out these posts:


How Many Colleges Should I Apply To?

Tips For Choosing The Best Fit College

What College Is Right For Me?

How to Start Your College Search


Curious about your chances of acceptance to your dream school? Our free chancing engine takes into account your GPA, test scores, extracurriculars, and other data to predict your odds of acceptance at over 500 colleges across the U.S. We’ll also let you know how you stack up against other applicants and how you can improve your profile. Sign up for your free CollegeVine account today to get started!

Kate Sundquist
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a graduate of Pomona College where she studied sociology, psychology, and writing before going on to receive an M.Ed. from Lesley University. After a few forays into living abroad and afloat (sometimes at the same time), she now makes her home north of Boston where she works as a content writer and, with her husband, raises two young sons who both inspire her and challenge her on a daily basis.