How to Apply to College Like a Prep School Kid

Students at elite high schools often have a leg up in their college searches, but this doesn’t have to be the case. Learn these insider application tips from college counselor and Noodle Expert Paul Kanarek.

The subject of wealth is already a hot topic in the run-up to next year’s presidential election, and college admissions is certainly another area in which the rich appear to have many built-in advantages

It reminds me of what my former boss (and Noodle founder) John Katzman used to say: “Wealthier people drive better cars, wear nicer clothes, go to better schools, and get higher SAT scores.” In the years since I first heard him say that, however, a lot has changed — the Internet now allows families to access more information than was previously possible.

So, when it comes to college admissions, what are the tactical advantages that high-end prep schools provide to students? And how can you achieve those same benefits for free?

1. In the college search process, wealthier families don’t have to worry about costs.

Not having to worry about where you’re going to scrape together the $60,000 a year to attend a university is obviously a huge benefit. Because these students are not bound by economic constraints, nearly all options are available to them. This is truly an advantage that applies only to the most privileged 1 percent, but informed consumers (in this case, you) need both to avoid two giant mistakes and make a series of smart decisions.

The Mistake

Do not reject a college based on its price tag, especially if it’s a good fit for you. I cannot tell you the number of times that a fantastic applicant has self-selected away from a place that might be perfect for her. These schools are sometimes willing to give students a ton of money, but you won’t know unless you apply.

What to Do

Earn high test scores. Strong SAT or ACT results are probably one of the most dominant factors informing a school’s decision to give you merit-based money, and even a modest amount of preparation can go a long way.

Take AP courses and the tests that accompany them in high school. If you pass four AP exams while in high school, many universities would allow you to matriculate with sophomore standing, effectively eliminating an entire year of tuition and other college-related expenses.

Spend a lot of time researching the colleges you want to attend. They don’t hide relevant information — in fact, most of them have blogs written by their own admissions officers on the colleges’ websites where they tell you exactly what they are looking for in prospective students. The more your application resembles the kind they want, the more likely they are to both admit you and help you pay for it.

Colleges admit the students they like and pay for the students they want.

2. Throughout the college admissions process, students at high-end private schools have access to better project management.

The Mistake

Many students — despite having access to cutting-edge resources via the Web — do not stay on top of their college application schedule as well as they should. This whole applying-to-college thing is a pot-holed road. Almost every school has slightly different deadlines, rules, and essays. Students at private high schools get a lot of support, whether it’s from their teachers, counselors, parents, or independent consultants. But you can manage it, too.

What To Do

Join the College Board’s Big Future program. It’s a free and a powerful project management tool that can help keep you on course.

The now-famous Khan Academy features a host of free resources for you to take advantage of, which are thorough and intelligent in their delivery.

It is easy to lose track of what essays you are supposed to write for which schools and by what dates. Not anymore, if you use Zoomita. Plug in your list of colleges and the site generates a PDF that itemizes the essays by school. Yup, I love good tech.

The Common Application is the form you’ll almost definitely have to complete to go to college. Collegewise, where I work and which is America’s largest private college admissions group, has a free guide that takes you through the process of filling out the entire Common App in a manner that surpasses the advice that most private school students receive.

Finally, make sure that you complete your FAFSA correctly; it’s the most important form for getting financial aid. And, once again, there’s a terrific free tool to help you do so.

Maybe the 1 percent doesn’t have all of the advantages. Yes, students attending elite public or private high schools have a lot of resources and supports working in their favor. But when it comes to narrowing down a list of colleges, finding what you need to apply to them in a smart fashion, and maximizing your chances to get both merit- and need-based financial aid, it’s all here at your online fingertips.

Paul Kanarek is the CEO of Collegewise. If you want more information on how to make your college search a success, check out advice from Noodle Experts like Paul about college.

Also, use the personalized, free Noodle college search tool to find the schools that are a good fit for you.

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