Top 10: Things You Should Know About Applying to College

Angel Perez Headshot

The college application process is about many things. It’s about finding the right courses, the right fit, and (increasingly) the right price.

But according to Angel B. Perez, vice president and dean of admission and financial aid at Pitzer College, it’s also about families.

“I always tell families that if they do the college search correctly, they could actually become closer,” says Angel in a recent interview “You’re spending a year of your life trying to think about the person you want to become, and which institution can help you reach that goal.”


For Angel, who has written extensively on the subject of college admissions, the college search is a time for introspection and thought, a time when students realize what they value, and begin taking steps in that direction.


“If you’re able to sit down and think about who you are, what you value and how you learn best, and then seek out colleges that will push you in that direction, your college search is going to be fine,” advises Angel “The students who aren’t successful in this process do it the other way around – they choose colleges because they’re a name school, or because of the brand.”


While the application process can evoke feelings of fear or self-doubt, Angel cautions students to remember that the process is also about reflection and self-discovery.


“Part of the reason I’ve been doing this for so long is that it’s such an exciting time in students’ lives,” says Angel “If you do the search process well, you can actually learn a lot about yourself.”


Due to the incredible amount of introspection that is required of a successful college search, it is easy to understand why applicants become frustrated with the process. Students wrack their brains for suitable essay topics, and are forced to confront more existential questions about who they are in two months than they ever have before.


To ensure that the college search process remains exciting, and to avoid any unduly stressful situations, Angel offers up the top 10 things you should know about applying to college:


Mission matters.

Angel: Many students approach this process without realizing just how much colleges and universities take into account the student’s understanding of their school’s mission, value and culture. What I love about Pitzer is the fact that we’re not trying to be the right fit for everyone. It’s rare to find an institution in which the entire message is embedded in the value system, and yet at Pitzer, every single thing we do at is connected to our Core Values. For those students who understand that, it’s the absolute perfect fit. Our physical space will speak for itself when you visit, and if you still don’t get what we’re all about, your eyes have been closed the entire time!


Create the College Power Hour!

Angel: I met a student once who told me about the College Power Hour, which was something their family did in order to make the process less stressful. Unfortunately, the college search has a tendency to take over a senior’s life, because everyone wants to talk about college all the time! In response to this, the student’s family came up with the College Power Hour, which took place over dinner on Tuesday nights. The family sat down, ate together, and talked about college issues. After dinner was over, they didn’t talk about college again until the next Tuesday. The student told me that they didn’t feel like college was the only thing that mattered throughout their senior year, which was helpful. I thought the whole thing was brilliant!


Analyze the social fit.

Angel: Throughout this process, students need to think about three kinds of fit: the social fit, the academic fit, and the financial fit. When it comes to social fit, ask yourself, “When I walk around this campus, do I feel like my people are here?” When you spend time on a campus, looking at the students or reading the school newspaper, you figure out whether these are the kinds of students with whom you want to hang out.


Check out the course offerings.

Angel: The academic fit is somewhat obvious, but there are important questions to be asked. Ask yourself if the college in question offers several different kinds of programs in which you might be interested. Most undergraduates change their major several times, so if you choose an institution that has very specific academic offerings, you might have fewer options from which to choose. Ask yourself how comfortable you are with a small classroom environment, or (if it’s a large institution) 500 students in a class. Finding the right academic fit is important, so be honest with yourself.


Be honest when it comes to the financial fit.

Angel: In the wake of our new economic reality, I always tell families that they need to think about the financial fit as well. Even though colleges and universities have plenty of financial resources, families have to have an honest conversation about what parents are willing to pay versus what they can pay. I will meet with families about the financial fit often throughout the year, and I always say, if you’re going to get through this process, you’ve got to be honest and very upfront with your children.


Demonstrated interest is about quality, NOT quantity!

Angel: When it comes to demonstrated interest, families tend to think, the more I send, the better! The student might send me five extra recommendation letters, or every certificate they’ve received since kindergarten, which is NOT helpful! Demonstrated interest should be genuine. If you visited a campus and really enjoyed your conversation with the admission officer, then you should send a quick thank-you note acknowledging that you’re really excited about the institution. We live in a culture where people think more is better, and sometimes less is more. That is okay in the application process!


When it comes to information, consider the source.

Angel: The Internet age has given lots of credibility to uninformed opinion. The reality is that there are a lot of websites out there where people are just putting out information without ever having worked in this field. What’s worse, people believe what they read on these sites, which is just extraordinary to me. Remember – be very careful where you’re getting your information.


The Institutional Research webpage is an untapped resource.

Angel: The reality is that the field of college admission changes so quickly that once a guide book has been published, it’s already out-of-date. The best place to go for statistical information is the college’s website. The least-used portion of the website tends to be the Institutional Research page, which contains all the data about admit rates, how many students attend the college, how much it costs, etc. A lot of families don’t use this resource, so I try to move people in that direction.


Speak to current students and their families.

Angel: Most college san universities want their students to speak with prospective students and their families. I now do a lot of parent pairing – I will introduce prospective parents to Pitzer parents in their area. If you, the parent, aren’t sure whether you want to send your kid to California, let us pair you up so that you can speak with a parent who’s done it! Calling the college’s parent outreach office or admission office is a great way to get useful information as opposed to uninformed opinion on various websites.


Give yourself time to do the college process well!

Angel: As a 17-year old, you have a lot of life to live and a lot of experiences to have. If you take the time to prepare for this process, you will not only do it well, but you will enjoy the process of self-discovery that comes along with the college search.


Click here to read Angel’s articles from The Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed!