CONFUSED about College Admissions?

You are NOT ALONE! The college admissions process requires applicants to make a series of tough decisions that range from how many recommendation letters to submit, what do they want to major which financial aid package to choose.

Use the following advice from admissions experts to understand how to choose wisely in tough college admissions scenarios and to learn why it's important to think about topics like college majors and standardized tests scores.

HELP! What am I supposed to do??

Q: Majors

Is it better to apply with a declared major?

Some students enter college knowing exactly what they want to study and what career they want, while others don't. Which is ideal?

A: It's OK Not to Know

The answer to this question depends on the student and his or her schools of interest. Applying undecided is perfectly fine for a student who has a liberal arts interest and really doesn’t know what he or she wants to study. Some institutions, though, such as California Polytechnic State University—San Louis Obispo, require applicants to declare a major as part of the admissions process. Students should carefully read the admissions requirements at different schools to note if it's necessary to declare a major.

Q: Recommendations

Is it better to submit one strong recommendation letter or multiple, less powerful letters?

It's common for colleges and universities to require one letter of recommendation but allow applicants to submit more if they'd like. But that doesn't always mean you should.

A: Less Is More

One strong letter is better than two or three mediocre letters, say college admissions experts. It's best for applicants not to pad their applications with material that isn't compelling. Remember, most admissions officers don't have a lot of time to read applications, so applicants should only submit their best, she says. They’re typically reading 8-10 applications an hour, which means less than 10 minutes for an application!

Q: Tests, Coursework

Is it better to have high standardized test scores or perform well in AP/IB classes?

College applicants must submit scores from the SAT or ACT, but many prospective students also take and submit scores from Advanced Placement exams in subjects like English or psychology. Other applicants may participate in their high school's International Baccalaureate program, which also offers rigorous classes for teens. But which do admissions officers value more?

A: Focus on the SAT and ACT

For the admission process, it’s better to have stronger standardized test scores. Although some colleges and universities are test optional or test flexible, many more require SAT or ACT scores. Schools are usually more lenient about requiring information on an applicant's performance in AP or IB classes.

Q: Test-Optional Schools

Is it better to submit test scores to a test-optional school?

More than 900 schools are test optional or test flexible or de-emphasize the use of the SAT and ACT in admissions, according to, which tracks such information. However, at many of these universities, applicants can choose to submit standardized test scores. But when given the option not to submit scores, should you take it?

A: Send High Scores

If your grades are out of the park but you’ve struggled with standardized testing, withhold your score. If you’ve rocked your standardized testing, send them to a test-optional school, because they love reporting high scores.

Q: College Costs

Is it better to choose a lower-ranked school with a large financial aid package or a higher-ranked school that offers less aid? When deciding where to enroll, prospective students often consider a school's rank, which U.S. News determines based on several factors including an institution's academic quality. Financial aid and scholarships are also usually key components of the decision process, since they play an important role in whether students have loan debt long after graduation. But is aid more important than rank?

A: Think About the Price

Students and families should lean toward the larger aid package. It’s usually better to end up taking the big financial aid package at a lower-ranked school where it’s already very clear that they think extremely high of the student and the student is going to get a big springboard to do well professionally and academically. Not just from a financial point of view, but because the school is so clearly rolling out a red carpet, that will probably manifest itself in other ways.

-US NEWS & World Report

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