Oprah may have taken the "Aha Moment" into the mainstream, but college-bound students, and their parents, are giving new meaning to the term every day, as they make that long and sometimes mind-boggling journey to college admissions.

Here are just a few of our favorite "Aha Moments" of the college application process. Please feel free to tell us yours.

·         -  GPA and test scores aren’t everything. Yes, they count. Do not, however, discount the importance of your extracurricular activities, both in and out of school, community service and volunteerism, the significance of your college essay, and those many and varied life experiences that give the college admissions officer a clear picture of who you are. Remember, colleges are looking for well-rounded students. Make sure the whole is greater than the sum of its parts!

- The college essay is not being considered for a Pulitzer prize. No question, your college essay will be most telling. For conveying who you are, who you hope to become over the next four years, and what you would bring to the college campus and the community beyond (this is the essence of every essay prompt), there is no better vehicle. In fact, this is one of the only opportunities you have to rise above the matrix of scores and grades, setting yourself apart from other applicants. Keep it simple. Keep it catchy. Keep it real. Write about what you know and who you are. And don't turn writing your college essay into what seems like a lifetime vocation!

- The "Best" college for you may not appear on Forbes' list. What college will make the "best" fit -- academically, socially, financially, and otherwise -- most often has little, if any, relationship to the college rankings we read about in places like U.S. News & World Report and Princeton Review. Sure, the rankings are fun to read, and they sell books and magazines. Just don't take them too seriously.

- Getting your college application in by the end of August won't give you an edge. Early action is one thing. Submitting your college application before the senior year of high school even begins is quite another. Colleges will not even look at your applications until they are complete. That is, aside from the application and standardized test scores, they have to get their hands on your high school transcript, Guidance Report, Letters of Recommendation, and sundry other material before your application will be considered. This aside, what's the rush? You want your application to be complete, accurate, and reflective of a certain level of thoughtfulness and finesse. Don't just get it done. Get it done correctly! 

- Your classmates have not already been accepted to the colleges of their choice. Aside from the select few who have been recruited by colleges (i.e., athletes), no one has an admission decision in hand. Even the early bird won't hear from colleges before mid-December. Tune out the chatter, from fellow students (and fellow parents) to the effect that they've finished and submitted their applications, they've received letters of acceptance, and they've already put down a housing deposit. It just ain't so!

- Performance on the SAT (or ACT, for that matter) demonstrates neither achievement nor aptitude. Parents know it. Students know it. College admissions officers know it. Why, even the folks at College Board know it (but there's simply way too much money at stake for them to admit it). Nuf said!

- You WILL get in to college! One of the biggest fears, among both students and their parents, is that, given the competitive nature of the process, and the selectivity of colleges and universities, they won't get in anywhere. Nonsense! There are over 3000 accredited colleges and universities in the United States (not including the so-called for-profits, who will suck your bank account dry long before awarding you a degree). Not only will you get in somewhere, you will get into a college that is right for you.

- The Common App sucks! Yes, it does. Between the academics, who sit on the board and dole out policy with little sense of the real world, and the techies, who are, well, techies, the latest version of the collegial borg continues to miss the mark. Still, it does manage to put more than 500 college applications under one roof, leaky as it may be. It is also, for many colleges that pay enormous fees to be card-carrying members of The Common Application, the only game in town. Go with the flow.

- You can get money for college even if you don't qualify on the basis of need or merit. While institutional aid (money from the colleges themselves) may or may not meet the cost of attendance, there are other ways to fill the money gap -- and, in some cases, close it entirely. Saving for college, of course (in most instances, right out of the womb), through tax-advantaged 529 plans, is the first step. Outside scholarships, of which there are thousands, boast billions of dollars in free money. [Remember, you actually have to apply for these!]  And never discount the value of a little hard work, part-time and summer, to help pay those bills. 

- Applying to college doesn't have to be a stressful experience. Going to college is one of life's most enjoyable and rewarding experiences (or so the brochures say). To some, the college years are the most memorable. Shouldn't the journey, then, the "getting there," be at least half the fun? It should. Relax. Keep calm (it's only college). Enjoy the ride!

- You don't have to go it alone! Remember, kids, your parents are your partners (and, in many instances, your financial backers) in this process. Talk with them. Exchange ideas. Seek the wisdom of their years (you may continue to ignore their sage advice once you get into college :-). Meet with your Guidance Counselor. [At least know where the Guidance office is! :-)] Avail yourself of the resources that Guidance affords you. And, yes, seek out the services of your Sherpa guide through what can be a confusing and often overwhelming journey -- your independent college planning counselor.

- When the going gets tough... Finding yourself on edge, angst-ridden, head bursting at the seams over this crazy college application and admissions process? Take a break. Engage in your favorite diversion. Eat a pint of Forbidden Chocolate ice cream (it works for The College Whisperer! :-). There will be plenty of time to work on your college applications tomorrow! 

- Whatever college you decide to attend will quickly become your first choice. The lament of the rejection letter or the dreaded limbo of the waitlist. Fret not. You will be accepted by one or more of the colleges you apply to, any one of which would be a great fit. Guaranteed, before the first week of college is out, the school you choose to go to will have become your number one choice. Aha!     

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of The College Whisperer
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