For Montclair Local


Pat Berry is a writer, editor, and college application essay coach. For more information, visit Pat’s website,, and follow her on Instagram via @college_essay_coach.

Demystifying the college application process can go a long way toward minimizing the stress associated with it. I invited current college students, recent grads and parents to tell me what they wish they’d known about the process of school selection, college credit, financial aid and other aspects of college life when they were in high school. Several contributors asked for anonymity, so I identified all the respondents using their high school and graduation year. Here’s what they said:


I don’t like testing and didn’t take some AP tests at the end of senior year, even though I did well in the courses. I didn’t think the tests really mattered, given that the scores wouldn’t be used for the admissions process. What I didn’t consider was that passing those tests would qualify me to skip some of the General Ed requirements at my university. The fact that I’ve had to take those GE courses means I’ll have less room in my schedule for electives that interest me.

—Montclair High School ’16


Your standardized test scores and GPA do not define you. Focus on what you need to be successful more than on what you think you want in a school.

—Classical High School (Providence, RI) ’86


I wish I’d known that I didn’t need to take on as many obligations in high school as possible. It is far more valuable to invest time in one or two activities and have a thorough understanding of them. Juggling a million things resulted in lots of unnecessary stress.

—MHS ’15


I didn't even visit two of the top schools I applied to. I heard good things about them, applied, got in and went to one — and I was under-prepared for the student culture there. When my kids applied (three and six years ago), they visited all and did overnights at their top three, which gave them a much better understanding of campus life.

—The Blake School (Minneapolis) ’77






In Frank Bruni’s recent column, "How to Get the Most Out of College," (, he emphasizes how important it is to share with young people that where you go to college matters far less than how you go. He offers excellent suggestions relating to interacting with professors, joining clubs, etc.

—Bronx High School of Science ’77


It's all about fit. It's your life. Not your parents’, your high school's, or your community's. Go with your gut.

—Albany Academy for Girls ’77


Don’t be surprised if your dream school turns out not to be a perfect fit after all.

—Montclair Kimberley Academy ’77


Be emotional. Be irrational. If you find yourself in an environment that makes you feel content and more complete as a person, don't question it. I ignored my emotions for a “better” school and decided to transfer after just one semester. The platitude of “following your heart” sounds selfish and borderline idiotic, but I deeply wish someone had told me it was okay to feel that way and to follow that impulse.

—Needham (MA) High School ’14


I didn't really get any advising from my NYC public high school, and my parents left it all up to me, so I assumed, because my dad worked for the Post Office, my only options were state schools. When we took our daughter around to schools a few years ago, a wise admissions director told us that if your student is a great candidate, many private schools will offer so much aid that a private school could cost less than a state school. It was one of the best pieces of advice anyone ever gave me.”

—Martin Van Buren High School (Queens Village, NY) ’71


I was really anxious about not being smart enough, but I was more prepared than I believed. I worked hard, but I didn’t have to be Einstein to understand the material and the assignments.

—MHS ’12


If contemplating a large, comprehensive university, check to see whether it offers an honors program. With my daughter, I saw that the benefits of writing an extra essay or two are amazing—special dorm, smaller classes, early registration, and sometimes merit money.

—Phillips Academy Andover ’77


It’s okay to transfer. Our daughter’s college experience was 100 percent enriched by attending two schools.

—Blake ’77