7 Mistakes Caribbean Students Make On Their College Applications

Here at AIM, we serve students all over the globe on their journey to their dream college. But it's no secret that our roots are in the Caribbean - we are based in Jamaica after all!

Each year, we see thousands of Caribbean residents apply for colleges abroad, and unfortunately, not all these students are accepted. Despite the common knowledge that not every student can get into every single school, there are still common mistakes that we see Caribbean students making EVERY YEAR.

Sometimes they come to AIM in the knick of time for us to help them, but sometimes (most times) it's just too late. After all, college applications work on a STRICT timeline... and if you miss it, most times, it's gone until next year.

But our goal is to help you ensure that you give yourself the best possible shot at securing a space in the college of your choice. So here are some of the top mistakes we see Caribbean students making... and we hope that you don't make them yourselves!

We get it, it's culture... most Caribbean students don't start studying for CSEC or CAPE until about 2 weeks or so before the exam (even though we recommend that you DON'T do this). Because of this exam culture, many students think that they can wait until the last minute to prep for the exam.
Even worse, is that many Caribbean students think that they can wait until a month or two before applications are due to start thinking about the SAT! BIG RED FLAG.
We always recommend that Caribbean students attend BOTH years of sixth form so as to present the MOST COMPETITIVE application possible (best grades, highest rigour of classes possible, most advanced curriculum available). Given the timeline of 2 years of sixth form, we actually recommend that students prepare for their first sitting of the SAT during the summer IN BETWEEN 5th form and lower 6. 
Why? Because you want to give yourself enough time to sit the exam, get back your grade, reassess your strategy (if you didn't get a perfect score), prepare again and take the exam again... all before the end of lower 6. Ideally, you want to be done with SAT by the end of lower 6 so that you can dedicate the summer and first semester of upper 6 to essays, internships and filling out the actual application.
Waiting until the last minute can be very dangerous, as students find that they haven't given themselves adequate time to prepare. Be mindful that the SAT testing style is very different from the testing style used in Caribbean learning institutions. So starting prep early and getting acclimated with what is required for success in these exams.
We can't stress enough the importance of starting the process of compiling your college application early! Far too often we see students scrambling in November and December to ask for recommendations, that really should have been requested in September.
Most application portals open in August of the year BEFORE you head to college. Use the opportunity to peruse the applications over your summer holiday. Begin making lists of everything that you need to do so that nothing catches you by surprise.
Here's a list of things to make note of before you start filling out your application:
  • Application deadlines for all the schools you're interested in
  • Application fees for all the schools you're interested in
  • How many recommendations will you need / who you plan to ask to write your recommendation letter
  • Build a list of all your extracurricular activities with brief descriptions
  • Build a list of all of your accomplishments with brief descriptions
  • Make a list of all of your CSEC and CAPE subjects and the corresponding grades
  • Let your parents know that you will need information from them in order to complete your application
The good thing about college in this modern day is that you don't always HAVE to know what you want to study to apply. More and more schools are offering the option to apply "Undecided", but there are still a number of popular schools that insist on applying to a specific program, major or college.
Do adequate research about the area of study that you may want to embark on, in the event that you're interested in a school that requires a more specific application. But also remember that the decision that you make of your application isn't what you're glued to forever. Most schools actually allow a grace period of one year before actually declaring your major... even if you applied for a specific are of study! 
Rule of thumb: It's always harder to get into college than it is to switch majors after you get there. So focus first on getting in than on your major!
With that said though, having a strong passion for a specific subject area at the time of your application can be a huge plus - especially if you're applying to a more selective school. According to Forbes, "selective colleges tend to look for "T-shaped" applicants: students who are accomplished at and interested in a wide array of things but also have a "spike," a special depth in one area of genuine passion."
So at least have some sort of idea of your life goal, run with it for your application and if you change your mind after you get there, you cross that bridge when you get there.
While we encourage our students to shoot for the stars here at AIM, we also recommend some level of realism in your college choices. This is why we STRESS that college is NOT a one size fits all deal!
The RIGHT college for you is NOT dependent on name brand. It may not be the college that you saw on TV. It may not be the college that your Mom has always dreamed of you going to. It may not be the college that your Dad went to. It may not be the college that you visited on that one summer vacation when you were 10 years old.
Apply for colleges with admissions requirements that align with your personal achievements, competencies and general academic performance standard. Also be mindful not to apply to colleges that you simply cannot afford. Accessing financial aid is simply not an absolute guarantee and remember that some schools don't offer financial aid at all. So pay keen attention to these factors when you're selecting your list of colleges to apply to. Everybody DOES NOT need to go to an Ivy League college. Based on your goals, a smaller college might offer an ideal program for you and you might have a better chance of being accepted to these programs.
Here are some things to think about when considering which college may be the best for you:
  • Do they offer the major I'm interested in?
  • Does my GPA match their average GPA?
  • Does my SAT score match their average SAT score?
  • Do they offer extracurricular activities that I want to explore?
  • Do I want to be in classes of more than 100 people where the professor doesn't know my name, or do I prefer more intimate classes?
  • Do I want to be in the city, or am I okay being in the 'bush'?
  • Do I want to be close to family, or am I okay being far away for people who are familiar?
As a quick aside: It doesn't hurt to apply locally as well.. Just to have a back up.
Whether you call it burnout or senioritis... Don't do it!
Still aim to perform well on your high school exit exams and keep your GPA high. Several colleges have post-submission requirements and commonly request additional documentation and proofs of certain achievements after the time of submission. Some colleges will even offer "conditional acceptances" that are based on your end of year high school performance.
Keep abreast of these things to stay on top of it!

Don't let a missed email prevent you from attending the college of your dreams!

You might think that college fairs are for you to get to know schools... but it can ALSO be for schools to get to know YOU. 
Admissions offices at many colleges and universities are split into regions -- ie. there is an assigned admissions officer to the region / country that you live in. Most times, the admissions officer assigned to your region is the same officer that will be attending college fairs catered to your country, and is the same officer that may be reading your application!
So attend all of the college fairs and visits and info sessions you can, and make sure to introduce yourself to the admissions officer there -- especially for schools that you KNOW your heart is set on. Ask questions, engage in conversation and always fill out the information card to be added to their mailing list.
You knew this one was coming, right? But we promise you... this isn't a sales pitch.
Your high school guidance counsellor has the purest intentions, but the workload and lack of resources makes it super hard for them to provide the highest standard of guidance you deserve. So, it's best if you secure a private college counselor to be able to guide your application process by helping you narrow down your study area, select the best schools, write a brilliant essay and submit a winning college application. 
Still not convinced? Here are 3 reasons why you should consider hiring a college counselor... even if it's not AIM! 
... At the end of the day though, we do hope you choose AIM to give you the edge you need to get to the college of your dreams. Contact the AIM Online Academy TODAY and get on the winning train. One of our expert college advisors is ready and happy to help you WIN WIN WIN.
Author: AIM Online Academy
AIM Online Academy (was AIM Educational Services) is the leading college prep provider in Jamaica, that helps students maximize their potential as they make the journey towards college in the US, UK and Canada. For over a decade, AIM's team of College Experts & Essay Coaches have assisted students from all over the Caribbean, the USA and Canada get into the college of their dreams with enough scholarship and financial aid to actually attend.

You can find out more about how AIM Online Academy can help YOU here: http://www.aimonlineacademy.com

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