What is something that you wish you had known when you were applying to college that you know now?
I applied to college a very long time ago, and many things have changed since then. But in reflecting on my own experiences, and conversations I've had over the years with applicants and parents, there are some things that I think are useful to know. First, every college looks at your application in a different way, and every college has a different admissions process. They have their own timelines. Some high schools weight grades in certain classes; some colleges will use those weighted grades, and some will not. Some colleges will admit you to the university, and some will admit you directly to a major. Colleges each have their own priorities when assembling an incoming class. These differences all affect your chances of admission.
Second, there are A LOT of accomplished students out there. Sometimes, we fall into the habit of comparing ourselves to our peers in our high school (because that's who we know, right?), but the world is so much bigger. There will ALWAYS be someone who has higher grades, more volunteer work, higher test scores, more leadership experiences, etc. That does not diminish in any way your accomplishments, but it is something to keep in mind when you are not offered the scholarship that you thought you deserved. And think about all those students being your classmates - what amazing things you can accomplish working with other amazing individuals!!
Third, look beyond the rankings and cost of a college. Find one that is the best fit for you and what you want from your college experience!
I wish that someone would have told me that a college's name isn't all that picking a school is about. Over the years, I've met some terrific engineers from lesser known colleges and some "really-not-so-great" ones from MIT and other "technical power schools." If a school offers your major, is a good fit socially and financially for you, and has a good reputation, it will really all come down to YOU! Don't get hung up on a school name. Just put all you've got into your studies and you will become a GREAT engineer wherever you go. Once you've chosen a school, start contacting professors who are doing research that interest you and ask them about it. You might just get yourself a fascinating campus job!
College studies are bound to be challenging. You will probably get a C or two and that's alright... Just make sure that you always circle back, re-review the material, and get to point where you understand it forwards and backwards so you don't struggle in more advanced classes.
It's OK to change your mind about your major. If you find out that one type of engineering really isn't for you, look into another. If none strikes a chord, it's OK to change majors entirely. You are preparing for a long career; you might as well do something that you really enjoy!
I wish I knew how many scholarships were truly out there for women in engineering, and the options to apply for grants. I went to school with a total of $5,000 dollars' worth of local scholarships, most in bonds that still are accruing, along with a small merit scholarship. I thought at the time that was a good rate, until I graduated and totaled all my loans. There are so many options out there. Some of the best West Coast schools are half or even one third of the cost of East Coast schools. The best advice I wish I knew: if your average starting salary is less than your potential debt, you may find it difficult to pay back loans on time and have to live like a college student longer than you would like. So be wise when applying to schools, do not just look at the program, the job placement rate, the security (how many blue lights on campus), the sports teams, whether the program is ABET accredited, or recognized by outside organizations, or is it a college prone to have industries recruit from. Consider scholarships and how the tuition cost will affect your life after college as well.
I was indecisive on whether I wanted to enter into a college with a strong business or a strong engineering program. I wish someone had told me that I should think ahead to careers before I arbitrarily applied to colleges. I applied to nine, and was accepted to six. It was a lot of effort and cost to do this as I visited most in order to help make my decision. I really should have been thinking about what jobs have a shortage of qualified workers, and what salary I expected to make and what career could fulfill that and therefore what program would best fit me and my lifestyle expectations. When picking colleges, I could have focused more on the colleges that covered all potential career paths. In the end, I did choose a college that led me to a dual degree in engineering and business, but it was probably more by accident than planned that it worked out that way.