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It’s Not Too Early: A Step By Step Guide to Get Into College

June 06, 2008 By: Category: Admissions insider, Best College Tips, Get into College

No matter how much anyone tells you that you can prepare for the college application process beforehand, it’s inevitable that it will, ultimately, feel like a time-crunch. Too often, the process seems like a race against the clock. And, along with everything else going on during the senior year, organization is essential if you want to enjoy the admissions process or more importantly, enjoy your senior year.

There is no single step more important than submitting your college application by the appropriate deadlines. To assure these deadlines are met with ease, read the entire article below, take a deep breath and get to work.

1) Get to know your teachers. You don’t have to be a “teacher’s pet” just to let your teachers know you care. Introduce yourself the first week of class. Look interested. And once in a while, get to class early or be the last one to leave and make a comment/ask a question about the material that you’re studying that shows you’re thoughtful and intelligent—even if you’re not, it’s good to practice. When grading period comes and you’re hovering between a B+ and an A- (or a C+ and a B-), you bet they’ll remember all those times you went out of your way to be friendly.

Tip #1: Teachers are your greatest allies. Think about how many teenagers they see every day. By showing interest and being thoughtful, you can really stand out in a positive way. This can make all the difference.

2) Realize the process involves many steps and the actual applications (requesting information from you like D.O.B., SS#, Address, etc . . .) are the most simple part. So, just because an application is not being released for you to view and fill out, until October of your senior year, does not mean that you can’t get started on it earlier.

Tip #2: Gather basic information about you, your parents and your academic history in a single document, saved somewhere.

3) The most difficult part of simplifying the process is the selection of colleges that are within your range of possibilities. To find the right school, check out the myUsearch college search process (shameless plug I know). Don’t only apply to schools that might be a long shot for your acceptance. You can apply to a few, but make sure you have something you can fall back on. One of the myUsearch writers was valedictorian of her class and almost didn’t get in to any school. Don’t ever apply somewhere just to see if you get in.

Tip #3: No need to apply to 10 schools. Seriously. Apply to 2 that you know you can get in, 2 you want to get in and 1 you would love to go to . . . anywhere! At the end of the day, you only get to go to ONE college. This is a time when you need to learn good judgment and exercise sound, practical thinking.

4) Over the summer, prior to senior year, begin brainstorming essay ideas. One of the most common essays, which, once it has been written, can be edited to fit many of school’s requirements, ‘discuss a significant obstacle you have overcome, goal you have achieved or event that was meaningful in your life’. Think about it. Get creative. Write it. Refine it. Re-write it.

Tip #4: Don’t go to your parents first for their feedback on your essay. Why? The essay is a wonderful opportunity for you to express yourself in a creative fashion and parents, ordinarily, think that creativity is too risky for something like this. If you intend for parts to be humorous, show it to one of your friends (a smart one, please) and see if they laugh. If not, keep working.

5) Make sure you sit for your standardized tests at least once (SAT and ACT) during your junior year. If you are taking any AP exams, also sit for the correlating SAT II test around the same time (try the May or June dates). This goes for someone who might be a sophomore or freshman taking AP courses, as well. Note: there are not always coordinating SAT II’s, but in most cases, there will be.

Tip #5: You can’t cheat the tests! Know what they look like and how long they take. Sadly, though I hate standardized tests, it is the case that people who score higher on the SAT/ACT tend to earn it. They have prepared and motivated themselves. No one else is sitting for you.

6) Letters of recommendation should not be just a written description of your activity resume. That information, the applications have gathered. If a college/university is taking the time to read your letter(s) of recommendation, keep in mind that it’s important to utilize a teacher who can speak personally to your strengths, struggles, motivations and goals. Perhaps he/she can emphasize an obstacle that you’ve overcome, a turning point in your academic career that they witnessed, an anecdote that exemplifies your maturity, etc . . . This comes back to #1. To put yourself in the best position to have strong recommendations, you need to be open, honest and intellectually curious with your teachers.

Tip #6: Letters of recommendation are tiebreakers in the application process. If a school wants a letter of recommendation from a teacher of yours, don’t necessarily go to the teacher whose class you got an “A” in, but go to the teacher who witnessed you grow, challenged you to push yourself and would be your biggest champion.

7) After you have all of this in order, be aware that the application deadlines come and go quickly. Do your best to have a schedule set aside for work on your application essays and short answers (i.e. every Tuesday and Thursday from 3-5:30). When you’re done with those, use your allotted time to go ahead and complete and submit the applications. If you start working on your essays and gathering your information in the first week of September of your senior year- and you were to commit 5 hours each week (as the example above)- you would have invested, well . . . A LOT of time as the deadlines draw near. You would certainly be able to turn in any state school applications (which are on a rolling admissions basis, usually) extremely early (November). If you’re applying for any schools through their early action or early decision options, let those be the first applications you prepare when they become available in the Fall.

Tip #7: If you set a schedule and follow through with it, you will find yourself with much of the application process completed before some of the schools even release their applications. Just by being prepared and giving yourself time to dedicate to this goal, you’re beating the crunch.

8) College/University-based, merit scholarships are as simple as this: if a school has specific levels of academic scholarships for incoming freshmen, they will, most likely, offer them to a certain percentage of the incoming class - top 10%, for example – based purely on GPA and standardized test scores. You can inquire to learn what their average scholarship recipient was for the year before. But nearly every school increases their selectivity each year as the overall applicant pool is more competitive. Public schools do not always offer these merit scholarships, but most private schools do, excluding the very elite, top-tier universities where every student is deserving of a merit scholarship.

Tip #8: Apply to where you want to apply and worry about the money later. Honestly, college is expensive; you’re going to look at the costs once you’ve been accepted. Don’t let that come into play right now.

9) Begin looking into “outside” scholarships as early as possible—perhaps during the summer before your senior year. Before anything, look into all of the local service organizations (Kiwanis, Rotary, Lions, Knights of Columbus, etc . . .) to see what their qualifications are. Then, make some phone calls around to some companies based in your area (insurance companies, law firms, technology companies, restaurants, etc . . .) to see if they offer any scholarships for local, graduating seniors. Also, check in with your school’s guidance office to see what resources they might have available for local scholarships. Be aware that there are many scholarship websites available. However, before you pursue the national $5,000 scholarship that requires an essay about “virtue and what it means to you”, I implore you to look around at these local resources which are offering $250 and $500 opportunities, for, in most cases, much less work and a much higher chance of winning. And another shameless plug, myUsearch has a scholarship open right now and has received very few applicants. Your chances are good.

Tip #9: Like with your food, shop for scholarships LOCALLY, first. Before your senior year, begin asking around to friends, family, college graduates, teachers and local professionals to see if they can point you in the direction of scholarship opportunity. It will also be a great opportunity to learn how to network yourself!

10) FAFSA is not as difficult as it seems. You will need the appropriate tax information and a healthy amount of both time and patience. So, FAFSA is the LAST thing you’ll probably be worrying about as it can’t possibly be completed until the taxes from the previous year are filed. In other words, you can’t start the FAFSA until after January 1st of your senior year and just for the sake of the timeline, try to have it completed around March and you will be okay with the deadlines. This means being organized and getting your taxes done early.

Tip #10: Be organized, be organized, be organized. You WILL be off to a wonderful college, soon. We just don’t know where, yet.