Conquering the College Application Process

by Zendra Hines
(Davis, California)

The road to college can be very stressful and daunting from the perspective of a high school senior or junior. The thought of writing tons of essays that expound upon why you should be chosen can be a large lump to swallow. However, in retrospect, I am so grateful for the journey and for the amazing opportunities that I now have as a result of the hard work I put into the paperwork required to get into college. Although my situation may have been a bit more unique, I have plenty advice to pass on to the youth in high school with ambitious aspirations to become a member of their dream college.

Fulfilling Pre-requisites

Although each college can have different requirements that distinguish them from other programs, many of the pre-requisites are the same. They can range from a GPA over a 2.5 to exceptional community service and recommendation letters. The good thing about these is that they are all linked. If you want to get into your dream college, start by being an exceptional student. Get involved in extracurricular activities such as volunteering or honors clubs. This will give you sufficient experience in community service, provide you with excellent connections with prominent people that can write recommendation letters, and best of all; make you a well-rounded student. I was involved in several clubs and organizations on campus that kept me busy and well rounded such as National Honors society and many sports. As a result, I was pushed to work harder in school and expand my spheres of influence. Colleges like to see that you are well rounded enough to conquer the demanding pressures of college life and be a good investment for the future. Participating in the previous activities can equip you with the right tools to stand out on your college applications.

Yes, you have to take the dreaded college entrance tests. These tests are mainly testing your skill in test taking. So the best strategy is to find some SAT/ACT test taking courses either online or at school to prepare yourself. Other than the information you learn from school and whatever test taking classes you take, it’s purely up to fate. As long as the more essential parts of your application are great, you should be fine.

Paperwork and Visiting Schools

Once you have achieved all of the skills to be cream of the crop, the hard part is arguably out of the way. Now that you have the tools, you just have to apply them eloquently and efficiently. How do you do this? Start by brainstorming a base story from your experiences that makes you unique and really impacted your life. Turn this into a quite general personal statement. Take time to refine this essay and have your peers and parents proofread. You want to be sure that you do not use any struggles you experienced as a crutch to develop a “sob-story.” Focus more on how those struggles developed your character and how you will apply what you learned to your future for success. Also, try and narrow down your interests of study in order to morph your essay in the direction of that study. Explain how your skills can catapult you into ultimate success in that form of study. Then, for each application to schools, you can add more detail to this base essay to thoroughly answer each question.

For recommendation letters, be sure to maintain good relationships with all of your teachers and club leaders. When asking for recommendation letters, be SURE to give the writers plenty of time in advance to write it for you. This shows them you are preparing ahead and respecting their time. It is good to ask for letters from teachers who have a good idea of your work ethic and can speak very well for you.

Then, it comes time to pick a school. My best advice is to keep your mind open. Stay true to yourself and your most important preferences. However, remember that your experience is very narrow and keeping your mind open can only benefit you. Beg your parents to take you on tours of the schools and/or do research on the web to find out more about the schools. The most important information to know is:
• Location, weather
• Retention rates
• Professor to student ratio
• Opportunities for Financial Aid
• In depth information about the courses offered
Once you get this information, make lists of what sounds best for you and apply. Most of the information needed for each school can get redundant. This information is also great for scholarships and financial aid applications. That is why it is beneficial to keep a good record of your essays and recommendation letters to send everywhere.

My Application of This Advice

I attended four high schools, was a foster child, and moved over 20 times in high school. On top of all of this, I maintained a 4.7 GPA, community service involvement, and intensive sport involvement. My situation was unique, but I was very determined to succeeded. What helped me most was staying determined and resourceful. I always did research and reached out to the professionals at my school that are paid to aid students on their journey to college. I applied all of the advice I mentioned previously and I was met with plenty of success. These are the triumphs that I can attribute this advice to:
• Acceptance into six prominent Universities
• Award of over $300,000 in scholarship offers
• Won a full ride scholarship to any school in the country through grad school
• Now attending the number 8 public school in the U.S.: UC Davis

Although I did go over the top, it is definitely possible to accomplish the feats necessary to get into college. With proper motivation, the sky is the limit. So go on my young high school apprentices! Take the world by storm and happy college planning!

Thanks Zendra for some outstanding tips that worked well for you, and should work for others too. Best of luck at UC Davis. Go Aggies!

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Winning the College Race: Ready, Set, Go!

by Kimberly Klein
(Mays Landing, NJ USA)

As a parent of a high school senior, I stand in awe of her single-minded purpose. From the time she was a little girl, she was determined to go to college and become a success.

I can take a bit of credit for that because I talked about college quite a bit from the time she was a baby. When she reached middle school, she told me she was surprised to discover that not everyone went to college. She thought it was a requirement, kind of like a "13th grade," since she had heard about the wonders of college since the moment she was born.

My first tip for other parents is to speak of college casually, positively, and often from the moment your child can understand you. Set the bar high from the moment your child enters elementary school. You expect your child to get good grades. You expect your child to have a set study time to do homework every school night. No discussion. Make this a habit just like you expect your child to brush his/her teeth every night.

Once your child reaches high school, it should be easier to continue good habits than to try and start them fresh in ninth grade. From ninth grade on, your child needs to be an active, well-rounded student. Definitely, colleges look for a high GPA, rigorous courses (honors and AP), and impressive SAT scores.

In addition, be sure your child is a leader in a sport or a club, or both. This next tip is important so I will say it three times: Volunteer, volunteer, volunteer! I highly recommend community service because it gets the applicant noticed. It can also garner him/her some great scholarships in addition to admission to college. Most important of all as we help to shape these young minds and morals--community service may start out as a way to make one look better to colleges. Yet, young people often find themselves loving their volunteer work and continuing with it even after they start college. I know that through helping others do their schoolwork as a tutor, my own daughter has discovered she has talent as a teacher.

Another little known tip that can improve chances of getting in to that dream college is this: Take the ACT in addition to the SAT. Prepare for it by studying an ACT book or taking a prep course. Some people score much higher on the ACT, and this can make all the difference in getting in. Most colleges accept ACT scores just as well as SATs.

Last but not least is the infamous college essay. Students need to start their essay early and write about a subject they are passionate about. The admissions officials can tell if a student feels strongly about his/her essay, or is just writing it to get it done.

A student who follows all these tips should have no problem getting in to his/her selected schools. It worked for my daughter. Of course, our work as parents is never done. Next up, the scholarship search!

Thanks Kimberly for writing from the parents point of view and sharing your advice in Winning the College Race: Ready, Set, Go! I agree that the ACT can make a difference, as some students shine better on the ACT vs the SAT. Good luck to your daughter in college.

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How to Prepare for the College Application Process

by Victoria Chan
(Houston, Tx., United States)

This year I went through the college application process. This long, stressful process has taught me a few things I wish I had known before. Even though I had researched everything I thought I had to know before applying, I discovered I did not know everything.

One thing I had never thought about before sophomore year was my resume. I have taken part in a few club, volunteer groups, sports and jobs throughout high school, but not nearly enough to stand out to many colleges. I also started working on my extracurricular junior year when I should have started my freshman year. Grades are important, but colleges want someone involved in the community that can also juggle multiple activities. I suggest that you start working on your college application as soon as you can by extending the length of your resume. Not only will this help getting into college, but it will help when you try getting jobs too.

Second, I wish I had a better idea of what was wanted for essays. Out of the colleges I applied to only one required an essay portion and that’s the one school I did not get into. I am not a very decent writer, so I had a lot of trouble with the essays. Part of this was the fact that I didn’t know what to expect. Essays are different from one school to the next and I’m still not one-hundred percent sure how to explain how to write one, but I can say that you should write about something you are passionate about and have others edit it. It took about 100 tries before any of my essays were adequate enough to submit, but each edit was worth doing. The area I messed up was most likely the topics I chose in response to the prompts. The people who read your essay will most likely have read thousands before they read yours and will have thousands more after. They will have read every sports injury, family death, and many other tragic stories. These stories are intriguing, but not for everyone. Pick something that makes you stand out from the crowd, and then make sure to edit it over and over.

Lastly, make yourself sound awesome. Do not go and tell a college you received the Nobel Peace Prize when you were 10 or lie about any achievement, but make sure to list any award you were given or write an essay (as long as it fits a prompt) about the time you volunteered somewhere and made a difference. Colleges want winners and those who give back. They want confident students who will do what it takes to get through college.

No matter what you do, the application process will be stressful. All the way up until the day you receive your acceptance letter you will be anxious, stressed and afraid. Even after you will feel that way, but when you find the right college and it finds you, excitement and happiness will also fill you.

Thanks Victoria for sharing your tips on How to Prepare for the College Application Process. Hopefully you've helped other students be more prepared. Good luck to you.

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