College applications can seem daunting. For many high school seniors, the process happens in a rush during their senior year as they apply to schools that they think they’d like, but haven’t taken the time to research.
By creating a college application strategy before senior year, students can more easily target the schools that best meet their educational plans. More importantly, it can help them move through the college application process more smoothly, avoiding the chaos thanks to the research and planning they’ve done ahead of time.
Incoming seniors looking to be college application ninjas (and those juniors… and even sophomores… who want to be even greater ninjas when their time comes) know that the work they put in now will put them that much farther ahead when it comes time to start the application process. Here are three tips to start students on the ninja path this summer:
School Fit is a Two-Way Street
Finding a school that best “fits” with a student’s needs is important. Aspects such as a school’s location, average class size and available programs of study can strongly influence whether or not a student will succeed in their future plans at that school. Taking the time to look deeper at a school’s programs will help students understand where they have the best chance to get the most out of their education.
But college isn’t just about what the student wants. It might seem like a basic idea, but often students apply to schools without having a strong understanding of the type of student that the school is seeking. It’s important to know if a student’s current grades, test scores and extra-curricular activities make them a good match for the schools where they are planning to apply. Conduct research to determine if students meet all the admissions requirements before starting the application process.
Have a List and Learn as Much as You Can
Once students have a list of target schools, getting to know more about a school can give the extra information that will help students decide whether or not to commit the time to apply. Campus tours are the best way to experience life on campus and summer offers the flexibility to turn travel into college research. For those campuses that might be farther away, virtual tours on college websites give a taste of what to expect.
To really hit the ground running in the fall, students should do a little prep work before starting applications. From creating application accounts with usernames and passwords and creating a timeline for campus visits, to researching any available college application fee waivers and making a master calendar of key financial aid and scholarship deadlines, having a game plan ahead of time will make the application process less chaotic.
As larger numbers of students apply to college and colleges compete for quality students who are dedicated to their school, colleges and universities have expanded the application options available to students in order to not only manage applicant pools but also increase the number of candidates that they consider “high-quality.” When considering the college application process, it’s important for families to understand each type of admission program and what those programs require.
Colleges that offer “early action” application do so to give families a quick response to those who submit on or before their early deadline (typically early November). Early Action admission decisions are non-binding, which means that students do not have to promise to attend if accepted. They just hear back sooner. Some universities offer “Restricted Early Action,” which works much like Early Action, but limits the number of EA applications a student can submit to other schools. Colleges do this because they are looking for students who are committed to them instead of just applying early to find out sooner. While families can benefit from the quick response of applying “early action” they face an smaller applicant pool that will usually have strong candidates and a possibly more selective admissions process.
Where many early action applications require little commitment, early decision applications are more serious. Student should only apply early decision to a college if they are certain that it is the college they wish to attend. Students accepted on early decision are required to attend the college at which they were applied and accepted, as well as withdraw all other applications.
Some colleges also offer an “ED II,” which allows students extra time to apply, allowing for more research, and application preparation. ED II applications often have deadlines that are the same the regular application deadline, but receive an earlier decision, usually in early February.
For a student with a clear vision of where they want to go to school, early decision applications offer a great advantage. Not only will they be informed of a decision earlier, but they also show the admissions office that they are a student dedicated to attending their school. If they are accepted, the student has the rest of their senior year to enjoy (early decision applicants usually hear back in December). If they are deferred or rejected, there is still plenty of time to regroup and apply to other colleges.
However, students that want to compare financial aid packages may want to hold off from early decision applications and the locked-in commitment that comes with them. Being able to look at different schools and compare costs can often show a student that their dream school might not be the best long-term decision, financially.
Regular application deadlines are later than early action or early decision applications and is the time when the majority of students will submit their applications.
Having a set timeline for applications helps students take more time to reflect on their goals, visit colleges, research and narrow down a list of schools that are the best fit for their needs. Students are not limited to the number of schools to which they apply, though each school will require an application processing fee when submitting an application. Applying by regular deadlines, allows students the luxury of comparing financial aid awards and admission offers without any restrictions that might come with early applications before choosing the college that is a perfect fit and meets his financial need.
Colleges with rolling admissions offer important options and opportunities that regular deadlines do not. Rolling admissions colleges will accept and examine applications as they are sent in, instead of waiting to judge all applications at the same time. This admissions option can be great for late admissions, or for finding out early whether or not a student is accepted.
The new starting date for filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is just about here. Completing the FAFSA, though, isn’t the end of the road for college preparation. Throughout the school year, students have opportunities to visit with colleges and find out more about what each school offers and how that school does (or doesn’t) relate to a student’s plan for their future.
Making that match is called “college fit” and it can mean the difference between getting the most of education after high school and frustrations that could lead to transferring schools or, worse, not completing a degree.
The good news: Colleges offer tours that allow students to see the campus, talk to professors and students and get answers to questions about their education. Even better: Students can get much of that information without even leaving their own high school thanks to college fairs held throughout the year. These events, often held at the local high school, include representatives from schools both near and far looking to put their best foot forward for prospective students.
College fairs are the first step toward finding college fit and students who attend college fairs will get a head-start on making a smart choice on where to go to school. As with anything, approaching the event with a game plan will help students get even more out of college fairs.
Start with these five tips:
- Is a college strong in a student’s major? Not all high school students are going to have an idea of what their major will be, but it helps to have some idea of what they might be interested in as a career. If students have an idea, they can ask schools about programs in those areas. Some colleges specialize in certain majors or are known for having strong programs in particular fields.
- Does a school’s size matter? Larger schools often mean more students in classes (sometimes over 100 students), but a bustling community. Smaller colleges might have fewer students, but that might mean more direct interaction with teachers and smaller class sizes. A student can talk to representatives at a college fair to get an idea of the school’s size and start to consider which appeals to them.
- What’s college life like? While a visit to the actual campus will give students the best idea of what life is like at a given school, college fairs frequently include representatives from schools who are either current students or recent graduates. Of course, these representatives will always look to emphasize what makes their school better than the rest, but talking to college students is a great way for high school students to get an early idea of what life is like in college.
- Take all the materials available. Schools visiting college fairs will have lots of giveaways: stickers, squeezeballs, pens, and more. But the most important materials to take away from college fairs are the informational brochures that talk more about the school. These materials might not answer every question a student might have about a school, but they will frequently include websites or links to other resources to learn more if interested.
- Make notes, take it all in, but don’t rush to any decisions. College fairs are the introduction to schools for many students and representatives are chosen by schools to present their school in the most attractive way possible. It’s great if students are inspired to learn more about schools after a college fair. But rather than eliminate schools from their list, students would be better off ranking a list of schools that grabbed their attention and listing the reasons why that school might be a good fit. From there, it’s easy to start researching further into which schools should really make the cut.
For more tips and advice for preparing and planning for college, as well as financial aid and college information, check out Iowa College Aid’s “Your Course to College.” You can read, download or order your own copy on our website.
Earlier this year, GEAR UP Iowa held the first GEAR UP Iowa Student Summit at Grand View University in Des Moines, IA. The four-day event gave students from GEAR UP Iowa’s 12 partner school districts a chance to meet other students, discuss leadership skills and build the tools that will make them crucial partners in change bringing a college-going culture to their high schools (plus, it was fun!).
Alan Feirer, a leadership trainer and organizational development consultant, spent a day working with students, helping them realize leadership opportunities and arming them with the tools to apply those skills on a day-to-day basis. As we continue our recognition of #NationalGEARUPWeek, Feirer reflects on the importance of GEAR UP and the way that the program allows schools to help students take advantage of their chances to become leaders during high school and beyond in their education and life.
My mother was a teen mom, and back in 1968, that circumstance forced her into an early marriage to my father, who was a substance abuser. They graduated high school, but college had to wait.
Eventually, both of them got college degrees, and my mom has pursued two (and completed one) advanced degrees! She just retired from her third profession. All three professions involved giving back; she was a substance abuse prevention coordinator, a non-profit director (for Head Start), and a Lutheran pastor.
The biggest lesson for me? Second chances are there for everyone, and they’re important to take. It’s true that my mom could have stayed married to my dad and spent her life working at a grocery store. There’s no shame in that; we need grocery store clerks. But her gifts, combined with her college degrees, opened doors for her to live a fulfilling life that changed (and saved) the lives of others.
GEAR UP Iowa didn’t help my mom; it wasn’t on option for her. But you – you’ve got a headstart, a bonus, a leg up — if you want to make a difference in your life, and in the lives of others, there’s a whole team of people ready to work with you for that.
For many students, getting to college is only half the battle. Adjusting to a new world with new freedoms and responsibilities can be just as stressful as the effort it took to get to college in the first place.
The number one cause for dropping out of college during freshman year is mental health and stress-related issues. What makes dealing with these problems that students face when adjusting to college is that many students suffering through stress feel like they have to do it alone. While most colleges offer some type of mental health services clinic and numerous opportunities to talk with other students to find ways through these trying first days, many students feel that theirs is a battle to be fought privately, or else show their struggles as a sign of weakness or unpreparedness.
But the truth is that the best way to deal with the adjustment to college is to have a good game plan and be willing to lean on others who are there to support you. Reaching out and making connections with other students and taking full advantage of student service resources can make a tremendous difference in adjusting to college life.
Here are a few easy tips to help establish a strong groundwork in your freshman year that will support you all the way through graduation.
Create a Routine
Having a focused calendar is just one step in creating a positive routine. Take the time when starting college to establish good habits that balance studying and classwork with extracurricular activities and a social life. There are so many things possible for students to do on a college campus that it can seem overwhelming. But by creating a routine early on, you’ll be able to get the most out of what college life has to offer.
Don’t Get Behind On Deadlines
Perhaps the most difficult adjustment when starting college is having to take personal responsibility for not only your actions, but your studies. Start off on the right foot by making sure that you are aware of the variety of deadline dates that you’ll encounter. From class papers to financial aid filings to scholarship or grant renewals, having a calendar that lays out all of your deadlines will help you stay ahead of the game. Make sure to keep that calendar in a place where you will frequently see it, a constant reminder to stay focused.
Go to Class!
Sure. It seems obvious, but when freshmen are faced with the reality that mom and dad aren’t there to get them out of bed and to school on time, the promise of a cozy bed sounds a lot more promising than walking through the snow from your dorm to class. Remember why you are in college: to get an education and prepare yourself for a career. Your instructors will likely hold your absence against you when it comes time for grades, and they won’t be following up to make sure you received the materials covered in class.
Get to Know Your Professors
College is a new place, but just like in high school your instructors aren’t there to intimidate you, but to help you. Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to your professors and take a moment to get to know them. This way, you’ll feel more comfortable asking them questions when there are problems in coursework or other aspects of the class. The best time to do this is during an instructor’s office hours, where they are focused on having one-to-one or small group interactions focused on student needs.
Just as your mom and dad aren’t there to get you out of bed each day, they aren’t there to tell you when to stay in bed, either. The pace of a college student’s life can get hectic. And even with the best-planned routines, pushing too hard can have a negative effect on your health. Know when to lay low and recover. You don’t get bonus points for showing up to class sick and you’re likely not going to pay close attention anyway. Most schools (and even many dorms) will offer some form student health services to provide you with medical care. Make sure to take advantage of them instead of trying to tough out health problems on your own.
With college costs rising faster than increases on household income, more and more students have student loans to help fund their education. Often they don’t fully understand all of the terms and fail to track the amounts they borrow. One of the best ways you can stay on top of this process and set yourself up for an easier repayment process, is to limit the amount of student loan debt you accrue. Taking out the smallest amount of money possible in loans will pay off in the long run.
Follow these tips to ensure that you limit the amount of student loan debt you accrue while still in school.
Borrow only the amount you need.
Many borrowers make the mistake of taking out more loans than necessary. To avoid doing this, create a budget to determine how much loan money you will need and avoid using loan money to pay for unnecessary expenses, such as trips to the movie theater or expensive dinners.
Consider a part-time job.
If your academic schedule allows, consider finding a part-time job on campus to help supplement the cost of unexpected expenses. Be sure to check with your financial aid office to see if you qualify for work study, which will give you the opportunity to work on campus.
Consider paying your loan interest while still in school.
If you start making interest payments on your student loans while you are still in college, you will reduce the total amount you’ll have to repay. Interest payments are usually manageable and by paying off interest as you go keep outstanding interest from capitalizing on any of your balances. Allowing interest to capitalize increases your loan balance essentially requiring you to pay interest on the interest that has been accrued!
Apply for scholarships.
Scholarships can pay for portions, and at times all of your education during an academic year, but you must apply! You can find scholarships that specific to your school or department by talking to a representative from your school’s financial aid office or your department chair. In addition, the following sites are just a few places you can search for scholarships.
Choose a school that fits into the family budget.
Review the financial aid packages from the colleges where you applied and consider how much you would need to borrow from each. Keep the end in mind and select a college where your loan debt can be kept as a reasonable level to your future income potential.
You’ve made the trip, moved into your dorm, met your roommate. Mom and dad are gone and you’ve survived your first day of classes. What’s next for a new college student? The habits you start in your first days as a freshman will lay the groundwork for your success throughout college. The best part? It’s easy to take advantage of one of the greatest opportunities available to help college students grow and succeed: getting involved with your campus or community.
Much of your college career will happen outside of the classroom. Although your studies should be top priority, getting involved on campus is a great way to ease the transition into college and help you gain experience for your resume. Studies show that those who are involved in activities outside the classroom are more engaged and have greater academic success in college. In addition, many employers indicate that they look for real-world experience when interviewing recent college graduates. So, what are you waiting for? The reward that you can gain from getting involved in part-time jobs, volunteer work, campus organizations and industry-related groups will follow you well beyond college graduation.
An obvious advantage to getting involved is the opportunity to meet new people. Joining a club or organization allows you the benefit of making friends and networking with those who share your similar interests, goals and values. This can be especially helpful for commuter students who would otherwise leave campus as soon as class is dismissed. Students who are involved in campus activities often feel more connected to the school, campus and people, increasing their satisfaction with their college experience and reducing the likelihood of transferring schools or dropping out all together.
Employers want to see college graduates with real-world experience. Getting involved in a campus or career-related organization can help you gain leadership experience, improve communication skills, and provide you the opportunity to work as a team to solve problems. Helping your organization achieve its goals, such as increasing membership or organizing a special project or program will help you stand out to potential employers in the future. Your school’s campus serves as a representation of life after college, where the concepts are ever important to your future success. On campus, you can apply these skills to real-world situations in a safe environment.
Few extracurricular activities can beat the experience gained through a part-time job. Working while in college demonstrates your ability to manage time, communicate with supervisors, take direction, work as part of a team, and manage stress. Look for part-time jobs related to your major. For example, a job on campus in a lab for a student majoring in chemistry, or as a counselor in an after-school program for an elementary education major provides that real-world experience employers are looking for. As a plus, you will have a greater chance of meeting professionals in a field of work that interests you, therefore building your network of people. After all, there is some truth in the saying “It’s not what you know, but who you know.”
Volunteering is great way to explore a potential career field while building on your existing skill sets. In addition, it demonstrates to potential employers that your time management skills have enabled you to fit an unpaid position into your busy schedule. Opportunities on campus can include things such student government involvement, working as a campus tour guide, or helping with a campus-wide event. You can also volunteer with local organizations in the community. Check out www.VolunteerIowa.org to find organizations seeking volunteers. Even if you don’t find a volunteer opportunity that matches your major, you can probably find one that will use skills you hope to develop in the workplace. Keep track of the things that you learned from each experience so you can use that information later. If you stay in touch with the people in charge, they may be willing to be a reference for you during your future job search.
Extracurricular activities can be just as important to potential employers as your GPA, but that doesn’t mean you can let your grades fall. The key to successful campus involvement is finding balance between your school work and activities. A more structured day can help to decrease procrastination; however having too much on your plate can become overwhelming. To find ways to get involved on your campus, visit your student activities or campus life office, stop by your academic department, check out the school calendar, and search the school website. Most come at little or no additional cost to you, but can add plenty in the way of college and work experience.