As a rising senior heading back to school, virtually from home, tackling college admissions may feel a bit daunting. Applying to college can feel overwhelming, especially knowing where to begin. Not to mention the added pressure and uncertainty with navigating new admission policies and changes due to COVID-19.
Take a deep breath. In changing times, it is important to get a handle on what you CAN and take advantage of being ahead of the game. The following are crucial tips that will not only get you moving on your college applications, but ultimately present a stronger application for a better chance of admission.
One of the best phrases to keep in mind is to break up the process into manageable pieces. By taking a step back and mapping out smaller tasks, you’ll not only feel like you are accomplishing something (because, ahem you are!) but you will be able to keep your larger goals in mind and know what to do next.
Let’s work smarter, rather than harder. Ready?
Know where you want to apply
Build the list of colleges you want to apply to in the fall. Knowing where you are applying makes it simple to figure out how to apply. Each college and university have varying dates, deadlines, essay requirements, testing policies and financial aid approaches. It is different for every school and every student.
Narrow down your college list to 5-10 schools that have all of the qualities you value in a college and make sure it’s balanced. Know you have likely options, know where you stand academically compared to the profile of past admitted students. Every college will post a past admission profile so you can see trends and academic statistics to compare.
When you research a college you’re looking for the academic, social and campus fit overall. Want some more tips? Check out How to Research and Build Your College List. Organize your colleges in an excel spreadsheet, in a notebook or on your phone. Know your early deadlines, what’s required and why the college is on your list. If you add a school or take some off, that is OKAY. Just getting an idea of what you want can make the steps smaller.
Estimate financial aid and how to get more money for college
Your family’s financial situation may have changed during the pandemic, or maybe not, but either way, estimating and maximizing the money you get from a college is a key piece to incorporate.
You can attend a private college and get some extra scholarships or grants that will bring the total cost down. You may find you can get extra money from attending an honors college within a larger less selective university. The options are endless!
Use these tools to estimate college costs for YOUR specific situation:
- Net Price Calculator: Every college has one on their website. Google it, or find it directly on the college’s website’s financial aid page. You can put in your family income, situation, GPA, etc. and it will give you a rough estimate of what the college will offer you and the overall college cost for that school.
- Expected Family Contribution (EFC) Calculator: Your EFC is the number a college will expect you to be able to pay. They use this number to then decide what else they can offer you to supplement costs. Knowing this number can help you identify if you’ll need to find more colleges that give money for need or merit.
- College Navigator: This website shows data on a majority of colleges and the past few years. It also shares detailed information on how much money on average that college gives families AND how much of it is need based or merit based so you can plan.
- FAFSA4Caster: You will want to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) early in the fall. This application will go to the colleges you apply to and they will use that information to decide your EFC and any federal loans you and your family can qualify for. The FAFSA4Caster is a nice tool to use prior to the official application. You can play around and see how the number changes if your income is expected to change or has changed.
Brainstorm, draft and rewrite your college essay
Arguably one of the key components on a college application where you get to decide the narrative and share insights into who you are, your goals, your challenges and anything else compelling you want a college to know.
This year especially, there are a number of factors that may change. Schools that may be test-optional for the Class of 2021 will look at other factors to help make an admission decision.
Typically on a college application you will have one to two main essays and smaller supplemental essays.
The main essay is one where you get to decide what topic you would like to present. A challenge, a time of insight or growth, or what you’d like to study and why. The supplemental essays can be anywhere from why you want to attend the college, or shorter prompts. Check out The College Essay Guy for some amazing free resources.
Get to know your admission counselor
This is an AMAZING tip! Every college has a regional admission counselor designated to a specific area of the world to help students understand and learn more about the university. They also know key insights like if it’s more difficult to gain admission into a particular program, majors, student life, etc. Consider them your guru into the university.
A simple Google search on the college’s website will help you find the counselor, or ask your counselor to help you get the contact.
Reach out to them, ask about any online events they are hosting to get to know the university!
Bonus: A lot of times, these counselors are the ones reading your application and potentially helping you gain admission. Don’t be afraid to ask and get to know them!
Collect supplemental materials. AKA all the official goodies you’ll need
Requesting letters of recommendation, transcripts, or anything else you may need will require you to fill out a form, reach out to your counselors, etc. Financial aid documents. Check with your school and know all the little extras you’ll need to complete your applications.
Give yourself the time and the space to feel confident about your college applications. Rest easy. You are going to go to college.
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