By Amy Garcia
Disclaimer: the opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not reflect the views of the Encinal PTSA or Encinal High School. Please do your research when completing your college application.
Community service matters to colleges. In addition to your extracurriculars, do community service in an area that has real meaning to you.
Leadership matters. Almost every college will ask about your leadership. Even if you only do one or two extracurricular activities, practice leadership in these areas.
Start early! Use the summer before senior year to start drafts of your essays. UC and private school prompts are available in summer. Be honest and authentic in your essays. Do not just write what you think schools want to hear. Essays are their only glimpse into who you are as a unique person.
For most students, college application essays are the first time in their schooling where they write in the first person, i.e., “I did this. I was a leader in that.” It can be awkward, so leave time to practice. Also, many kids have been raised to believe that it’s rude to boast. In college essays, though, it’s time to brag a little. Not to be obnoxious, but this is not a time to stay quiet about your accomplishments or dreams. Be honest but be bold. Again, this can be awkward for students, so leave plenty of time to revise your answers.
When school starts, ask the college counselors and/or English teachers to read your essays and give feedback. Don’t wait until just before the deadline when they’ll be backed up with student requests.
As soon as school starts senior year, contact the teachers you want to ask for recommendations. Again, start early before teachers are overwhelmed with last-minute requests.
Be open to private schools, especially out-of-state schools. Some of the strongest schools in the nation are in the middle of America, and they’re eager to attract talented students from both coasts. They offer generous financial aid, and if you don’t qualify for that, generous academic aid that can bring down the cost to about the same as a UC school.
In my son’s process, I found that the most competitive schools (Top 10) didn’t offer academic aid, but many schools just “under” the Top 10 did. And they’re still incredible schools.
If you’re applying to private colleges and universities, remember you must do their financial aid applications in addition to FAFSA. Parents have to fill out their portion of the financial aid documents. There’s help for this at Encinal. Don’t be shy about asking for help. These documents can be confusing.
Consider small liberal arts schools! In addition to lots of academic scholarships and financial aid, these schools offer small student-teacher ratios. Also, students don’t have to choose a major until spring of sophomore year at most liberal arts colleges. This gives them more chances to expand their studies and consider what they want to do. I think pressuring kids to choose a major/profession at 18 is ridiculous. Who really knows what they want to do at 18?
Cast a wide net and don’t get your heart set on one school. The UC acceptances are unpredictable. You might get into “harder” UCs but rejected or waitlisted at others. Same thing with private schools. Apply to some stretch schools and some schools that you’re more likely to get into. Many schools offer reduced or waived (free) application fees if cost is a barrier. Ask the Encinal college counselors about this.
The most important thing is making a list of schools that seem like the right fit, much more important than how “competitive” or famous the school is. The college counselors can point you to websites that will help you make a list of schools that fit your wish list: school size, location, “personality” of the school, available majors, etc. Use these websites to find schools you’ve never heard of but where you might be very happy and successful. Again, don’t be afraid of private or out-of-state schools. Find out about their financial aid and academic scholarships.
If you’re applying to private colleges and universities, remember you must do their financial aid applications in addition to FAFSA. Parents must fill out their portion of the financial aid documents. There’s help for this at Encinal. Don’t be shy about asking for help. These documents can be confusing.
Ask for help! Ask for help! Ask for help! The Encinal college counselors are incredibly knowledgeable. Students and parents alike should ask questions. College can be a life-changing experience in the best of ways. Use the resources at school to be thoughtful about where you want to apply and what aid is available.