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What are some tips to prepare for college applications?

I'm a rising senior and a first generation student. The whole college application feels new to me and it looks like it's a lot. What are some tips that you have?

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Najneen’s Answer

+1 to all the answers above. But I will also add a couple of things here -
- try to look at your high school career so far and see if there are areas that might be seen as potential "weaknesses" by college adcoms so maybe fewer extracurriculars, etc. If there are any, maybe try to see if you can work on focusing in one or two areas of interests (re: extracurriculars for instance) and try to spend some of your free time doing that activity - it could be debate or MUN or environmental club or whatever is a passion or interest for you
- try to think about who your recommenders will be and work on really ramping up your relationships with them
- for writing really good essays, start now on brainstorming some core stories from your childhood, growing up, etc. and start jotting down bullets about them.
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Molly’s Answer

I wish I could go back and redo my collage applications. When I was a senior in high school I had no idea what I wanted to do for a career, and honestly I still don't! I didn't put much importance or urgency into my applications which I really regret to this day.

A little insider tip... if you don't know what you want to do right now that's okay, it's really rare someone knows exactly what they want to do for the rest of their lives. I didn't find out what I wanted to do until I was finishing up my junior year of college. Looking back on my application process I wish I would have put some more effort into researching different majors and programs that the schools in my area offered. I still ended up with a great school and a great program, but I could have made my journey better in a few ways.

Here is my advice when applying for college:
1. Look into some different majors to explore what you can do with them and what career opportunities would that major offer. Even if you don't know what you want to do yet, research some things that spark an interest and jot them down.
2. Look into a variety of schools and compare them with the majors you picked out to see if they even offer them.
3. Now that you've picked a few majors and schools, see if they offer any programs for those specific majors.
4. Speak to your advisor and ask for help. Explain your situation to them, your fears, your interests, or anything that they could use to help you find a perfect match.
5. Create a very generic yet detailed application that could be used for multiple different colleges. Some schools require the same things while others require specific things. Having a premade generic application will save you time and energy, tweak it as needed for each school you apply to.
6. Look up when college week is, most applications are free during this time. It's a great time to apply to as many colleges are you want without breaking the bank.
7. Don't get upset if you didn't get the school you wanted or if you just feel lost in the process. Everyone's journey is different and the right school will accept you when it's time.
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Thomas’s Answer

1. Make a timeline and stick to it. This is especially important for seniors who may be applying to colleges early decision or early action.
2. Do your research. Learn as much as you can about the schools you're interested in, and make a list of what you want (and don't want) in a college.
3. Start gathering your materials early on. This includes transcripts, letters of recommendation, essays, and test scores.
4. Ask for help when you need it! Your teachers, counselors, and parents are all great resources when it comes to college applications.
Thank you comment icon This is really informative and helpful. Thanks!!!! Erica
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Rube’s Answer

I agree with all the other responses. Orginization is the biggest and most important factor in getting ready to apply for college. First and foremost, you want to ensure that you know all application deadlines and set your own so that you are not rushing. Rushing an application can cause us to leave out key factors that help with acceptance.
Make sure you complete all the required application requirements, such as SAT/ACT scores, high school transcripts, financial aid applications, Tax forms, and other requirements. Do not be afraid to ask question to any of the staff university
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Dean’s Answer

Don't procrastinate. Set goals, and take the steps necessary to achieve those goals. Also don't limit your school choices.
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Gurpreet’s Answer, CareerVillage.org Team

Hey Erica, I'm also a first gen college student and the oldest in the family so I completely understand how difficult it can be to figure all this out on your own. I think everyone has covered most of the important things but some other tips:
1. Look into waivers for applications. Applying to schools can be expensive and your high school or the schools you're applying to might be able to waive some of those fees. Same thing for SATs, ACTs, and AP tests
2. Start early and submit early. The UC (University of California) application page is known to break on the day/days leading up to when the application is due because everyone waits until its due to submit. Don't be one of them! Submit a few days early to be safe.
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Rachel’s Answer

I think Thomas' answer is pretty comprehensive. I'd add to make sure you have all your deadlines in one place: FAFSA, CSS/Profile, all of your schools' application deadlines, as well as scholarship deadlines. Additionally, give your recommenders enough time to write you a solid letter of recommendation (I'd say 1-2 months before applications are due so that recommenders can give enough thought to what they will write).
Thank you comment icon Your advice was so helpful! Erica
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Jaquelyne’s Answer

1. Prioritize the schools you are applying too. For example, I did an early admission application for the two schools that were my top choice
2. Depending on your situation, you may be able to get financial aid for the application fees. Never hurts to ask
3. Use your resources! If you have access to a college counselor, they can be very helpful.
4. Proofread your essays and try to be true to yourself
5. Keep in mind your deadlines and try to stay as organized as possible.
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Connor’s Answer

Hello Erica,

If I could go back in time and give myself advice in regard to college it would be to focus on the importance of education. Understand the importance of your academic journey and the various benefits in which it would offer you. Do research on the potential different salaries and job opportunities that a college degree could offer you. By doing so, you should find yourself with motivation and spirit to embark on your future educational journey.

-Connor
Thank you comment icon I appreciate your support, Connor Erica
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Cristian’s Answer

My tips in no particular order:

Cristian recommends the following next steps:

Reach out to your college advisor for help and see if they can help walk you through the process
Apply to FAFSA to get a chance at scholarships
Look up what the essay prompts will be for the universities you want to apply for and begin drafting those essays and requesting feedback
A lot of universities just require one application to be filled out for all (etc UC's , CSU's , Common App) so don't stress too much about filling out multiple applications
Thank you comment icon Thank you so much, Cristian! Erica
Thank you comment icon This website is helpful https://www.collegeessayguy.com/blog/uc-essay-prompts Emma
Thank you comment icon This website https://www.shemmassianconsulting.com/blog/how-to-write-uc-application-essays Emma
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Robert’s Answer

You have to present yourself well. I'd say essays are the most important factor you can currently control as of right now. For me, after studying so many other people's tips and reading so many other essays, I would say you have to present yourself as an individual who can actively contribute to whichever environment you are placed in. When answering college questions, you have to storytell - explain what you did, why you did it, and what you learned from it all. The takeaway is perhaps the most important element of the essay. You have to show them why your experiences are valid and how you can contribute immensely to that specific university.
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Samay’s Answer

1) Make sure you have SAT or ACT test scores in case a college requires them, if not schedule your tests ASAP.

2) Identify what you want out of college, or potential careers that seem interesting to you that a college degree would be mandatory or extremely helpful. Then identify colleges that have programs/courses/tracks that are well known, strong, and align with these interests.

3) I'd say limit your list to 10-15 schools you actually would be interested to going to, and that fit your financial means. Plenty of schools offer full scholarships just by checking a box or submitting a additional essay. I was able to get one to The Ohio State University just by submitting an additional essay. Look into these scholarships because you never know you may be able to receive one.

4) I'd say have 3 guarantee safety schools, schools you are positive you'll get into--compared to other students statistically. There are lots of websites to check this from. These should be schools you would love to go to regardless. The rest should be match schools and risks. Match meaning you are a good fit but there are many students who are similar stature. Risk implying you're below the threshold for requirements but would love to go there and at least try to get in.

5) I cannot stress this enough. Go somewhere that aligns with what you want out of location/school experience! If you like warm weather do not apply to the midwest schools. If you love nature don't run to the big city schools. If you like small classrooms sizes do not apply to large state schools. Consider what you want out of your school experience: big football games, being close to family, large campus, no campus, lots of student organizations, Greek life, diversity on campus, city/rural, traditional college experience or a liberal arts or a trade school, etc. All these factors are significant to you, and will play a direct role on your happiness, adjustment to a new life situation, and how much you get out of your experience. At the end of the day this is for you, so make sure these factors align with what you like/prefer.
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Kamala’s Answer

Hey Erica, I think Thomas and Rachel have covered the crux of the process. If there is one thing I could add, it is to spend some time in building your story to form of a cohesive narrative which could boost up your essay and strengthen your overall application. Good luck :)
Thank you comment icon That's a really good tip! Thank you!! Erica
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CVS Health GMCIP’s Answer

A lot of college apps comes down to your timeline and making sure you don't burn out at any point. The first tip is to start early and develop an anticipated schedule as to when you will complete each item you need. Breaking your work down into smaller, manageable chunks can also help with this. For example, you can create mini deadlines for yourself - i.e. when you want to have each essay done, when to reach out for recommendations from teachers, etc.

With regards to the process, the Common App form is easier to fill out and since it will be going to every school, make sure to finish it up early so universities can utilize that information and you can ensure you have your quality work that you spent time developing there to put your best foot forward. In addition, with regards to financial aid, start early on the FAFSA - they require a lot of information so starting it early so you can get all the information and documents you need is a really important place to start as well.

When it comes to the applications themselves, it's important to be honest with yourself and really let your personality, experiences, and values reflect through your essays. After writing your drafts of your essays, have people you trust/who know you well read your essay and see if your personality/voice is coming out through your writing.

Finally, college apps are a very stressful time. It's easy to get caught up in the moment and compare yourselves and your stats to your peers. Limit that thinking. Everyone is on their own journey, as well as you. Your journey and your experiences are your own, and you will end up where you need to be. Maintain your individuality and don't get too caught up in the process. Use it as a time to reflect on yourself and your experiences so you can go to the school that is the best fit for you.
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Lauren’s Answer

I agree with all of the above!
I think something that really helped me with my applications was being very organized. I kept a Google drive folder that had all of my college application stuff, including all my common app answers and every college's supplemental questions. That way I could easily refer back to other essays if schools have similar questions, and so I could make sure I wasn't repeating myself anywhere.
Another tip is just continually writing drafts of your common app essay. Your first idea is not necessarily your best one, so don't get too attached to a particular idea. Instead, keep writing half a page/an outline of each idea you come up with, and after you review what you've written and what you're most inspired to continue writing about, you have your college essay idea!
Good luck!
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