College Admissions Preparation Program
I. Your College Application
If there are at least three colleges you are interested in applying to, the first thing to do is understand their application processes. Notice that I said “apply to,” not “decide on.” Keep your options open; students have until May 1stof their senior year to choose their college. That means you can and probably should wait until all of the schools you’ve applied to have gotten back to you with their admission decision and any financial aid offers, including scholarships. That way, you can compare apples to apples to figure out the overall best value school for you. So, when considering which colleges to apply to, don’t be afraid of “sticker shock”—few students pay the full, published tuition rate. If you have good grades and test scores, colleges will usually reduce their costs.
In fact, don’t automatically assume that a private school is out of reach. Sometimes, they offer greater opportunities for financial aid. So, if you have a 3.5 GPA or higher and good test scores, consider applying to both public and private schools. There have been many Oklahoma high school students with good grades who have been admitted to prestigious private colleges and universities andreceived the financial aid they needed that allowed them to attend.
Speaking of costs, you will see that most colleges have an application fee. However, this fee can be waived for eligible students. Colleges will usually provide a fee waiver for students on Free and Reduced Lunch. If you received a fee waiver for the SAT or ACT, chances are good that colleges will also waive their application fees for you.
There are three main things you will need to prepare to go with the application: the essay, an activities list or resume, and letters of recommendation.
Most colleges will require you to write at least one essay. Your essay is meant to show the admissions officer how well you can write and that you can support ideas with logical arguments. Admission officers also look to the essay to show something about your personality. Every year, colleges have similar essay questions, or prompts. For example, one might be, “Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?” Don’t worry about choosing the “right” prompt; there isno right prompt. The point is just to get your words flowing and show a side of your personality that can’t be found on the application otherwise. You can find sample prompts, as well as links to sample successful responses, in the article titled, “Start in High School to Build a Successful Career” on the YPNG.co home page.
Plan to start writing your essay by the spring semester of your junior year. When you’re ready, jot down some bullet points—notes about the main ideas you’ll use to answer the prompt. You can then use these notes to create an outline to organize your essay. While there is no set formula, a college essay should generally be organized. This could include an introduction, an explanation of your main ideas with specific examples, and a conclusion. If I were you, I would show your outline to your English teacher or someone else whom you think would give you some good feedback.
Then, write a first draft, and don’t worry about mistakes yet. You’re just trying to flesh out your thoughts. Later, do a second draft to refine your writing. This is another good time to show your work to people you know, such as teachers or counselors. They may suggest some edits. But make sure any changes are in your own words. You never want there to be doubt as to who wrote it. Believe me, having been a college admission counselor, they can tell if an essay does not belong to you. A good question to ask yourself after finishing your essay is, “Could anyone other than me have written this essay?” Or, in other words, “Does this essay show who I am?” If you can answer “yes,” then you’ve done the most important thing.
High School Resume
Besides the essay or essays, you will be required to submit information on your application about what you’ve been doing during high school, inside and outside of the classroom. Your transcript will be able to verify what you’ve been doing at school, and a resume or activities list will give college admission officers a snapshot of your accomplishments outside of class, such as extracurricular activities, hobbies and work history. While a resumeis almost never required, it can be an asset when you meet with a college interviewer and is good practice for the business world. It is especially helpful to have a resume or activities list when you apply for scholarships, or when you ask people for recommendation letters. I suggest that you begin your resume or activities list now, and then add onto it as time passes. We have links to templates the will help you gather information and compose your student resume, along with links to resume examples in the same article, “Start in High School to Build a Successful Career” on the YPNG.co page “College Prep”.
Letters of Recommendation
Speaking of recommendation letters, your college applications will require you to submit at least one letter of recommendation. The required letter is from your high school counselor, and some colleges will require that you submit more letters, usually from teachers. But feel free to send additional letters, such as from a coach or someone who graduated from the school you’re applying to. Now, as a sophomore, it’d be a good idea to build relationships with your counselor, teachers, and others. Not only is it just good practice, but it could also make the difference in a mediocre versus great letter of recommendation down the road.
I encourage you to make the ask at the very beginning of the school year when you’re a senior. Consider the people you are going to ask for recommendations carefully. These letters are normally sent directly to the admissions officer and you won’t get to see them. So, make sure the people you ask are excited about writing a recommendation for you. You can help them prepare to write your recommendation by giving them a copy of your resume and your essay that will go with your application. Remember that, in this situation, you are asking a favor. Give that person as much information as you can and plenty of time before the deadline, so they can write a great letter for you. I also encourage you to follow-up with a hand-written thank you card. It’s a nice touch to show how much you appreciate the time they took for you.
II. How to Apply for Scholarships
The first thing to do is fill out a Federal Student Aid Application (FAFSA) to be eligible for federal need-based aid and most state aid. This application is also used by many private scholarship programs not just those sponsored by the federal and state governments.
Some colleges also require what is called a CSS Financial Aid Profile that is administered by the College Board and can be filled out online. Fees for the CSS can be waived if you received a fee waiver for the SAT or ACT.
Next research the scholarships that may be available to you. Here are some places to start:
- The financial officers at the colleges you want to attend will have lists of scholarships.
- Your high school career counselor will usually have lists of scholarships and grants and will know of local companies and service organizations that offer scholarships to local students.
- You may qualify for Federal TRIO Programs (TRIO). These are Federal outreach and student services programs designed to identify and provide services for individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds. TRIO includes eight programs targeted to assist low-income individuals, first-generation college students, and individuals with disabilities to help them with their academic career.
- Oklahoma has state grants based on financial need like the Oklahoma Tuition Aid Grant and the Oklahoma Tuition Equalization Grant. You apply using the Federal Student Aid Application (FAFSA).
- There are a number of free scholarship search engines on the Internet like “Scholarship Search” that will provide you a list of other kinds of grants given by private businesses. These companies most often employ engineers, architects and people pursuing other STEM careers. There are also service organizations like The American Association of University Women who have local chapters in Tulsa and OKC and the professional fraternity for black men, Sigma Pi Phi, that gives college scholarships to black male students. These are just two examples. But you will find many more searching the web.
- Most private colleges that have large endowments offer scholarships to students attending their school. They want both economic and racial diversity in their student bodies. If you have good grades and test scores, talk to admissions officers at some of the top schools. As two examples, Princeton and Yale both have active recruitment programs to promote diversity in their student bodies and generous scholarship and financial aid packages for those they accept. There have been recruiters from these schools who have come to Tulsa to recruit at the Tulsa Chamber’s Career Event put on every summer in August and have attended other college recruitment programs in the state. Attending one of these will give you a chance to talk directly to these schools’ admissions officers. Take the resume you have prepared with you and see if they have an interest in recruiting you.
- Another way to get a free college education is to qualify for one of the military academies. These schools offer an opportunity to get an engineering degree at no cost in exchange for a seven-year military commitment. We have a West Point graduate who is a YPNG mentor, Chris Chavez, in our mentor library. Her article will let you learn about how she was able to attend college by going to a military academy and how she built a successful engineering career after completing her military commitment.
Don’t miss filing deadlines for scholarships. They don’t always match the deadlines for admissions applications. Some scholarships have deadlines early in the fall of your senior year. Mark the due dates on your calendar and work your way backward to figure out how much time you’ll have to get each piece of the scholarship application finished.
Read the applications carefully and then gather the items you need. Most scholarship applications ask for:
- High school transcript.
- Standardized test scores – either ACT or SAT.
- Your parents Financial Information including Tax Returns
- Proof of eligibility if the scholarship is awarded to students from a certain ethnic group.
Keep copies of everything you send the admissions officer so that it will be easy for you to respond to their questions.
Most of these applications are submitted over the Internet. But if you have to submit a scholarship application by mail, track your package so you know it arrived. Use that date when you do your follow up with the financial aid or scholarship officer.
III. Other Things to Know
Contact the office that provides support to students at the colleges where you are submitting applications. These offices are usually called Student Affairs,Student Support, or Student Services. They are the department at the college designed to enhance student growth and development both in and out of the classroom and help students navigate through college successfully. Some of the help you can receive through this officeincludedisability services, personal and academic counseling, peer mentoring, peer tutoring and suggestions for clubs that fit you interests. Remember it is important to get involved. Student activities add fun, friendship and give you opportunities that will help you demonstrate leadership qualities to prospective employers after you graduate and begin looking for that entry-level job. Student programs can also include the basics like help paying for food, clothing and school supplies. Contact student services at the three colleges you are applying to, so you will know what programs are available. A good student services program is one of the things to consider when you are deciding on a college.
Map Out Your Classes for Each Year
Map out the classes you will have to take each year to be able to graduate on time. Then lean when and how you register for these classes. If you are late registering, the classes you want may filled, which can put you off your graduation schedule.
Get a required course list for your degree and for your major and minor if you have one. Many schools have a required course list online on their website and student portal. Printed versions can be gotten from the Registrar’s office. Once you know the required classes, first make a list of the general education requirements that you have in addition to your major. These are usually classes such as English, Science and Math and sometimes a language. Make a list of those categories and the number of courses that you are required to take under each category. Then repeat this list for you major, and minor if you have one. It is not unusual that most of the courses you take your first two years are required courses and outside your major.
No matter what classes you need to take, make sure you know where and how to register and be sure to register early. The classes taught by the best professors and at the most convenient times always fill up fast. If you are one of the last people to register for a required class, you could end up an instructor you don’t want or with a time that conflicts with another class or is not convenient. Make sure you know how and when you can sign up for the classes you want
IV Know the Requirements for an Entry Level Job
Decide on three companies you would like to work for after you graduate and then contact their human resources department to learn what education and experience you must have for an entry level job. I know this sounds inconsistent. But companies want experience when they hire people for entry-level jobs but not necessarily work experience. They will be looking to see that you have had some life experiences in college that demonstrates what are called soft skills. Here are some of these soft skills that human resource managers look for:
Leadership– This is probably the most valued skill of all because a good leader can inspire, motivate and raise the bar for everyone around him or her. Having a good leader at any level in the organization can create a lot of value. The best way for students to develop this skill is to search for leadership opportunities beginning in high school and then in college. This could mean becoming involved in student government or leading an extracurricular activity including professional organizations that have student branches on campus that related to your major where you will also meet with people who have graduated with your major and who can be good references. Carol McNearn, a CPA and a Lawyer, is a YPNG mentor article who goes into detail in her article about the strategy she developed to become involves in these kinds of organizations and other ways she began networking in high school and later college. This deliberate effort helped her get a good job after graduation and should be an important part of your own career planning.
Strong Communication Skills– Employers are looking for people who speak well, write well and understand the importance of listening. This might sound simple, but often people struggle to communicate effectively, and this can slow down business in a world where speed is valued. There are many high school and college organizations where you can demonstrate good communication skills like speech, debate and theater.
Teamwork– Working well with others is critical in most work environments. Rarely is there a job, project, or task that doesn’t have a better result when the minds of multiple people come together rather than going at it alone. Students can develop the skills necessary to effectively work with others in many ways, including participating in athletics and extracurricular activities. You can also opt to complete team-based projects such as service activities during high school and college.
Participating in these activities helps show potential employers that you are someone who will be a motivated, enthusiastic, committed, goal-oriented and will come to work on time each day prepared to do your job.
Also ask the person you are talking to in human resources about any internship programs or financial aid the company might have for college students pursuing majors the company needs. There are several architectural and engineering firms in Oklahoma that offer scholarships to promising students and internships once you have completed one or two years of your college course work.
It is important to know that you are in control of your life. Make good choices that will move you towards your career and life goals.