How to Ace College Admissions
*This article will run in the August issue of SW Florida Family & Child Magazine.
As a college counselor and blogger, I guide hundreds of students and parents through the college admission process to minimize stress and maximize results. There are simple, yet highly effective, strategies all parents and students should do to successfully navigate the maze of college admissions. This simple process netted my students more than $10 million in scholarships.
1. Academic planning
High schools throughout Southwest Florida provide a wide array of college and career courses that can greatly benefit students when they enter college, from earning your associate of arts degree to employable industry certifications. It is important to know all options and opportunities available. Universities are looking for two things: 1.) a strong academic core of math, English, science, mathematics, social studies and foreign language, and 2.) a student’s passion for a particular subject or field of study. Avoid filler courses that do not fulfill either of those areas.
2. Focus on personality and career, not college name
Many students and parents begin the college process by simply thinking of which college they should attend. There’s a better approach. Consider this: More than 57 percent of adults would have changed one thing about their college experience, from a change in major to choosing another college, according to a recent Gallup poll. Less than 67 percent of Florida college students graduate in six years, according to the Florida Board of Governor’s Accountability Rate. Both of these statistics indicate that students are going into college or programs that are not right for them. To combat this, flip the traditional college-to-major-to-career path to personality-to-career-to-major-to-college. Online programs such as Florida Career Shines (floridashines.org) and the C’reer App begin matching students with career opportunities that fit each student’s needs and then leads them to a major that produces that career. From there, students can connect with the colleges that have that major.
3. College fairs, tours and visits
To understand if a particular college environment is the right fit for your student, use college fairs, tours and visits. College fairs and visits happen at the school, district and state level. This is a great chance to talk with local admission representatives and receive more information about colleges you had not heard of before. Check out nacacnet.org (events) and your school counselor for more information on dates and times. As well, campus visits are vital to the admission process. Whether you just visit the campus on your own or attend a guided tour by the admissions office, walk around campus and its surrounding areas. Be sure to keep detailed notes of each visit, as the amount of information quickly becomes muddled together.
4. College documents
The college application is the student’s primary resource to gain admissions, and not going in with a plan increases the risk of being denied or passed over for scholarships. Students need to do four things to ensure a smooth process:
Make a list of what type of application it is (institutional, coalition application or common app), all documents needed and deadlines.
Write and edit a resume with all education, extracurricular activities, volunteer and work experience, awards and hobbies. This is the base of all applications, so edit multiple times and then copy and paste into each application.
Give your resume to teachers and your school counselor early and ask for letters of recommendation for both colleges and scholarships. Be sure to thank them with a small token of appreciation in return.
Write an essay that tells your unique story. According to the National Association of College Admission Counseling, the essay comprises 25 percent of the overall admission decision, so it needs to be well written, answer the writing prompt and showcase a student’s writing abilities.
5. FAFSA and scholarships
One of the biggest mistakes families make is not completing the Free Application for Federal Financial Aid, more commonly known as FAFSA. In Florida alone, over $100 million is left in free grant money every year because families simply do not apply. Opening October 1, FAFSA should be a necessary part of the application. Florida SouthWestern State College hosts a College Sunday all-day event in late October that provides informative workshops to help families complete the FAFSA.
Other college funding sources include different types of scholarships:
Institutional scholarships: Awarded from the individual colleges. Some are received automatically; others have a separate application process.
Micro-scholarships: Raise.me uses institutional micro-scholarships; as students progress through high school, they enter their resume and grades and are awarded multiple small ($50-$2,000) scholarships that add up to big money.
Local scholarships: The Southwest Florida Community Foundation provided more than $800,000 in scholarships to our Southwest Florida graduates this year and is a vital scholarship resource for students. Multiple foundations exist throughout the region, such as the Community Foundation of Florida and the Charlotte Community Foundation.
State scholarships: The Florida Office of Student Financial Aid funds a variety of scholarships to students, such as first-generation, high achieving (Bright Futures), those with industry certifications, children of deceased veterans, and minority educators. Gov. Rick Scott and state legislators are in discussions about increasing award amounts, so be sure to check on the scholarship requirements.