By Vanessa Barbic, Advisor & Online Program Manager
Students Rising Above
Ask any college-bound high school graduate and chances are they will recommend starting the college application process before beginning senior year. For low-income, first-generation students, this is especially important. A strong support network and ongoing mentoring is needed to help navigate the unique challenges most will face while narrowing down and applying for college admission.
The good news is that resources such as the Students Rising Above (SRA) free College2Careers Hub are available to help incoming high school seniors successfully jump-start the process. Now is an ideal time, as summer begins to wind down, to become familiar with and start utilizing these resources. Getting an early start will not only help prospective college students stay organized, but also will make the overall application process less stressful and more enjoyable.
Below is a list of "To-Do" items college-bound high school seniors can begin working on immediately:
Tip # 1: Understand Your Prospective School's Requirements
It's important to know if your student profile (current grades, test scores, extra-curricular activities, etc.) is a good match for the schools you plan to apply to. You should first conduct research to determine if you meet all of the requirements for admissions before you begin drafting college applications.
During this information-gathering, brainstorm what the most important college categories are to you (location, class size, learning environment). Once you've determined your priorities and understand specific admissions requirements, then you can begin to research colleges that are a good match. You can also make plans to attend one of SRA's free "Balanced College List" webinars in August, available through the College2Careers Hub.
Tip # 2: Narrow Your List Down
Once you create a wish-list of possible schools, it's important to narrow it down by really doing your homework. Research your top choice schools by doing the following:
- Review available "Fly-In" programs and apply to those that interest you. Be sure to plan ahead. Deadlines for these programs are often early, and some of the applications require multiple letters of recommendation in addition to essays.
- Take a virtual tour of the schools that interest you on websites such as YouVisit.
- Be honest with yourself. Does your list include too many "reach" schools? Are you playing it too "safe?" Are you considering too many schools? Make sure to fully research the requirements and understand the requested application information needed for each school that you put on your application list.
Tip # 3: Get Organized
Once your initial research is complete, it's important to become as organized as possible, so you do not miss any important steps or deadlines. The following can help get you started:
- Create accounts for your applications; remember to put together a page with your usernames and passwords.
- Schedule to take (or re-take) the SAT or ACT; sign-up early and check-in with your high school counselor to see if you are eligible for fee waivers.
- Research college application fee waivers in advance.
- If you are interested in applying for a Math or Science major, research if you should take the SAT Subject tests.
- Map out a timeline for campus visits.
- Create a master calendar of key application and financial aid deadlines. If you will be a first-generation college student, acknowledge that you may face unique financial aid challenges.
- Think about which teachers you would like to ask for recommendations; make sure you ask teachers who know you well.
Tip # 4: Get to Work!
Finally, compile essential information needed to complete your college applications. Below are things you can do now, while on summer break, to make the college application season more manageable:
- Brainstorm and start outlining your personal statement; be on the lookout for upcoming SRA webinars on the College2Careers Hub about creating an effective personal statement.
- Keep a file of all of your current high school and community activities/awards in one place on your computer for easy reference.
- Apply to scholarships that are available to you and check the Financial Aid tab on SRA's College2Careers Hub daily for scholarships and resources.
- Create a scholarship file on your computer so you can reuse essays for other scholarships.
Spending just a few minutes each day over summer break to dream, plan and assemble information will result in a more successful college application process come fall. By taking advantage of the numerous available college application resources, you will be ready to seize the life-changing opportunities that the college experience-- and ultimately a college degree-- can offer.
Vanessa Barbic graduated from the University of Southern California with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications, and earned her Master's degree in Career Counseling from San Francisco State University. She joined Students Rising Above in 2013, and provides personal guidance, information and resources to low-income, first-generation college students from the initial college application process, through graduation and into the workforce.