Three Things Local Students Can Do to Prep for College
By Holly McCord Duncan
1. Scrub your social media accounts.
Admission officers are not scouring the internet looking for dirt on applicants. They simply don’t have the time. However, students ARE getting their admission offers rescinded for what they say or do. How do colleges find out? More often than not it is one of two ways. First, someone brings it to their attention. It could be anyone - a jealous classmate or parent, another applicant, or a random person who can see your posts and thinks it relevant. Second, it may be that something in the application itself raised a flag, or you are in the “maybe” decision pile and the application reader is trying to get a better sense of who you are so they Google your name and check out social media.
Regardless, whatever the reader finds is fair game and may affect your future. Now is the time to delete old and unused accounts, verify your privacy settings, review the people who follow you, and most importantly delete anything from your account you wouldn’t want a judge to see. To a stranger, a social media account shows your personality, values, and what you will be like in their community. Raunchy posts of scantily clad men or women, derogatory comments even if meant in jest, racist language, all represent who you are. As do your comments. Control who can post in your feed. Review items before they get posted publicly. Tell your friends not to post trash to your account, and keep in mind whoever reads your application will be older and may have different standards. Whatever it takes, make sure your social media represents who you really are.
2. Start looking for private scholarships NOW
Private scholarships don’t change drastically from year to year. I recommend students start their search between freshman and sophomore years of high school. Use a reputable site like fastweb.com or bigfuture.collegeboard.org. There are many sites, just don’t pay for access or to have someone search for you. This is pretty easy. Once you enter your criteria, it brings back a list of possibilities to sort through. Create a spreadsheet with columns for the name of the scholarship, website, deadline, application requirements, and amount. This will help you prioritize in a time crunch.
3. Use your summers to explore the options
Plan some college tours. There are more than 2000 four year colleges and universities in the USA. California alone has more than 200. Surprised? Each school will have academics and a personality that makes it a good fit or not a good fit. Websites are a start, but to really get a sense of the place schedule a visit ideally when they are in session, but summer will do. You may fall in love or save yourself an application fee. Either way, it will help you define your priorities so you find a school where you will thrive. Do not rule out any school because of the sticker price cost! I can’t emphasize that enough.
Explore your interests too. Some students know they want to be a doctor, lawyer or engineer. But there are many careers 18-year-olds don’t even know about and often students are simply choosing what is familiar. It is fine not to know what you want to be when you grow up. Ask yourself what problems you want to solve, and find opportunities to get involved in those areas.
Santa Barbara has a ton of non-profits if you can volunteer. Or find an office (lawyer, architect, etc.) that would be willing to take on an intern. It may not pay, but the experience will be invaluable. Find a summer camp that focuses on movie making or whatever sparks your interest. And remember, it doesn’t matter how smart you are if you can’t communicate your knowledge it is of limited value.
For the record, if you have to work a summer job to earn money colleges understand and value that too!
Bonus Tips (I always like to exceed expectations!):
Install Grammarly (free version) on your computer right now. Then USE it. There are no excuses for poor spelling or basic grammar mistakes at this stage. Also, learn the difference between active and passive tense writing. Focus on active tense writing.
Use Google Docs, not Word. True story, student was accepted, gave her deposit and thought she was all set. Then college said she plagiarized her essay and pulled her offer. She was able to prove she wrote the essay because Google Docs save the document history. Saved her admission offer too.
Learn how to study. Re-reading and highlighting is deceiving you into thinking you studied effectively. If you are not familiar with the terms interleaving, spaced practice, and retrieval practice you are probably wasting time and effort with less than optimal results.
Special tip for seniors: Start working on your essays. The Common Application question hasn’t changed, and the UCs will be similar if not identical to last year too. CSU applications no longer require an essay. There is no reason you can’t get these done before school starts. If you want to further reduce the stress of senior year, now is the time to identify 9-12 schools that fit the categories of long-shot, 50-50 chance, and safety school and write the essays!
After more than 20 years in higher education, including time as an admission officer at a highly selective liberal arts school, Holly realized students and parents were making assumptions and asking the wrong questions about college. This led students to schools where they weren't a great fit and struggled more than necessary. She is now a bit obsessed with helping students find a school where they will thrive and strongly encourages planning to start no later than sophomore year if possible. But it is never too late to start! You can read more of her free tips at SmartCollegeAdmission.com under Hot Topics.