www.whyville.net Jan 13, 2013 Weekly Issue

Whyville Columnist

The College Chronicles: The First Step

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While many people may not want to go or be able to go, I suspect that college is something that many of you will consider. Because of this, I wanted to write about some of my experiences just to give everyone a taste of what it might be like.

"College" used to be easy to define. The first thing that came to mind was "a place to learn and get a degree so I can get my dream job." But now that I'm actually in college, it is so much harder to sum up what it is. When I was in high school, I read every article, every book, every forum about what it was like to be in college. I listened to every piece of advice and wisdom from my older friends who had gone before me. I had an idea of how things would be, but I really could never have imagined how it would feel being here.

There are so many aspects of college beyond education that even if I write 100 of these articles, I could never get to them all. Besides, half the fun is finding out (I know, I didn't like hearing that either, but I'm realizing it is true.)

So while there are many, many places to start, I'll start at the beginning: applications.

You've made it through about three and half years of high school. You've taken all the tests. You've gotten your results, and maybe you've even retaken your tests (I took the ACT three times; I didn't really score poorly, but I managed to improve my score three points, and those three points saved me about $16,000 a year and earned me 6 credits). You've done the research on where you want to go and why and what for and when. All you have facing you now is a stack of (probably virtual) paperwork, and they all want to know your name, your birthday, and your grades. Most will probably want an essay so they can get a sense of your personality in between all those numbers.

At the time, college and scholarship application season seemed like the most stressful time of my 18-year life. I worked pretty hard in high school, and I hated the idea that despite all my hard work, a few numbers on a piece of paper could make me change my goals. Looking back, though, applications weren't as intimidating as they seemed. Most are pretty short, and a lot of schools use the Common Application. Basically, you fill out one application which is accepted by hundreds of schools. Sometimes you have to fill out one extra page for your specific school, but it's not as bad as it seems. The essays are generally short and common, so you can often get away with modifying the same essay. By the end, I might even say I had fun.

Scholarship applications can be a little rougher than college applications simply because their criteria is generally more specific. Colleges have standards, too, but theirs is more of a range that can sometimes be altered if one part of your application is strong enough to make up for a weaker portion. Scholarships, though, usually have a cut-off, and even if you meet the criteria, you may not get it. Of course, not all of them are based on your writing or academic skill. There are scholarships for being tall, being short, being left-handed, and having a certain name. Some are even just lotteries. This part of the application process is even more stressful because sometimes, even if you get into your dream school, you may not be able to pay for it, and if you can't pay, you can't go. "LOANS" is a word you've already come to hate, even though you don't have them yet, so that leaves you with scholarships. Scholarships that sometimes only have a handful of winners, but thousands of applicants. Yep. Totally worse than silly old admittance applications. Don't worry though. As I said -- there are scholarships for everything.

Although it seems like there is nothing fun about the process, enjoying it is the most important thing you can do. I still believe that a big reason my essays and applications were accepted was because I enjoyed writing them, and it showed. Colleges want people who want to be there. Show that in your essay, and you already start out ahead.

There are all sorts of technical tips I could get into about filling out applications or writing essays, but my goal is to tell about the experience, not the details. If you have questions, talk to your high school advisor, call the colleges you're interested in, or search online.

Once you click those submit buttons on your applications, you're not finished; you've only just begun.

Feel free to y-mail me or comment with your own questions, things you'd like me to write about, or your own experiences if you're in college.


Author's Note: Keep in mind that these are just my experiences. I'm a sophomore, and my university is medium sized, of medium academic standing, and located in a medium sized city. So, while I don't speak for every college and university out there, I've got a good general view of things. Every college is different, and while I generalize about some things, I've found there are always exceptions. Be sure to do your research!


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