So this is long overdue, but I figured I’d share some information about what I learned at the College Conference at Yale!
To begin with: If you haven’t seen my previous post about QuestBridge itself, I definitely recommend reading that. It explains the program and why it’s so important and it also gives insight into who can apply, as well as mentioning some other opportunities! So if you are looking into colleges and you want to know more about the process, definitely check it out.
With no further ado, here is what I learned at the 2017 Yale College Conference.
I won’t go into too much detail out of respect to those that organized it, but here are some important things that I learned:
Session 1: Applying to Colleges
1. Think about what you want in a college
There are a lot of different things to consider when applying for colleges: the type of college, the location it is in, the weather you’ll experience year-round, and the size of the student body are all things you need to consider when applying. If they don’t matter as much to you then great! But if you really can’t work when it’s too hot, or the cold just kills you, then maybe the weather is really important. Oh and do you not like being one person out of many, preferring a tighter community of students? Do you want to be close to a big city, or even in one? And how important is the distance from home? Thinking about that now will make the process a lot easier.
That being said…
2. Don’t get caught up in what a college stereotypically may be
This is where college visits are very important. Just because a college may be liberal arts does not mean there is a lack of research opportunities for students that are interested in them. The same goes the other way around: a research-oriented school could also have a very balanced, liberal-arts curriculum. So make sure to not knock colleges off just for what they may be. The same also goes for size: many students that immediately discard big schools do so because they don’t think they’ll get good attention from a teacher. However, all schools do their best to minimize class sizes. A big school also has a lot of classes and majors, so its size is no guarantee that all your classes are going to be big as well. Even for small schools, there are usually required classes anyway, and those are going to be really big. Know what you want, but research more about colleges you are looking into to see where that fits in.
3. Colleges do look at you holistically
Some colleges are definitely going to have priorities, but many colleges look at you holistically because it is in their benefit to do so. Good grades and good test scores do not explain your person or character as much as what you’re involved in, so definitely make sure that you are taking the time to pursue your passions and interests in High School. If it’s a bit unconventional, don’t worry about it! You’ll be able to explain everything even though it may be new and unique. They also definitely look at all four years, so try and start as soon as you become a Freshman! But don’t force it. Don’t join FBLA and Model UN unless you are genuinely interested, and don’t try and do as much as possible. Colleges can tell which students do things because they are passionate about them versus just trying to build their resume, and (no surprise) they overwhelmingly support the former.
Session 2: Making College Affordable
1. The in-and-outs of paying for college
Here are a few things you need to know. First: tuition is not the only cost you need to worry about. There’s also room, board, books and supplies, travel, insurance, and personal expenses, so keep that in mind when calculating costs. Second: financial aid for college can either be grants and scholarships (money that doesn’t need to be repaid), money from work opportunities (which many colleges have for the summer), and loans (have to be repaid). Everything outside of those three categories is the Expected Family Contribution (EFC), which can be family income and assets/investments. Third: whatever money is still needed after all of the financial aid and EFC is added up is your unmet need, which is the amount of money you do not have.
2. Financial aid forms
If you need financial aid, then the following forms and deadlines are super important. First: if you are in the dark about what money you may or may not need, then definitely check out the net price calculators that all colleges offer, as mandated by law. Now, as for the forms, the first one is the FASFA. It looks at how much federal financial aid you are eligible for, and it always opens October 1 for your Senior year, where you can apply for free here. You need to apply as soon as possible and make sure that you have 2016 tax return information, which you can find through the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT). Another important form is the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE, which is actually required by a lot of colleges. There is a $25 application fee, with an additional $16 for every additional school, but that can be waived if you apply. It is available at the same time as the FAFSA form, and you can find that here. And finally, make sure that you are on top of any specific forms that colleges themselves may require outside of the two mentioned.
3. Don’t think there is no way you can afford a college
To begin with, there is a lot of opportunities out there for scholarships. Millions of dollars actually, and you just need to be diligent enough to be able to find all of them. Some really good websites I’d look into are College Greenlight (which also has a very useful blog), Fastweb (probably the best website out there for finding scholarships available to students), and Raise.me (which is pioneering Micro-Scholarships, which reward you for simple things like getting A’s and good test scores). Students that live in families which earn less than $60,000 a year for four total people are going to receive substantial amounts of need-based aid because they just cannot pay for it. But then there are students that are in the awkward position where they are not that low-income, yet also not high-income-enough to actually afford college. I still would not blow good colleges off because of their cost, especially expensive ones because they actually give a lot of financial aid to all students that get admitted since they have so much money already. In fact, they are in a better position to give aid than smaller colleges, so do not be too concerned. Some even go as far as to “meet 100% of demonstrated financial need”, meaning that they’ll make sure you can pay for everything (so look out for that too; complete list here). The catch? Admissions are more likely than not going to be need-blind, which means they don’t take income into consideration when admitting students. But if you are good enough to get in then they will make sure you can! Think of the motive: Colleges are looking for great students, and if you really are they’ll do what they can to pay for you.
Session 3: Telling your Story
1. This is not writing you are probably going to be used to (although you may be)
A lot of students are perplexed by how hard this portion of the application is, because they’ve always been good writers in High School. However, this is an entirely different type of writing: this is storytelling, and most students are not that well versed in it. So you need to definitely be open throughout this process to criticism, critiques, and revisions because you are never going to get it right the first time. And if you think you did you need to go over it again and again and again because this may be one of the most important parts of your application, so there is no room to be cocky about it.
2. Find a moment that explains something about you while addressing the topic
Many students are prone to writing about experiences: events that take place over several months or weeks that proved to be life-changing for the individual. However, that probably is not the approach one should be taking. There is a lot of material in an experience that needs to be covered for it to be told well, and you have a limited word count. What you should do instead is find a moment: something singular in your life that changed you, and explain about that. It could be when you shot the final shot at a basketball game, walked up on stage nervous if you had won, or your first impressions at a job or person. The outcome doesn’t need to be explained in detail! But it’s those moments that you will have enough time to talk about and explain, rather than an experience. Also: make sure that it is relevant to the prompt and that it explains something about you that you think colleges need to know about you. It may be your courage, tenacity, or even your background, but if you think it’s an important quality about you, then a college needs to know that too.
3. Write in your own voice (with limits)
College admissions officers want to feel like they’re reading a story, so you need to make sure you’re telling it as such. If you have a geeky sense of humor, then write your story in that way! Or maybe you’re the confident and snarky person in your class; if you are, then write your story like that too! But be careful…Colleges don’t want to admit people that come with negative attributes like arrogance, pride, and selfish. If you are one of those things then try not to talk in that way. But, more often than not, talking in your own voice is the best way for a college to know about who you are. Just like everyone has a style of voice, so does everyone have a way of writing. Yours is unique! So don’t lose it in your college essays.
So that’s what I learned at the College Confernce! If you have any questions at all then feel more than free to ask in the comments below! And if you think you qualify for the program then definitely check it out, because it will be well-worth it. Good luck!