Week 4 Strategy: Organization

Week 4 Strategy: Organization

The college process is a multi-month exercise of taking in and managing a lot of information. And all that information that matters in getting the money you need and making a solid college choice, not to mention saving time – which is at a premium senior year.

Staying on top of deadlines and paying attention to detail are essential, and having an organization system specific to your college journey is best tackled before classes start, or within the first two weeks of school. You need a planner, too but that’s a post of its own!

I’m a fan of a hybrid system: an old-school binder AND electronic docs well organized into folders. Why not just make it all electronic? You definitely can, but hear me out on the binder thing.

Here’s what works best in electronic folders:

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Drafts of your application essay(s) and personal statement(s). You don’t have to write here if your composition process works best on paper, but when you get the draft close to completion, it is worthwhile to transfer it into electronic form. This will smoothly accommodate last inputs and edits and, you’ll have it all ready to cut/paste when the deadline nears.

Bonus One. Typing your essay is anothe rofrm of editing and revising.

Bonus Two.  You’ve got a changeable piece of writing you can use again for similar prompts in scholarship apps.

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Brag sheet. You can create yours electronically or manually – whatever works. For ease of customizing it for your recommenders, and sharing via email or Google, electronic doc is the way to go.

These things are efficiently managed in paper format:

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Usernames and passwords for each college. Also notate challenge question answers etc. (This could be captured in a spreadsheet also)

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Your school transcript. You’ll be referring to this quite a bit when you’re filling out applications. Paper is less distracting than toggling back and forth between sites and increases accuracy as you manually input numbers and info from one source into another.

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FAFSA information. Usernames and passwords. Misplacing user credentials for the FAFSA can end in major frustration so make sure you’ve got it all together. Also, note the email address and phone number you entered. Best practice – write all of this down as you are doing the FAFSA! 

Print copies of FAFSA generated reports (like the SAR) because they provide info about your federal aid and are an early baseline of the $ you have available to you. Some students print out a copy of their completed FAFSA. 

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Entrance and placement exams info. Yes, this is generally handled electronically. Still, having paper copies of score reports makes them easier to digest and to share with coaches or counselors. Ditto on storing your user credentials.

Depends on your style:

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Your college list will be fluid over time.  Pencil-Eraser or Cut-Past metholds both work.

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Scholarship lists. Do consider electronic spreadsheets so you can save links for quick access when you’re ready to apply.

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Letter of recommendation tracking.

Also in the binder:

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Materials and letters you receive from colleges or acquire while on a visit.  Organize according to college.  Later, you’ll add acceptance letters, financial aid offers.

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Written instructions provided by your high school counselor. Most schools have procedures/policies for transcript requests and letters of recommendation. All in one place will be a time saver.

Hope you find these organizational suggestions useful. If you have a system that works for you, by all means, continue on. Just make sure you’re taking control!

Organize on!

Week 3 Strategy: The Brag Sheet

Week 3 Strategy: The Brag Sheet

Quite a lot of effort goes into studying for the ACT, making your college lists and writing a knockout essay. Even though you might be a bit worn out, resist the temptation to take a laid back approach to securing your letters of recommendation. Many admissions counselors have said that a powerful letter is often the factor that leads to the “yes” pile.

You probably won’t be asking teachers until the semester is underway and application due dates are coming closer. But, you can take some steps now to give your recommenders exactly what they need to write an enthusiastic and personal vote of support that makes you stand out in the crowd.

I tell my students to pull together a request packet that includes a cover sheet of general details, a resume, and a brag sheet. Sounds a little egotistical but when framed correctly, it won’t read that way. And trust me – with all of the requests teachers, coaches and mentors get to write letters, they will appreciate the thoughtful details to personalize their reflections.

Drafting the brag sheet now will ensure you have plenty of time to present your recommenders with everything they need to write a letter that gets you in! Here are a few prompts to get you started on a brilliant brag.

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What adjectives (2-4) describe you? Give specific examples or a story of a time when you exemplified these qualities.

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What are your favorite subjects, or what classes influenced you during your high school years?

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Describe and explain your pride in one accomplishment while in high school. This can be a project, a paper, sticking with it and mastering a difficult concept, learning how to work collaboratively, or anything else you’re proud of.

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Describe a significant challenge or obstacle you’ve had to overcome. How did you do it? What did you learn from the experience?

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What extracurricular activity has been most important to you? Why?

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Have you decided on your college major or future career? If so, what is it? If you haven’t decided, what are you looking forward to exploring in college?

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Over your four years in high school, what have you learned about yourself? How have you changed?

Slide your completed responses in that binder we’ve been talking about; ready for a quick touch up in a month or two.

Now go to it and be proud

of all you have become!

Week 2 Strategy: Essay Pre-Writing

Week 2 Strategy: Essay Pre-Writing

A killer essay is a make or break part of your college app, and sets you up to be noticed when competing for scholarships. A good one takes some time to craft. “Written the night before” probably won’t cut it, but you can get off to a strong start with these pre-writing activities.

 

Fast & Furious

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Print out the essay prompts from the Common Application. Yes, they’re the same as the questions used last year.

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Pick one. I like the idea of placing them all face down in front of you (kind of like the old-school Memory game) and picking one up at random.

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Set a timer for 10 minutes and jot down anything that comes to mind.

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Repeat for a second prompt. You can spread this out over several days or do all of the prompts in one sitting but the idea is to get some ideas flowing and get some ideas about what your approach could be to each question.

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Save your answers for each (remember that binder I suggested?) and add ideas as they come to you. The goal is to get your creative thinking going and have some material to begin writing with.

P.S. This can be fun with friends. Pass out the prompts, hit the timer and when the buzzer sounds, share and discuss your ideas.

Sometimes, you gotta say what’s on your mind 

Instead of starting with pen and paper, try talking your way to the best ideas.

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Open up your voice memo app.

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Read the prompt(s) out loud.

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Record your answer to the question as you would in an interview.

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Transcribe what you adi onto paper and you’ve got some great material to work with.

As with the process above, you can easily do this one with friends who can help make it into a more interactive interview.

What makes it work?

You are not the first (or the last) to write a college essay. One way to get a feeling for the kind of piece you’re trying to craft is to read essays of others.

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Try searching for “college essays that worked” and you’ll have a treasure trove of inspiration.

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What is the tone, voice, and length of each? Did the writer find a unique angle or device that made the essay work?

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Highlight and save the pieces that speak to you to re-read when you start writing.

Happy Writing!

Week 1: Hunt and Gather

Week 1: Hunt and Gather

Doing this step now will save you valuable time later when you’re fully into college and scholarship application and are preparing your brag sheet.

An old-school 3-ring is one of the best tools to keep track of your lists, your outlines, drafts and other bits you collect in the process.

Let’s go!

Create a list of your extracurricular activities

both inside and outside of school.

Ultimately, this is more than just a list. It is an important reflection of who you are as a person and what you value, so time spent on this step helps you be strategic with the limited space you have in any given application.

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List all of the extracurriculars you have been involved in from 9th grade forward.

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Next, shuffle the list into sub lists – this will help you narrow in on which activities to highlight on the common application or, use it to provide great ideas for writing application or scholarship essays.

Sublist 1  – List your activities in order of most meaningful to you.

Sublist 2 – List your activities in order of the most time committed.

Sublist 3 – List your activities in order of preparation for your intended career or college major i.e. if you intend to major in pre-med, your volunteer gig at a local hospital or organizing a blood drive at your school will be at the top.

Compile your honors.

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Make a list of all of your academic honors.

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Do the same for other honors i.e. volunteer of the month, employee of the month, leadership award, Eagle Scout, etc.

As you did with your extracurriculars, shuffle each list into the honors that mean the most to you or, best demonstrate your preparation for an intended career major.

Round up miscellaneous stuff

you never really think about.

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What is the address of your school? You’ll need the zip code, too.

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Name and email address of your counselor.

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Your parents/legal guardian information – the app will ask for their birthplace, educational background and occupation. (Save this – you’ll need it for FAFSA, too.)

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Test scores and test dates for the ACT or SAT.

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Names and contact information for prospective recommenders.

Academic Information.

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If you have access to your unofficial transcript, print it out and put it in the notebook to refer to when you begin your apps.  Even though your school will send an official transcript, you still have to “key in” a lot of detial about your grades and classes you have taken.

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If you’ve moved around during your high school years, you’ll need to fill in the schools you attended.

Happy Listing!

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