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(This post was last modified: 05-15-2017, 10:26 AM by Serpius)
Applying to College

Now that you’ve found some schools you’re interested in you to need to start submitting applications. All colleges and universities will require your high school transcripts and ACT (or sometimes SAT) scores in addition to their specific application. You will also want to send your AP scores and your college transcripts if you happened to take any courses at a college while in high school. Not only will these be required for the school to determine any credit that you earn coming in, but they will also boost your chances of getting accepted.

As mentioned above, each school will have their own specific application. Here you will enter generic information such as your name, high school GPA, intended major, etc. After this, applications generally ask for what type of clubs/organizations you were involved with in high school as well as a personal statement.

Clubs and Organizations
In order to increase your chances of getting accepted to your school of choice as well as getting scholarships, you will want to involve yourself in clubs and organizations in high school. Sports are excellent for this, but it’s also very advantageous to join clubs such as Student Government, National Honor Society, and/or a community service club. Colleges, however, want to see that you were a leader in these organizations and not just a member. It is extremely important to include any positions or offices you’ve held whether it be team captain, treasurer, or secretary, as this shows that your organization relied on your leadership and responsibility in order to be running smoothly as opposed to you simply being a regular member.

Personal Statement
The personal statement seems to be the thing that intimidates most students about college applications, and many students don’t know what to write about. Many students think that your personal statement mostly consists of you showing off your talents and why you deserve to be accepted. While this is partially true in that you do want to showcase yourself, colleges more specifically want to see you make connections between the things you’ve done and how those things will make you an excellent addition to their school. Furthermore, they want to know what you can bring to their school and how going to their school specifically is going to help you grow. Statements can be challenging because you have to communicate so much about yourself in a very concise, professional, and fluent manner. If you are applying to multiple schools, you should not use the same statement for each school. Doing this means you have just written a generic statement that is not catered toward the institution to which you are applying. They may be similar, but you will undoubtedly have to make changes when applying to different schools. Here is a statement I wrote when I applied as a transfer student to UW-Lacrosse in 2014:

As an undergraduate student attending a college in my hometown, I am itching to get away and grow in ways that I simply cannot at home. What I would bring to UW Lacrosse is a passion to become the absolute best I can be, and a drive to become as involved as possible. I wish to envelope myself in a new atmosphere and community and be as influential and participatory as possible, whether it be through a leadership position in a club or a teammate on a club sport. After visiting several times and doing research regarding its prestige and opportunities, I feel that UW Lacrosse is an excellent medium through which I can achieve my goals, and I would be very excited to be invited into your community.

As a transfer student, I had, to begin with why I wanted to leave my old school. You can see that I expressed an interest in developing and growing as a person. I then moved into what I would bring to their campus and made sure to explicitly state that UW-Lacrosse would be a good fit for me. Your statements will likely be different than this since you’ll be applying as a freshman instead of as a transfer student, but the idea is the same. In this statement, I probably should have mentioned some specific experience I had or club I was in and how that would contribute to my ability to “bring something” to that campus.

When you’re writing your statement make sure that everything you say has a purpose. Let’s say you were on the football team. How has that developed you as a student or leader? How will that experience help you contribute to the culture of that university? How has it taught you to succeed? Through hard work? Leadership? Anything and everything you mention in your statement should be accompanied with how that has developed you as a student, how it helps you bring something to their campus, or show your motivation and interest in learning and becoming a better person. Remember to be concise and efficient in your wording, for example, you could start off with something like:

From developing leadership skills through being captain of the football team and vice president in Student Government to helping others through community service….

By saying something like that you’ve fit all of your clubs, positions you’ve held in those clubs, how those clubs influenced you (in this case, became a leader), and that you’ve done volunteering all in a single sentence.
You don’t have to and probably shouldn’t go into extreme detail about any certain thing unless asked.

Many colleges will also have multiple statements where they ask you something more specific, so make sure you read the prompt carefully before answering, and always have someone proofread your statement(s) before submitting your application.

Financial Aid
Congratulations on getting accepted to college! Now you have to figure out how to pay for it. Most of you will likely seek some sort of financial assistance to help fund your education. The most common student loan people apply for is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Loans via the FAFSA are loans from the government given to students with low interest rates. The amount will get will depend on your dependency status, your parents’ marital status, your parents’ income, and much, much more. Furthermore, you will generally get more money the further along you are in your education. Submitting the FAFSA as soon as you’re able can increase the amount of money they will loan you, so don’t procrastinate. Remember, however, that the more money you take out in loans, the more you will have to pay back. Also, note that you will have to reapply for the FAFSA every year.

Personal Loans: Subsidized or Unsubsidized?
Many students also take out personal loans to supplement FAFSA if FAFSA will not fully cover their tuition. I am nowhere near qualified to tell you where to take personal loans from, but I can tell you to obviously aim for low-interest rates. Some may also require a co-signer, so make sure you have someone who is willing to do that for you. 

When looking for loans I would suggest you understand the difference between subsidized and unsubsidized loans. In short, subsidized are better in that you will not accrue interest until after you graduate, whereas interest on unsubsidized loans will begin accruing immediately. For example, I personally have already accrued $770.53 in interest from my unsubsidized loans even though I haven’t even graduated yet.

Furthermore, if you choose not to pay the interest on your unsubsidized loans while you’re in school, your loans will capitalize. This means that the interest you have accrued thus far will be added to the principle amount of your loan (the amount you originally borrowed). What this means is that any interest you accrue from then on will now be calculated based on this new principle amount after capitalization instead of your original principal amount. This can get quite complicated and costly so just go for subsidized loans and take out as little as you have to. If you want to read more about unsubsidized/subsidized loans, visit this page.

While loans will be helpful in funding your education, you really do want to do everything in your power to reduce the amount of money you take out in loans (such as taking AP classes!). In terms of financial aid, this will be in the form of grants and scholarships. Grants and scholarships are simply monies awarded toward your tuition/educational expenses that you do not have to repay. These can be awarded based on financial need, academic merit, community involvement, sports, and much more. Nearly any university you consider will offer scholarships that you can apply for, just find them on their website. You should also ask your high school counselor if your school district gives scholarships to students for any reason (Mine gave a certain amount of money every year for four years to the top 5 ranked students who went to a college/university in my state).

Most scholarships are offered by third party sources. These are especially great because if you win one you can apply the money to any school you go to. There are several websites that do an excellent job of collecting and organizing these scholarship opportunities for you, but the best one I know of is FastWeb. On FastWeb, you create a personal account that will help the site match you with scholarships you are eligible for that most closely match your abilities and interests, therefore increasing your chance of applying and potentially winning. FastWeb always updates with new scholarship opportunities and will notify you with ones that match you. It’s an excellent service and a necessity for scholarship seekers! 

Aside from scholarships, FastWeb also offers information regarding FAFSA, private loans, career planning internships, and more, however, just as how Niche specialized in college rankings, FastWeb specializes in scholarships. I have not looked into these resources, but considering how renowned FastWeb is I’m sure they are worth the read.

Choosing Classes
Meeting Requirements
Finally, you’ve graduated high school, gotten accepted to your college of choice, and got all your finances sorted out. Just when you thought the shit storm was over, now you have to figure out your course schedule. Your school may have freshman advisors to assist you in picking your first classes, but you want to be in a position where you understand why they are recommending certain courses to you.

If you know what you want to major in, I would advise either studying the course requirement list (which you can find on the school website) to the point where you know exactly what you need by memory or printing it out. This also goes for the General Education requirements, so go to your school website and print out the General Education requirement sheet. When you are signing up for classes, make sure that every single course you are taking is satisfying some requirement, whether it be a gen ed or for your major. Also, pay attention to prerequisites for upper-level classes that you need and make sure you take those sooner rather than later. If you don’t know your major right away that’s okay, as you will likely be taking mostly gen eds as a freshman. It’s even better if you do know your major right away so you can start hammering out requirements (especially if you’re in the sciences and already have calculus done from AP testing). This can shoot you well ahead of your peers, as simply having done Calculus I, II, & III in high school literally put me in a position to graduate in 3 years.

Cross-listed Courses
One extremely important thing that can fast track your college career is something that not many freshmen know about: cross-listed courses. Cross-listed courses are courses that are considered to be equally relevant to more than one department or subject and therefore can count towards more than one requirement. For example, at my current school, I need the following general education requirements: 3 credit Ethnic Studies, 6 credit Social Sciences. I found a 3 credit course that is considered an Ethnic Studies but is also cross-listed with Social Sciences. This means that upon completion of this course I will need: 0 credit Ethnic Studies, 3 credit Social Science. Keep in mind that even though this course satisfies two different requirements, I still will only earn 3 credits, not 6. So remember that if you “double-dip” like this too much you may not reach the minimum credit requirement for graduation by the time you satisfy all other requirements, but if you come in with enough AP credits you shouldn’t have to worry about that happening.

In my experience, people tend to overlook cross-listed courses, but I take advantage of them as often as possible. My previous example is a real decision I made, and even though that Ethnic Studies course was not my first choice, the fact that satisfied 2 requirements at once made it my priority to take. Taking cross-listed courses can help you graduate a semester or even a year early. If nothing more, it can reduce your course load your senior year. Cross-listed courses can save you loads of time, work, and money, even if it only saves you one class.

Note: Cross-listed courses don’t only apply to gen eds. If you’re double majoring and the majors are similar enough, there may be courses that can count as an elective toward both majors. Back when I was attempting a triple major in Math, Computer Science, and Physics at my old school, I found 2 courses that were cross-listed between Computer Science and Physics. Take these 2 courses became my priority to take because together they effectively satisfied 4 requirements.

Course Grade Distributions
Lastly, when choosing classes you should be aware that some school offers a "Course Grade Distribution" resource. This is something I had never heard of until I transferred to a large public university, so it may not be common among smaller schools, but you definitely need to check if your school has it. What this resource does (at least at my school) is provide you with the ability to select any previous semester and view the grade distribution for any course in that semester - that is, the percentage of A's, AB's, B's, BC's, C's, D's and F's that the students in that class earned.

For example, I just signed up for courses for my spring semester. When choosing classes, I would cross-reference them with the grade distribution of those same classes the previous spring and try to get into classes that had a high-grade distribution. The higher the grade distribution the more likely that it will be easier to get a good grade in the class. You can explore how this resource works for my school here, and I highly encourage you to check if your school offers something similar.

Rate My Professors

If you so desire, you can also use Rate My Professors to get student reviews of what the professors you will have are like. You can search for your school or for specific instructors. I don’t do this, as I don’t like to go into courses with preconceived notions about how difficult they will be or anything else, but it’s a resource nonetheless if you’re interested.

BA vs BS

Depending on which school you go to, you will either be working towards a Bachelor of the Arts or Bachelor of the Sciences. Some schools (like liberal arts schools) only offer one type, but others allow you to choose either. The difference between these degrees generally is that the Bachelor of the Arts gives you a more well-rounded education with more humanities requirements and, whereas the BS has fewer humanities requirements and focuses more on the sciences and math. Here is an example of the difference at my school: BA/BS requirements.

As a teenager who likely has no clue what s/he wants or what college has to offer, finding the perfect college for you might seem like a daunting task. The experiences you have at college will absolutely shape the person you will become. You might feel a lot of pressure to make the “right” choice, but don’t worry. It’s an enormous world and no matter which path you take, you will make lifelong friends and memories.

Hopefully this guide has helped or will help your transition into college. If you’ve made it all the way to the point where you’ve gotten in and picked your classes then I’m excited for you. You are ready to start a new chapter in your life!


Here is a comprehensive list of all resources linked in this guide:
College Board (AP Prep)
Content of ACT
ACT Prep
ACT Registration
Niche College Reviews
College Board’s College Match
Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)
Subsidized Loans vs. Unsubsidized Loans
FastWeb Scholarships
Course Grade Distributions
Rate My Professors
Sample BA vs. BS requirements

This guide was put together by Serpius. 
If you’ve made it this far, thank you so much for reading. Even if you only took one thing away from this guide, I’m glad I made it. Good luck in your educational endeavors!
Luxor Forums
05-15-2017, 10:25 AM

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