Be Ready for College Application Season

Chances are, when you’re starting your college applications, you may feel overwhelmed by the list of tasks required for admission. To relieve this pressure, be sure to take this process one step at a time. Here, we’ll cover some crucial steps to take to avoid burnout and imposter syndrome as you apply.

1. Stay organized

We cannot stress this enough. Some things to keep track of for person information are things like your Social Security Number, high school code, transcripts, important contacts, and logins for websites/applications. From there, you need to gather all the information about the schools you’re applying to. Are they featured on the Common App? Is there a separate link for financial aid? How about FAFSA? All good things to keep in mind when sorting through the details.

2. Create a realistic timeline

Grab a planner, notepad, ipad, or whatever helps you list out priorities and put in all your deadlines for college apps. ACT/SAT test dates, registrations, and letter of recommendation deadlines are good to track as well. By sticking to a dedicated timeline, you’ll ease the anxiety or the unknown, keeping things cool during the admissions process.

3. Character counts!

This is your time to shoot your shot and show them what you’re made of! Colleges care about more than GPAs and test score. You’ll want to jot down a list of your passions, extracurriculars, and accomplishments. These other activities and interests will give admissions a better idea of who you are as a person!

4. Pop in to see your school counselor

Your counselor is your biggest fan! Be sure to keep them in the loop about your admissions experience and don’t be afraid to ask questions and feedback on your progress. They may even be the perfect person to serve as a recommendation!

5. Ask questions

There’s a ton to think about when applying to college, and you won’t possibly know ALL the answers! Meet with family members, counselors, your favorite teachers and other support when you’re feeling lost or confused. Share your aspirations and allow them to give you some guidance – they live for that!

6. Take care of yourself!

Self-care is NON-NEGOTIABLE when going through this process. Make time for things that spark joy and boost your serotonin. Just finished an essay? Treat yourself to some coffee! Crushed the ACT? Celebrate with a visit with friends.

Breathe, recharge, and grind. The success is yours!

College Applications: Tips and Tricks

If there’s one thing you shouldn’t drop the ball on in the application process, it’s your admissions essay. Your essays are a raw reflection of your unique abilities to contribute to the institution and allows a space to tell your story. This is an opportunity to display your passions and your writing skills all in one shot.

Some colleges will have specific prompts that they want you to answer, while others will lean toward a more open prompt to tell your personal story. Either way, just be you! This isn’t a word count oriented email, so forget the fluff, ditch the thesaurus, and write from the heart!

Here are some tips for drafting up an undeniably good essay:

1. Start early

Make a map of your essay topics and jot down some ideas and deadlines. We recommend starting this process around spring of junior year or summer prior to senior year. This gives you plenty of time to craft up some good stuff!

2. Create an outline

Next, you’ll want to identify your prompts and start breaking it down into parts. Think about why the admissions team may be asking these questions and what they’re hoping to gain from your response. At this point, you’ll want to pair some personal stories with these ideas and brainstorm all the potential points you’ll want to discuss. One way to organize your thought: write a thesis and make bullet points for a beginning, middle, and end. The rest will easily fall into place.

3. Read some solid examples

Some colleges will publish essay examples on their website, so feel free to use those as inspiration! This will help get a feel for the ways each college celebrates and exemplifies good work. PRO TIP: DON’T PLAGIARIZE.

4. Brainstorm beyond the transcript

When you’re crafting your essay, imagine you’re having dinner with the admissions counselors. They’re holding your transcript and resume, so they have all the nitty gritty details of your application. This is your chance to expand on the topics that are unseen from those documents! No shame in boasting all the amazing things you’ve accomplished!

5. Stick to detailed examples

For your examples, focus on specific details that really tell your story the way you want to convey it. There’s not enough room to write your autobiography, but rather the highlights of your accomplishments. It’s okay if you feel like your topic isn’t anything revolutionary – many schools love taking simple examples and turning them into lessons! Remember, the key isn’t to wow them with your topic, but rather to showcase your writing skills in a way that paints a picture of who you really are.

6. Have people review it

If you’ve taken anything away from this article, it’s to make sure you have some trusted people read your work thoroughly and provide feedback. A good person could be your parent, counselor, or teacher. Be sure to check for grammatical and spelling errors and limit the number of people who review it to around 2 so you don’t get lost in the sauce.

With these tips, there’s no doubt you’ll crush your admissions essays. Feel proud of yourself through this process and take breaks when you’re feeling writer’s block!

Learn the Lingo: Financial Aid Vocabulary

When you’re new to the financial aid process, some terms may sound like a different language. Here we define a list of terms to help you through this process. The terms listed below are universal among colleges in the USA, but there may be terms specific to each college. Don’t be afraid to ask your admissions counselor or financial aid counselor to explain certain terms to you:  

Award Letter: The document you receive from a college that outlines the term of the financial aid being awarded to you. The letter includes the types and amounts of financial aid offered, what you’re expected to do to keep the award and a deadline for accepting the award.  

Cost of Attendance (COA): COA is more than just your tuition. It includes the cost of tuition, room and board, books, laptop, transportation, and other personal costs.  

CSS Profile: Some schools require a CSS (College Scholarship Service) Profile for scholarship consideration. Check your schools of interest to see if they require a CSS Profile from you.  

Expected Family Contribution (EFC): The EFC is the total out-of-pocket amount that your family can contribute towards your college expenses. This amount considers factors such as your family size, the number of family members already enrolled in college (if any), and taxable and non-taxable family income or assets. The EFC uses the information you include on your FAFSA. 

Financial Aid: Money given or loaned to you to help pay for college. Financial aid can come from federal and state governments, colleges, and other organizations.  

Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA): Each year in college you will fill out the FAFSA for need-based aid. You will also need fill out the FAFSA if you wish to take out federal student loans to fund your education. The FAFSA typically opens October 1st for the following school year. If you’re unmarried and under the age of 24, be sure to have your and your parents’ tax info from two years ago. More about the FAFSA here. 

Grant: A kind of “gift aid” – financial aid that doesn’t have to be paid back. Grants are typically awarded based on financial need.  

Loan: Money you borrow from the government, a bank, or another source. Loans needs to be paid back, typically over an agreed period.  

Merit Aid: Financial aid given to students based on their personal achievements. Most scholarships are considered merit aid and can be awarded for success in a variety of areas including the arts, athletics, or academics.  

Need-Blind Admission: The practice of making college admission decisions without looking at students’ financial circumstances.  

Need-Based Financial Aid: Need aware is the opposite of need-blind. Colleges that are need-aware will take students’ ability to pay tuition into consideration when they are making admissions decisions. 

Net Price: Net price is the actual amount a student will pay for college. Typically, this means the published full cost of attendance (tuition, fees, room and board, supplies, and other expenses that are billed by the college/university) minus the amount of gift aid a student receives.  

Net Price Calculator: An online tool that gives you a personalized estimate of what it will cost to attend a specific college. Most colleges are required by law to post a net price calculator on their websites.  

Pell Grants: Pell Grants are federally funded, need-based grants for students who submit their FAFSA application. You do not need to pay back Pell Grants.  

Parent Loans for Undergraduate Study (PLUS Loans): Parents can apply for a PLUS loan up to the Cost of Attendance minus any other aid. To qualify for this loan, parents must have a positive credit history. PLUS loans begin accruing interest and require repayment as soon as they disburse. 

Scholarship: Another kind of “gift aid” – financial aid that doesn’t have to be paid back. Scholarships can be awarded by private organizations, governments, and colleges or universities. They are often based on academic merit, talent, particular areas of study, athletic ability, or other criteria.  

Student Aid Report (SAR): You’ll receive this report via email after submitting the FAFSA that details your expected family contribution (EFC). The SAR is your opportunity to review the information you have submitted and make sure it is accurate. 

Subsidized Loans: Subsidized loans are offered by the federal government and DO NOT accrue interest while you are still enrolled in college. Repayment begins 6 months after either graduation or dropping below half-time status. 

Unsubsidized Loans: Unsubsidized student loans from the government begin accruing interest immediately upon disbursement. Repayment will begin 6 months after graduation or after dropping below half-time status. If you have the ability, consider making interest-only payments while you are in school so that interest won’t capitalize.  

Work-Study: Work-study provides the opportunity to earn money for school by applying for on-campus jobs. Your work-study program will provide you with a certain amount that you are eligible to earn, and you will receive those funds in the form of a paycheck as you would with any other type of job. You can use these funds to help you pay for other costs associated with attending college, like transportation, food, social activities, and other living expenses. 

We hope that familiarizing with financial aid vocabulary will ease any anxieties you may feel about the process. Good luck! 

5 Tips to Rock Your First Internship

Congratulations! You’ve scored a great internship and are laying the foundation for your future as a professional. Internships are a great way to gain hands-on experience and increase your chances of finding a full-time job. Here are some tips to help shake the first day jitters and rock your internship:  

1. Be Prepared 

Do your research before you get there. Read up on the company’s purpose, history, and culture. You should also explore the industry and industry buzzwords. If you want to, you could also ask your supervisor for any reading or pre-work you should do before your first day! 

2. Show Your Commitment 

Show up to work on-time and be sure to get all your work done by the deadlines. Be sure to ask questions if you have them and express your enthusiasm and motivation for learning. It’s imperative to communicate your interest in your work. You should also ask your supervisor for feedback on the projects you work on. Doing this will give you areas to focus and improve upon so that you can make the most of your internship. 

3. Network 

Remember, an internship also offers you the unique opportunity to interact with and learn from people of different age groups and backgrounds. So be sure to introduce yourself and try to meet everyone in the office (or at least your department). Not only will this give insight into the way your company works, but you might also pick up a few extra projects along the way. Who knows, you may even find yourself a mentor too! 

4. Seize Opportunity 

Ask your supervisor about tasks you can work on when you don’t have anything specific to do. Take on the mindset that you want to contribute as much as you can before you leave your internship. By asking for more responsibilities, you may land a project that you can highlight on your resume and promote in future job interviews. By seizing each day, you will be able to keep yourself busy and set goals for yourself. 

5. Give It Your Best 

Doing the best you can is the most important rule when completing work-related tasks. By jumping into each task with everything you have, you are more likely to do a good job.  

By the end, be sure to thank your employer for the wonderful opportunity! Hopefully, with these tips, you will leave your internship with a valuable experience that taught you about the workplace and allowed you to forge relationships with professionals. Be sure to keep in touch even after the experience is over! 

4 Reasons Why Volunteering is Good for You

With hectic schedules, classes, jobs, and extracurriculars, it may seem impossible to find the time for volunteering. However, there are plenty of advantages to engage in service work. Here are a few reasons to do good and feel good: 

1. Give Back to the Community & Make an Impact 

Volunteering is a great way to make a difference within your community to make it the best it can be. Unsure of where to start? Try checking out your local animal shelters, food pantries, local libraries, art museums, retirement homes, hospitals, and so on. No matter the area of service you choose to be involved in, there is always room for helping hands. 

2. Gain Valuable Experience 

Your volunteering experience can help you improve on all kinds of skills, including public speaking, project management, teamwork, and maybe even practice with a second language. With these skills, you will boost your college applications and future employment prospects! Because volunteering requires passion and positivity, including it on your college applications or resume will give you a chance to share something personal with colleges and future employers. 

3. Meet New People 

Whether you’re volunteering at an animal shelter or helping at a food bank, you’ll be surrounded by other people who share your interests and values—and who want to help others too! Use community service as a chance to make new friends, network for your future, expand your support system, or simply feel a part of something bigger than yourself. 

4. Improve Your Health 

Researchers have found, through the measurement of brain activity and hormones, that helping others brings us great joy. Further, people who engage in altruistic activities feel a greater sense of meaning and purpose resulting in less stress and anxiety. Building self-esteem and developing self-confidence, service work has also shown to improve the mental health of people who suffer from addiction and various mental illnesses. 

Volunteering can be a rewarding hobby that ties you to your community and make a positive impact on those around you. To make sure your volunteer position is a good fit, be sure to ask questions about time commitments, training, and the team you’ll be working with. If one position doesn’t work out, don’t be afraid to explore other options. There are plenty of people and organizations that need help from someone just like you! 

Match Your Career Goals to Your College Major

As a college student, it’s okay if you don’t know exactly what you want to do after you graduate. If you’re feeling overwhelmed with all the options before you, we get it. You’ve got so many choices, and no idea where to start.

Work Backwards

You’re not alone. In fact, we recommend figuring out which career you want, and then shaping your education based on those dreams. That way, when you’re ready to go out into the world and start looking for a job or internship, you can focus on refining the skills that will help get you there—not just finding something that sounds good on paper.

If you want to be an astrophysicist but didn’t take physics in high school, don’t let that stop you from pursuing your dream! Just take the classes that will help give you the skills you need.

Consider Time and Money

Let’s be real, education isn’t cheap! If you’re hoping to save some money while earning a potential degree, consider saving some cash by kicking off at a community college and transferring later. If you’re interested in attending graduate or medical school, we love that for you! Just consider the cost and be sure to really research some options for financial aid.

Visit Your School’s Career Center

Meet with advisors who will help identify skills and interests that are related to specific fields of study; discuss ways in which those skills can be translated into job opportunities; learn how different majors prepare students for certain careers; determine what educational or professional requirements exist before entering a particular field of study; explore options available within each major; and explore options outside of each major that may lead toward career goals.

Find your fit and focus!

If the first step of choosing a career doesn’t work for you, then focus on the fit of your major. Take note of how you feel during different classes. Do you see yourself doing this type of work in the future? Trust your intuition; do you have an overall sense of ease or belonging when it comes to your major? Reflect, and adjust accordingly!

Matching your major to your future career is all about setting yourself up to achieve your dreams and aspirations. No matter where you are in this process, keep these steps in the back of your mind. Though we encourage you to contemplate these big questions about your future, don’t let it stress you out. You will figure it out, we promise!

Display Your Awesome with a College Brag Sheet

College applications are a lot like dating. You have to make a good first impression, and you have to do it fast. That’s why you need to create a brag sheet! It’s basically like a resume, but it includes all of your achievements in one spot.

What is a College Brag Sheet?

A brag sheet is basically like a resume. It’s an easy way to put all your achievements in one spot and make them easy for admissions officers to see. A brag sheet is a great way to organize all the parts of your application that tell the college what makes you awesome.

Why Create a College Brag Sheet?

Why create one? Putting all your achievements in one spot is key when you have a short time to make a first impression. Your teachers writing letters of recommendation will also appreciate your brag sheet. Oftentimes, teachers will have numerous letters to write. In passing along your resume, you’re giving an outline of all your cool qualities with specific examples. This makes the writing process easier on your teachers and boosts the quality of your letter of recommendation. When your teachers have a better idea of who you are, it’s easier to praise you for all your achievements!

What to Include

Your brag sheet should be concise and professional, and no more than one page long. Also, avoid fonts that are difficult to read. You should include the following information: 

  • Your name and contact information
  • Expected graduation date
  • GPA and standardized test scores
  • Extracurricular activity participation
  • Volunteer work
  • Work experience
  • Any awards or recognitions
  • Any leadership roles 
  • Goals for the future related to college

College brag sheets are useful during the college application process and should be the “IG Feed” of your academic and professional experience! (Only the best stuff gets put on the feed) Don’t forget to include goals that you’re working toward in the future, too. You want this document to reflect who YOU are, so don’t be afraid to be creative!

Building Your College List

When you’re applying to college, building a list of programs that interest you is essential. Knowing where to begin can be the hardest part, to be honest. With so many opinions flying around you, “Go here”, “Do this”, “They haven’t won a championship game in 12 years”, it can be so overwhelming to even know what it is you want in a college experience.

HERE’S YOUR REMINDER, FRIEND: This is YOUR education and YOUR choice on what’s going to be the right move for you. There are plenty of options out there for everyone, and not every campus is the same. Take some notes on some important guides to keep your mind in the right place as you build your dream college list.

Nail down your numbers

You’ll be amazed at how much you can accomplish when you know exactly where you stand. You won’t be surprised by what’s possible—or what isn’t—and it will help you make sure that the things that are most important. You know that test score and GPA is going to be a factor, so be realistic in your hunt when looking at requirements at different campuses.

Weigh those priorities!

What’s important to you? Is it a social scene? Location by city? Interested in the top STEM program in the Northwestern US? SO many things to consider when picking the next step in your life! Write a list from 1-10 on what factors play a part in choosing the right school. You’ll be surprised at what takes the top of the list!

Know yourself and your situation

Self-exploration and self-reflection are critical to knowing your unique personal situation. Start by owning your personal ambitions and build a roadmap for how to get there. What interests you? Which subject inspires you? What problem in the world do you want to help solve? If you don’t know what profession interests you, that is okay! There are college programs set up to help you explore that. Clarifying your career goals and interests will help you select schools that can support you the way you need.

Identify your support circle

Friend, you can’t possibly do this alone! Whether you know it or not, you have people who are cheering you on and ready to see you win. These same people can offer motivation, wisdom, and advice. You can turn to family, friends, coaches, teachers, counselors, and peers for guidance! Never forget though: This is your journey. A strong support system can serve as a board as you continue to unpack your priorities, make decisions, and plan for life after high school.

If you don’t know where you’re going, how will anyone else?

So here’s what we’re going to do: we’re going to take some time to reflect on where we are right now, what our priorities are and how much support we have in our lives—and then we’re going to decide together where we want to go from there. Cheering you on from Encourage – you got this!