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!

Applying to College 101

Applying to college? LOOK AT YOU! So proud. The college application process can be confusing and overwhelming, especially if you’ve never been through it before. But have NO fear, as always, we’ve got your back by gathering some common questions that students have about the process. By the end of this article, we’re hoping for solid confidence moving into the application process!

Some Common Questions

1. When should I start applying for college?

The timeline of college applications typically requires planning, due to the nature of how early the portals open for applicants! Most applications open about a year before you attend school.

Here’s a simple example: If you hope to go to college in the fall after your high school graduation, your application will open in the summer before your senior year or in the fall of your senior year. What can you do to best prepare for application season? Decide what schools you want to apply to, take the ACT/SAT, read some stellar examples for college admissions essays, and ask for some letters of recommendation from your favorite teachers and counselors. Oh, and breathe – you’ve got this.

2. Where do I find application(s)?

Straight up, you’ll want to hit up the website of the college you’re applying to. Great place to start your search. From there, you’ll either be directed to a common application software or apply directly on their website. When you discover this info, you’ll also see the other requirements for getting into the program you want. This typically will highlight essay topics, application fees, test score range requirements, and how many letters of recommendation you may need.

3. Which semester should I apply for?

Typically, you’ll find yourself so excited that you’ll jump into fall semester applications without even thinking. PLOT TWIST: You have some other options! Let’s say you want to take some time to yourself to work before going to save up some cash; Spring may be a more viable option for you. Keep in mind that some colleges require a mandatory summer session so you can kick things off sooner! There are SO many perks to starting during the summer semester so you can have a sneak peek of what campus has to offer before the whole squad unpacks for fall.

4. What do I need to apply, though?

A short, but necessary list of things you’ll need:

  • Essays
  • Letters of Recommendation
  • Application Fee/Fee Waiver (Ask your school counselor about these!)
  • High School Transcripts
  • Vibes, Just Vibes

5. I’m done with my application, now what?

Now’s the time to tap into other parts of your to-do list:

  • Have you scheduled a chat with your counselor? Now’s the best time to remind them just how cool they are for giving you their lifehacks.
  • Filling out your FAFSA information sooner than later is the move, so be sure to create a login sooner rather than later.
  • Submit those updated ACT/SAT scores, it’ll only take a quick sec.

Types of Applications

Early Decision

Some pros, some cons. This gives you a chance to apply early (typically around November) to your first-choice school. You’ll receive your admission decision in advance of the regular notification date (usually December).

! Heads up: Be mindful that with early decision, you can only apply to one school under early decision. If you’re accepted, you must agree to attend if you’re given an adequate financial aid package. You can submit regular decision applications but must be withdrawn once accepted.

Early Action

Like Early Decision, Early Action allows you to submit your application earlier than the regular deadline and receive an admission decision early in the admissions cycle. Unlike Early Decision, Early Action is not binding. You still have the opportunity to apply elsewhere and weigh all of your options before making a final choice.


When colleges are test-optional, they are waiving the requirement of ACT or SAT test scores. This gives you the choice to submit testing scores or not. If you’re not sure if you should apply test-optional, read these tips.

Deferred Admission

When you receive your admission letter, there’s a possibility you will see the word “deferred.” The word “defer” means to delay. You’ll usually see this if you apply early to a school. If you’re deferred, your application will be deferred into the regular decision pool. As an applicant, you can be deferred for many reasons, so don’t be discouraged.

Rolling Admission

Colleges with rolling admission keep applications open for a large window of time. They also process applications as they are received, rather than after a hard deadline. This usually means the earlier you submit, the earlier you know your admission decision.

How to Pick a Career (That Makes Sense For YOU)

If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you’re trying to figure out how to pick a career that makes sense for you. Sometimes it’s easy to listen to the noise everyone in your life has been telling you… “Be this”, “Do that”, and everything between. The only way you can truly know is by asking the right questions, getting your hands dirty, and trying some career options through a part time role, internships, shadowing, and more. Consider asking these questions when deciding which career makes sense for you!

What are the pros & cons about this career choice?

Like anything, you’re likely to face some positives and negatives regarding your decision. Above all, you career should reflect your core values. Positives will seem like “wins” to you, while negatives may seem as though you may be sacrificing something in order to work there. Be sure to evaluate the pros and cons from your perspective, and if the positives outweigh the negatives, you’re likely going to find more joy in the career you choose.

Is there a work/life balance?

Sure, we spend a HUGE chunk of our week at work, but you can’t forget – it’s not your whole life. Know how much personal time you need when looking into a career and take note of this when you are experiencing the work/life balance in the job.

What does your schedule look like?

This goes hand in hand with the aspect of work/life balance because many careers go beyond your typical 9-5 workday. This makes total sense because you’re not a workhorse and you deserve some time to relax every day! A great example of a demanding workflow is that of a nurse or firefighter; an 8-hour shift is simply not in their description! When you make a career choice, consider the hours you’ll need to work. Does this align with the lifestyle you’re hoping to achieve?

Is location important?

Short answer: probably. You want to have a real moment with yourself and consider your geographic preferences when talking about location and what it means to you. Some careers are more widely available in larger cities, while others can be found anywhere! This is the best time to be real with yourself on the kind of lifestyle you’re wanting to achieve so you can enjoy your environment.

What are the educational requirements?

Most careers are going to require some extent of training and educational background in order to qualify for the role. Consider your time and money as an investment. Will this investment help pay the bills AND make you happy? If considering a formal education for the role, keep in mind of the options to pay back any debt you take on while earning the necessary credentials.

When you’re exploring your options, it’s important to gain multiple perspectives and really take into consideration what’s important to you. It’s normalized these days to change careers throughout a lifetime, so never forget to keep an open mind and stay true to 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!

7 Ways Your Counselor Can Help

You already know how important it is to make your school counselor your BFF, but you may not recognize just how much of a useful resource for you and your family during your time in high school. Their whole intention is to provide support and help you plan and succeed in your future, beyond academics. It’s highly encouraged to visit your high school counselor early and visit them often! Need some motivation to make an appointment? Here are a few reasons why you should consider making some time on your schedule to meet up with your new bestie.

1. Selecting courses and fulfilling graduation requirements

Have questions about class schedules, your transcripts, graduation status, or really… anything? Your counselor has your back. They can help balance your schedule and align you with challenging coursework and electives based on goals to get you right on track.

2. Helping you talk through the tough stuff

Sometimes the stress comes from beyond the books. This looks different for everyone, and if you find it to be a struggle, your counselor is equipped to make sure they’re supporting you through it all. It could be some challenges at home, troubles with interpersonal relationships, or a mental health funk – whatever it is, they’re certified and trained to help guide you through best practices to manage emotions, relationships, and hardships in time of need.

3. Striking a balance

You’ve got a lot going on, and we commend you for all the awesome things that keep you going through the week. A high school schedule is highly underrated! It can be difficult to maintain a balance between schoolwork, meetings, sports, part-time work, volunteering, and social commitments. Your counselor is the ideal coach to guide you as you work out a healthy balance to keep you from burning out.

4. Planning for YOUR future

Everyone’s future is different, and your school counselor is no stranger to the different paths students take post-graduation. Want to join the military? They likely have details for a recruiter to get you in contact with. Need a job right after high school? They can assist with some resume building. Want to attend college or trade school? Guaranteed, they have some insight on how to best get you there. No matter your path, your school counselor may have opportunities for you to explore your options. At the very least, they can ensure that you are progressing towards graduation! 

5. You need a reference, right?

Need we say more? In all seriousness, you need someone to vouch for your excellence. This could be used as a recommendation letter for college or acting as a reference for a job interview. Either way, it’s vital to have an adult in your corner who can attest for your character, work ethic, and overall will to grind.

6. Making big decisions

You’ll have a lot of major decisions to make while in high school, big or small. No matter what, the decisions are in your hands, but your counselor can walk you through some decision-making tips so you can feel confident in making an informed decision.

7. Encouraging you

Most importantly, keep in mind that your school counselor is your biggest fan and cheerleader. It takes some patience, kindness, and a whole lot of love to be a counselor after all. These leaders on campus will always empathize with you through difficult times and clap for you when you win.

Like most things in life, the more effort you put into something, the more you will get out. Your school counselor has so much to give you, all you need to do is communicate what you need. As you build your relationship with your school counselor, don’t forget to thank them for all their help and hard work!

High School Juniors: Questions You Should Be Asking Your Counselor

If you didn’t already know, your junior year is your time to shine! It can be stressful, overwhelming, and scary all at once. Thankfully, your school counselor is available to help put your mind at ease by guiding you through the process and help you overcome some of these challenges. Not sure where to begin? Start by making an appointment and consider these questions when working with them.

1. Am I on track to graduate?

This should be the first question you ask every time you see your counselor. Why? Well, it’s kind of the whole point. Prior to making an entire gameplan about college planning and test prep, make sure you’re on track for graduation. You counselor is the one person with the access to transcripts and schedule to remind you where you stand.

2. Which electives do you recommend for me?

As a high school junior, your studies are KEY for success. This time next year, you’ll be swimming in college applications, final classes, and creating memories with your peers as a senior. For that reason, consider taking your challenging classes this year. Your counselor can evaluate your GPA and course load from transcripts and help create a balanced, yet challenging schedule.

3. How should I study for the SAT/ACT?

Junior year is the year to prep and sign up for the ACT or SAT. (Sometimes, both!) Your counselor likely has some test materials with strategies to help you practice. Don’t be afraid to ask about free resources as well, like how to take the test for free with fee waivers. The ACT and SAT have some free materials as well like Khan Academy and test prep centers.

4. Should I be attending college planning sessions or college fairs? If so, where?

You high school likely has college fairs or college planning events for you to attend – score! These are SUPER beneficial to get you started on your journey without making you feel overwhelmed. The more prep you do now, the smoother your senior year experience will seem. Don’t forget to find your best outfit to join in!

5. What if I don’t feel like college is right for me? Do I have options?

Success isn’t one-size fits all! If a four-year college program doesn’t feel right for you, then be sure to ask about other options. Some other options include community college, certificate programs, trade schools, gap years, going straight to work, and more! Remember: do what’s best for YOU.

Asking these questions as a high school junior will not only impress your counselor but will also help set you up for a productive, rewarding school year. Don’t forget to stop by and thank your counselor with a fist bump and maybe some of their favorite iced coffee next time you pass the front office for all their hard work and care!