How to Get Into College: Now What? (Part 3 of 3)

It’s now time for the third and final installment of the College Process Trilogy! Huzzah!
Actually, one of the reasons I wanted to do this three-part spectacle was to include information about this step specifically. It feels like limbo. There are lot of things to do between getting accepted and going to school. Unfortunately, this step varies drastically between each school. Therefore, I’m going to paint with some pretty broad strokes here.

  1. Make your decision. Another one of those things that’s easier said than done, right? Of course. For some people, the choice is obvious. Some people are still weighing their options. This is a top priority, though. Make sure to refer back to your list of top schools.
    1. Notify the other schools you applied to. If you’ve made up your mind, be glad! Be proud! Scream it from the mountain tops. Actually, don’t. But do tell the other schools. This is for a couple of reasons. First, they’ll continue to send you information that can be fairly annoying. Also, your acceptance could be hindering someone else – others might be sitting on a wait list until you notify the school you won’t attend, thereby freeing that spot for others. It’s simply the courteous thing to do and a simple email to the admissions office will suffice.
  2. Contact your school with questions. Better yet, they’ll contact you for anything noteworthy, such as scheduling, registration, important dates and fees, or rooming info. They know you’ve never done it before and they’ll help you. Every school is different, so you just have to keep track of what they give and tell you about how it works there. My typical organization method is by using post-it notes and random jotted memos on dry erase boards, as well as keeping every piece of mail my school has sent to me. I recommend setting up a binder or folder to keep track of everything because it will be helpful to just be able to whip out the proper information for each question that arises. Anyway, it’s limbo-ish but it’s like that for a reason. Don’t worry about it, you won’t fall behind. None of your peers know what they’re doing either. But in my experience, everyone has been eager to help make it a smooth process. Even when there are hiccups, I can always find the answers on my school website or by emailing the proper office. This step continues from the minute you apply to the minute you get to school. There’s a lot of information to give out and the colleges need a lot of things from you before school starts. They are certainly not going to do it all at once – there’s simply too much to know and do, so this is usually staggered through the spring and summer.
  3. Look for scholarships. I definitely recommend doing this immediately. Look for them within the school you’ll be attending. There are probably financial awards for random things – everything from having a parent who is an alum to being a Business major might offer a bit of money. Also, you can look online for scholarships of all sorts. And definitely keep an eye out in your community. Local banks, Masonic and Elks lodges, families, churches, and businesses offer various awards. Mark my words: every little bit helps. Those $200 or $500 scholarships really stack up. It can be time consuming, but it’s worth it. I am very glad to have applied for so many scholarships – and am even happier to have received so many! Hint: in some cases, perhaps especially at smaller schools, very few students will apply for some of the local scholarships and that gives them fantastic odds of receiving it. Don’t be discouraged if you are not awarded many scholarships or any at all. There are lots of other forms of financial aid. Grants and loans are huge helps and they can be quite viable. This brings me to the next big idea…
  4. The FAFSA. Everyone’s least favorite thing ever. Do this as soon as humanly possible. There is a deadline, which I believe is typically around April 1st. Here are some tips
  5. If applicable, make sure your transfer credits will work. Send the necessary transcripts from your dual enrollment or send your AP scores. I’m unsure on IB credits, but I know the AP exam offers an option on the exam day to send your scores straight to the school, rather than sending them later for a cost. If you’re certain of your school choice by May, be sure to fill out this part of the AP exam booklet!
  6. Finish strong. Retake the ACT if you could qualify for better scholarships and feel you can improve your score. Fight senioritis. Keep your grades up. Don’t drop the extracurriculars. Continue to challenge yourself – schools can easily take away your scholarships if it’s clear you did not follow through on your greatness until the end. Keep it up! Once again: relax. The hard part is over. Now just try to keep track of your information, financial awards, and academic record. I know you’ll do great!

Bonus tip: I kept a few mantras throughout my whole senior year to keep me motivated (Just keep truckin’, keep your hopes up high and your head down low, and the best way out is always through.) Be your own cheerleader! And recruit your family and friends if need be! I know it’s a stressful time but it ends eventually. And it’s a happy ending!

As always, thank you for reading!
Have you already finished this whole process? Have two cents to add? Are you still somewhere within this process and hoping for more information? Please share your wisdom, insight, questions, and concerns in the comments below! Let’s start a conversation!

How To Get Into College: Acceptance (Part 2 of 3)

Welcome back to the second part of the College Process Trilogy. Now that you’ve got your colleges ranked (and probably a top school in mind), it’s time to get accepted!

PREPARING. As mentioned previously, it’s never too soon to start the college process! Admissions people at colleges will weigh your extracurriculars, grades, volunteer experiences, and leadership abilities when you apply, so it’s best if you can say you’ve portrayed all your great qualities for as long as possible. It shows persistence to be active in extracurriculars since your freshman or sophomore year – plus that experience could open up volunteering opportunities and a route to leadership within the clubs or teams you’re a part of. And remember that even your freshman year counts towards your cumulative GPA. However, with that in mind, do not worry. If that is already far in the past, do not fear! Remember our rule: Do not panic, remember that it will be okay, and you just have to keep trying. It’s never too soon, but it’s never too late. I started picking my way through this process early on, but I have friends who heard of the ACT and SAT for the first time in their sophomore year and didn’t take it until halfway through their senior year. I have friends who didn’t realize their early years of high school counted towards their GPA. I have friends who simply didn’t know they wanted to go to college at all until well into their senior years and had made no preparations of any sort. It’s all okay! In the end, everything worked out for everyone. And it’ll work out for you! Start making your preparations now. Here’s how:

  • Join an extracurricular. Sports teams, Debate Team, Art Club, Chess Club, the school play, the school newspaper, Youth Group, choir, or a Robotics group. Whatever interests you, do it. In fact, in many schools it’s not as hard as you’d think to create your own extracurricular, like a book club or a group that discusses politics and current events, if nothing else catches your fancy.
  • Do volunteer work. Donate blood, mow a neighbor’s lawn, help someone you know organize a fundraiser, lend a hand at a sporting event selling concessions, babysit free of charge, or work with your church on a charity project. Just be active in your community. And although it does look good on college and scholarship applications, it’s also extremely important to the world and your own character to continue doing this throughout your life.
  • Work on your grades! Boost that GPA with advanced and weighted classes and study! This can be really difficult – especially as a freshman, having to remind yourself that your grades will matter in a few years or as a senior facing the dreaded senioritis (it hurts. It hurts baaad.) But it pays off. Trust me.
  • Take the ACT/SAT. This might depend on the schools you want to apply to or where you live (in Missouri, the ACT is more popular). I have heard from people who have taken both that each of the two are difficult in different ways – basically, the SAT relies more on critical thinking and how you find your solutions than the ACT does. So I’ve been told. There are countless resources out there to help you prepare for these, but at the end of the day, it’s important to remember: You are not a number. Standardized tests do not measure anything but how you choose to fill in bubbles. Colleges aren’t focused on finding the best test-takers, they want well-rounded, diverse individuals who can bring something to their institution.
  • Write your essays! Read the prompts carefully. Stick to the word count given. Know your audience. Inject your personality. Don’t be afraid to brag about yourself. Have friends and family proofread and give suggestions. Do more drafts. Make sure you’ve answered the full prompt. Rewrite portions if you feel you need to. Just keep working on them. They’ll be great.
  • Have your teachers write theirs. Letters of recommendation are pretty important. I asked my favorite teachers because they taught my favorite classes and therefore have seen the best work out of me. A few tips: don’t just pick from teachers – there are coaches and extracurricular moderators and even school administrators to choose from (other prominent members of your community who know you well and can vouch for your awesomeness can be good choices, but don’t ask your loving mother to write one for you). Also, I would try to get as many as possible. If the school requires two, then send them three. If you can get four strong letters, then send them all! You can’t have enough people bragging on you. Give these people plenty of time to write up something great and make sure to give them all the information you’d like them to include (such as a list of all of your extracurriculars).
  • Check to make sure your school does not require anything else. Some want a resume covering all of your extracurriculars and community service. Make sure everything looks neat, polished, and professional. Also, check to see if there are any scholarships you need to apply to at this point. Many scholarships are based on your admission application, but many are available for separate application later on. Do what you need to do. Then double check everything.
    You’re ready to go.

APPLYING As far as I know, almost all applications can be done online. Beware: lots of tedious information is required. This is a time consuming, boring step. However, after all of that preparation, it really isn’t that difficult. Apply to as many as you wish. One tip: apply to 2 “out-of-reach” schools (like ivy leagues), 3 you’re pretty sure you could be accepted to, and 1 back-up that is a shoo-in. (Or don’t. This seems like a great idea, but I only applied to my top two and was accepted to both, so it worked out fine. I still recommend having that safety net if possible.)

WAITING Once you’ve applied, you have just one final thing to do: Wait…without panicking. Whatever you do, just don’t worry. I applied and was in a weirdly confident haze. I had no doubts in my mind that I would be accepted. After a week of waiting, I began to worry. And panicking. It was about a month before I heard back at all from either school I applied to. Turns out, there was nothing worry about. So just save yourself the stress and do not worry. It’s easier said than done, I know. But recognize that it’s out of your hands. What’s done is done and you can change nothing. You did your best. And if it’s bad news, then move on to a new goal. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: you’ll be fine. Either way.

THE NEWS: Here’s what to do if you’re accepted (and be sure to check out Part 3 in my trilogy!), deferred, or waitlisted.

As you venture further into this process, remember to remain calm and I bid you good luck!
Have you already finished this whole process? Have two cents to add? Are you still somewhere within this process and hoping for more information? Please share your wisdom, insight, questions, and concerns in the comments below! Let’s start a conversation!
Thanks for reading!

How To Get Into College: Take Your Pick (Part 1 of 3)

As I’m just beginning, there isn’t much about college life I can tell you yet. But maybe there are some of you that aren’t quite here yet either. So this is a College Process Trilogy. Because there’s so much to do, it can be overwhelming. But I’ll be breaking it up into bite-size pieces for you. This is all based on my own experiences, so if you have better resources or methods, please be sure to comment and share your wisdom!

There’s only one rule for this process: Do not panic, remember that it will be okay, and you just have to keep trying. How corny, right? Well, it’s true. It doesn’t matter if you start this process in eighth grade or twelfth grade. It doesn’t matter if you feel like you’re too far behind your peers to do it right or if you just feel like the road to college is too long and crazy to get through. You really do have your whole life and you won’t spend it all just trying to do this process. It’s do-able. So. Where should you start?

CHECKLISTS. Even if you’re a good part of the way through the process, if you don’t have a checklist, you should make one. On Microsoft Word, in a notebook, on a post-it note, painted on your wall, whatever. I would usually pick and choose between online checklists (such as from here or here) to make sure that I was going at the right pace for me. I started my search in seventh grade…but didn’t actually make much real progress until the summer before junior year. And it worked out for me! So make a checklist starting from where you are. Pick up the slack (this is my lingo for when you make up for the stuff on previous checklists that you didn’t do) and keep on truckin’. Knowing what things you should do and when is basically the only thing you need. It’s difficult to stay organized when you’re getting letters all the time in the mail from schools and there are two dozen obligations in the way. So do yourself a favor and keep up with checklists.

What types of things should be at the top of your list?

POSSIBLE COLLEGES. Know what you want. My priorities were the academics, the distance from home (or almost lack thereof because I’m prone to homesickness), and the size of the school (I would never go to a huge state school like Mizzou). Other things to consider include tuition/financial aid available, dorm life, reputation (are you looking for an ivy league or a party school?), majors/minors available, etc. There are plenty of college personality quizzes. Go to college fairs, talk to your teachers and family to know about their alma maters, go online for sites that will tell you all about different schools. Make lists. Compare them. Get as much information as possible. I saved up every single letter and brochure and postcard sent to me from colleges. Then I narrowed my list down one by one. By the end of junior year, I had five colleges left in mind.

VISIT COLLEGES. I visited my top 5 colleges. Each one. Schools love it when you ask to visit them. Each one took me on a tour, sat me down to answer all of my questions, and gave me all the information I needed to make my decision. Of course, they were my top five for a reason. It was hard to choose. And each visit went so well that I just felt super excited and in love with them. But after I had visited, I had enough info to go back, compare further, and rank them. It’s kind of like Goldilocks. For me, only Truman State University was just right. Don’t worry if you still have troubles deciding. Many of my friends fretted over this for a very, very long time. But you’ll figure it out. And even if you fall out of love with it eventually, it’s not the end-all decision. You can transfer if it really doesn’t go well. Maybe I’ll even fall out of love with Truman and end up at my #2 school. Who knows. But I made my decision and I’m confident in it and happy with it. Take your time and you will be, too.

The college search can be long and tiring. But you will find the right one! I pinky promise.
Have you already finished this whole process? Have two cents to add? Are you still somewhere within this process and hoping for more information? Please share your wisdom, insight, questions, and concerns in the comments below! Let’s start a conversation!
Thank you for reading!

Dorm-Warming Gifts for My Roommates

Move In Day is nearly upon us! If you’re anything like me, you’re scrambling to pull yourself together to make sure you’ll have everything you’ll need for classes and dorm life ready to go (or you actually have your life together, for which I applaud you). But it’s also a good idea to take a breather and think of someone other than yourself: your roommate.

My Roommates
I opted to be randomly placed with a roommate, rather than applying to be with my friend who is going to the same school as me. This was for a couple of reasons: (1) I had applied for a dorm well before she got to that process, (2) I’ve been told it’s a great experience to put yourself out of your comfort zone in college to meet others, and (3) I’m super scared of the Roommate Curse where even the best of friends will outgrow and turn on one another after being caged into a dorm room. But that’s just me. (I might be paranoid…)
Anyway, Facebook has basically been the only means of communication with my roommate and two suite-mates (our rooms are connected by a shared bathroom; for future reference, they’ll probably just be referred to as “roommates”). But Facebook isn’t the ideal way to get to know someone, of course. So far, I must say that all three roommates have been nothing less than great to talk to (and I certainly do not foresee any issues or drama or anything unpleasant going down!) but I’d love to have a terrific experience and possibly a great friendship with my roommates. So I’ve got an idea!
How about a dorm-warming gift? Just a simple gift, a nice gesture, and a lovely ice-breaker. I can do that!

Dorm

Because this dorm needs to be warmed.

The Gifts
I spent just over $5 at Target for everything. I filled three little bucket tins with mini notepads, post-it notes, and various candies and gum. Admittedly, this would be a better idea if I knew their predilections or preferences for both colors and candy. But in the end, the gifts are small, easily contained, cute, inexpensive, practical, yummy, and very simple ice-breakers. How could I not?

That’s all I got, folks!

Thank you for reading and please share your thoughts in the comments below to join the conversation!

Tips for Ordering Textbooks

I finally got around to ordering my textbooks for the fall semester the other day and although I’m a little miffed about still having to spend over $300, I’m also very glad to know that’s half the price I could have spent if I didn’t shop smart. So today I would like to share with you how I did it.

1. Preparation

First, of course, you need to find out which books you need and record the ISBNs. It’s also important to make sure you know if the class requires any materials like CDs or Access Codes along with the book. I had several that did require these things, so I had to be extra careful to make sure these things would be included.

2. The Shopping

It’s time to check Slugbooks. This is a safe, user-friendly website that I decided to try – and I’m so glad I did. All you have to do is copy and paste the ISBN into the search bar and it will show an overview of the lowest possible prices on several major online textbook stores (see Gallery 2 for an example). You can just click on the one you want and it’ll take you to that site for you to browse! Best of all, Slugbooks keeps track of all of your books in a nifty Booklist so you don’t have to re-do the whole ISBN search every time (but I’m sure clearing your Browsing History/Cookies/Something will affect this. Still, it’s super helpful to have).

Remember:

  • You can rent or buy – I chose to buy everything but renting is often even more affordable.
  • You have to make sure all your CDs or Access Codes or whatever you need is included – Slugbooks told me one of my books was available for $3 on Amazon and I got all excited before realizing it didn’t include the CDs and wasn’t in great condition. I was still able to buy a great version that had all of the necessary materials at $15!
  • Always check your school bookstore’s website, too! In some cases, these prices were nearly the same as online. If you can get a book priced like that via your school, it decreases any risk factor there might be in online shopping and it’s a fair deal!
  • Do not rule out used text books – if anything, welcome them into your open arms with a smile because they can be much cheaper than new copies. Most descriptions on Amazon and other sites will tell you the quality of a book – whether the corner of a paperback’s cover is folded or there is highlighting and annotations in the book. Whatever you prefer, you can typically find a version that’s good for you.
  • If you are going to use Amazon (almost all of my books were ordered through Amazon), get an Amazon Student account. This could save you a little extra dough. It’s easy (and free!) to do and gives you free two-day shipping for six months, plus a bunch of other neat benefits. Mostly, I did it for the free two-day shipping with my textbooks in mind. However, I will say that most of the things I ordered were not eligible for Amazon Prime and therefore did not offer any two-day shipping, which I would’ve gotten for free. So it’s not a catch-all but it did save me a few extra bucks.
  • It’s always a possibility you don’t even need a certain textbook. Do not ever assume this. But, as an obscure example, if a class lists a book of the Complete Works of Lewis Carroll and you happen to already own most of his stories and books, maybe you won’t need to drop another $35 on the book. Better yet, e-mail your professor and inquire how much you will be using the text-books and if there are any alternatives, like printed versions or online versions. Another option is to split the price with a friend who is taking a class with you if you think you can share or to ask friends who already took the class to see if they still had their copy lying around.

3. The Aftermath

The final step is actually to celebrate. In my case, I just finished ordering my very first round of textbooks! Hooray! One great suggestion is to add up the amount you could’ve paid if you had just bought books straight from your school’s bookstore and calculate how much you saved because you’re a smarty who shopped so savvily!

If I had bought through the bookstore: $620
After doing my research: $330
Total savings: Almost $300!

That’s the story of how I cut the price of my books nearly in half. Thanks for reading!
How do you shop for text books? Feel free to share your best tips or favorite sites in the comments!

10 Great Gifts for Grads (Including DIYs)

Looking for the best gift for your favorite graduate? Well, look no further, my friends! I’ve got ten great gift ideas to make any graduate grin!
The first five are store-bought and the last five are DIY ideas.
Here we go:

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1. Oh the Places You’ll Go (Dr. Seuss) – This is such a classic gift! It’s cute, quirky, and meaningful. Write your own message in the front cover to personalize it for your special grad, or stick a few bills between the pages to make it a treasure in more ways than one!

A selection of gift cards in a store in New York on Wednesday, November 2, 2011. (© Richard B. Levine)

2. Gift Cards – You can’t go wrong with any form of money, truthfully. College students need money and lots of different supplies for dormlife, as well. Best Buy, WalMart, Target, Bed Bath and Beyond are all good places to start. Other helpful gift cards would be for food (check out what local restaurants will be in the area of the grad’s school), gas cards (great for commuters and people who are going to school farther from home), and bookstores (textbooks and recreational reading are nurtured with this gift!)

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3. Camera, picture frames, photo album, etc – For recording memories of home and capturing new memories at college!

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4. School supplies – a practical gift is a good gift, and you will need school supplies at college! Pens, pencils, notebooks, binders, paper, paperclips, rubberbands, thumbtacks, etc – all of these will come in handy in college! Pack it all up in a nice, sturdy backpack that the grad can take with them to college in order to complete this fantastic gift.

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5. A laptop or a printer – This is the priciest gift on this list by far, but it also has immense practical value. I couldn’t imagine facing college without a laptop of my own. Even when computers are available in labs and libraries across campus, a laptop is still almost a necessity for pulling all-nighters to study, taking notes during class, or finding a new setting for studying like a nice spot under a tree. Having a personal printer is also very important.


DIY stuff:

 

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6. Quilt – If you have the time, make a quilt with old T-shirts or cute fabric to keep a person warm in their dorm at night!

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7. Candy Gram – Give him or her the sweetest gift imaginable – a personalized letter featuring all sorts of goodies! Tell them they’re a SMARTIE[S], tell them you’ll miss them to [REESE’S] PIECES when they’re in college, or mention that they deserve to have lots of FUN [DIP] there. Who wouldn’t love that?

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8. College survival kit – A gift personalized just for your friend! It could be a laundry basket or a backpack filled with things like a first-aid kit, snacks, office supplies, cookbooks, a blanket, laundry detergent, dorm dishes, games, movies, etc. Anything that will help them through their college experience will be perfect!

Pill Quotes

9. Homesickness Pills – This is my favorite idea, and I did it for my friends this year. All you need is an empty pill bottle, a bunch of little strips of paper, and a touch of inspiration. You can choose to type up and cut out your “pills” or hand write them. You can write some meaningful quotes from authors you like, jokes, little personal messages or reminders that you’re there for them or hope to see them soon, or cute doodles to cheer them up. Or you could do a mix of all of these things, like I did. When you’re done, you can crumple or fold the strips of paper to look like pills and fill the bottle. Then, label the bottle with their name and whatever you want, really. (I put: Take as needed when feeling homesick, discouraged, or otherwise upset. Do not overdose; do not take more than one pill at a time. Medication may take a little while to take effect; take your time to consider each one.) As cheesy and nerdy as it sounds, my friends absolutely adored it!

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10. Contact Kit – Give your friend your contact information (including email, phone number, dorm mailing address, etc) envelopes, stamps, cute stationery, and maybe a schedule of your school year so they can make plans for your breaks! This will show that even when life takes you separate directions, you want to stay connected. That’s a very important thing to keep in mind when you’re facing something as intimidating and unknown as college or the full-time workforce.

*One last tip: It’s always nice to top off any gift with a nice, hand-written, heartfelt letter to express whatever excitement or pride or appreciation you might feel for your recent grad. As you can probably tell, I’m a fan of cheesiness, so I’m biased, but cheesiness is totally okay! Graduation is something to be excited about and proud of! It’s okay to be sappy when you’re that happy! Basically, don’t live with regrets and don’t let anything go unsaid – let graduation be the excuse to say everything your cheesy heart desires!

I hope this list came as some help to you.

So…what are you waiting for? Go on a shopping spree or bunker down for some DIY projects before that graduation party!