The College Experience: Making the Most out of Your College Application Process

Ashton Jah and Sophia Almanza

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The college application process can be a daunting, yet tedious task which millions of seniors must endure each year. Although it shows a point of moving forward in life, many students find the process to be a nuisance; however, some are not aware of the most effective way to complete their applications or where to even begin.

The National Center for Education Statistics predicts some 17.5 million students will apply to a college or university this year, and 20. 4 million are expected to attend college this year, which is a 5.1 million attendance increase from 2000.

Making the most out of the process is a great way to improve one’s application and ultimately be prepared. After speaking with Bob Jones College and Career adviser Kathryn Champion, we have created a helpful guide on the process with numerous tips and tricks to make the most out of the move forward.

1. Explore potential career opportunities.

High school in itself is a significant life experience. Besides learning what areas of school interest them, students can discover what they desire in a potential career. As students reach the end of high school, it is important that they consider what future life plan and job may best suit them.

Regarding how to best approach deciding on a major and or a career, Ms. Champion suggested students reflect on their own personality and life experiences by asking, “‘Do I eventually want to work with people?’ What you are interested in and not interested in can help eliminate potential careers.”

Having a general understanding of a career of interest can help in preparation for finding a college of interest, however, it might not be the most important factor in the college process.

2. Research potential colleges of interest and narrow down your list.

After thinking about potential career choices, students should use those decisions as factors in settling on a college. While it is important to find a school that satisfies a student’s interests and major, there are other areas of significance in the process of college selection.

Ms. Champion stated that while a college may fulfill the requirements a student is searching for, that student needs to consider the location and structure of the school. Ultimately, students either want a change of pace and scenery or want to remain living lives similar to their high school days. Either way, Champion noted the largest deciding factor in most students’ search for college – tuition and fees.

College is not cheap, and taking into account one’s financial situation is a necessary step in picking the best option.

Ensuring a school can give a student the education he or she seeks at a price that is financially doable for them are the two most instrumental aspects of college selection.

3. Visit college campuses or attend a college recruitment visit.

In order to get the most out of the college experience, many suggest taking time off and attending a college visit. Here at Bob Jones, juniors and seniors are allowed a certain number of days of excused visits. If a school is out of reach, Ms. Champion has connections with certain school recruiters that visit yearly to provide a similar experience to students where they can ask college-specific questions.

Visiting a college campus in person is an important step in the application process, simply because it can help to eliminate or articulate interests. “Being on campus, you can get first-hand experience, meet with professors, walk around campus, [and] see what housing is like,” Ms. Champion reiterated.

These visits, however, should only be made when the student has narrowed down their college lists to assist with selecting the right college.

4. Start building your résumé early.

A résumé is an establishment of abilities, interests, past volunteer opportunities, high school involvement, and more. Building a résumé for college is important to establishing the first look into students.

Unfortunately, many put off joining a club or society until their senior year, which could make it hard for creating an adequate resume. Choosing to start early is a good choice, Ms. Champion mentioned, “…do something sooner rather than later.”

Participating in the activities and clubs that spark interest the most encourages meaningful participation and ultimately holds the most impact. 

5. If planning to take a gap year, have a plan.

Some students feel the only option is heading towards a four-year college in the fall after graduation. Ms. Champion expressed the truth about some students, stating, “The reality is that not everyone here is totally ready to go straight to a four-year institution.” A gap year is not something to be ashamed of; however, students need to have a strong and good reason for taking a year off after high school.

Champion describes different situations teenagers face that may lead them to choose a gap year, including not being mentally prepared and needing to refrain from attending a four-year college because of financial reasons. Two-year colleges often open doors to four-year tracks or even certifications that allow the student to find a job quickly after those couple of years.

On the other hand, taking a gap year simply to take a break from school is unwise. According to Champion, statistics show that said students do not return to an education institution, missing out on valuable knowledge and credibility.

In general, students should keep in mind scholarship requirements when considering a gap year. In most cases, merit-based scholarships are only available to high school seniors. 

6. Apply for one or multiple institutions based on your interests.

After narrowing your college list, applying for the college that best fits interests is vital to establishing a great future. Applications for colleges typically begin opening up towards the end of summer, so students begin applying a few weeks before school starts.

7. Seek financial aid opportunities (scholarships).

One of the major deciding factors among students is money. If not merit-based scholarships are made available, there are, however, scholarships for numerous other accomplishments.

One tip Champion suggested is looking for scholarships that are easy to apply for, but might not be the biggest amounts. “Most students often overlook scholarships that are easy to apply for … if they apply for multiple scholarships of that value, they can add up quickly.”

8. Know when to begin the process.

The main factor that tends to catch students by surprise is procrastinating the process. Starting the process and getting involved early can help improve one’s résumé and ensure decent grades.

“College is your home away from home,” so ensuring the process is done respectively is important to a quality future.

For more information, contact our College and Career adviser, Ms. Champion, or visit the College and Career Center webpage which provides numerous resources for scholarship opportunities, college visits, and more.

Also, remember to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)-a form providing federal student aid to most students simply for filling it out. It went live October 1st and is a required part of most college applications.

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