How to Get Into College Without Spending $500,000 in Bribes
For those of you struggling with the question of how to get into college, the events of the last couple of weeks must be beyond frustrating. If you haven’t been following it very closely, actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin — and a whole slew of other people — were bribing their children’s way into college at top schools throughout the country.
You can read more of the particulars here.
Spending as much as $500,000 for a leg up on the competition is something most of us were never in the position to experience. That it ever became reality is a bane on the modern educational system. Don’t envy these people.
Instead, try to focus more on your unique qualities and strengths. You may not be able to control where you go to college, but you can certainly control the factors that’ll get you in. Here’s how to do it the right way.
1. Start by Asking Questions
Before you go to college, you’ll have a lot of questions. It helps to have a Mom and/or Dad who are involved in the process and guiding you through it. But don’t allow them to do the thinking for you.
You want to get engaged in the process. What is it that you don’t understand about the college admissions process? If you couldn’t rely on your parents for help, where would you begin in unlocking those mysteries?
Seek out your high school guidance counselor. Discuss with them the uncertainties you have — where you want to go, what you want to do, the right path for continuing your education (college or trade school).
Listen to what he or she has to say and make a list of what you don’t know. Then, formulate those into questions that you can use as a follow-up.
2. Pay Special Attention to What You’re Good at Doing
Notice that keyword doing. Most people have a particular strength. Some are good at academic pursuits, taking tests, jumping through the right hoops to “make the grade.” Others are good at more hands-on activities. Building things. Working out real-world problems.
And the more advanced among us can switch back-and-forth well between each type of pursuit. Whatever it is you know or are good at, approach it with the next 10 years of your life in mind. Can you see yourself being happy following that pathway?
Many will advise you to think about what you want to do with the rest of your life at this point. But that’s not a good idea. Under ideal circumstances, your life will be a long one, and you’ve got plenty of time to engage in multiple pursuits. The key is to find what you really like doing right now and explore the paths you can travel with that for the next decade or so.
3. Throw Yourself Into It
Once you’ve decided on the path that most appeals to you, get involved! You can, and should, do this in multiple ways. The first and most obvious is how you perform in the classroom. You want your grades to be stellar. So take tests and homework and milestone projects seriously.
Consult with your instructor if you’re having a tough time. Get involved in study groups. Get out of those groups if they’re doing more harm than good. And know when to tell that’s what is happening. But don’t stop with the classroom.
Target men and women in your town who are actively involved in what you’re currently doing. Most value the mentor-student relationship and will be open for things like job-shadowing and internships. If you can make it work with your school, take advantage. Just do something to get your experience somewhere else besides the high school campus you’re attending.
4. Demonstrate Initiative Without Being Asked
What really resonates with colleges and universities is the self-starting student. Funding in more states throughout the country is tied to performance. Governments want to know their taxpayers’ dollars are producing some benefit. That’s leading some of the more competitive schools to bank on students they don’t have to worry about.
To become one of their students, you first have to convince the powers-that-be that you are what they’re looking for. Figure out a way to illustrate this in your community. Some suggestions:
- Coach a grade-school athletic team
- Volunteer at a community nonprofit organization
- Offer to work for free at a local business that focuses on your area of interest in exchange for the experience and the contacts
- Get involved with the community events that those businesses sponsor
You probably can think of a dozen more relevant examples in your community. Sit down and make a list. From there, you can cross-reference that with whatever works around your schedule.
5. Create a Brag Sheet
The term “brag sheet” may have originated elsewhere. In all honesty, it just popped into our heads. And it’s going to sound an awful lot like a resumé. But try not to get bogged down in such formal linguistics.
The word resumé always sort of took the fun out of detailing one’s accomplishments. It sounds clinical, and it sort of gets written in such a way. But you’re young. You’ve got time. And you have to start thinking about how best to present yourself to the people who may one day hire you.
So start a Word doc or notebook that lists anything and everything you’re proud of. If you were allowed to just boast your major accomplishments from the rafters, what would those be and what would you have to say about them?
Don’t worry if it sounds ridiculous in the beginning. This is just for practice (at first). If you want to brag because you stacked two pizzas on top of each other and baked them in the oven, do it. This may be the germ of imagery that helps to illustrate your culinary creativity — something that could one day help you get into a top-flight cooking school.
(Yes, we know this is about getting into college, but it’s important to note how these steps can translate into any career path.)
The point is this: the more you’re able to brag on yourself in clear, concrete terms, the easier it will be to present your worth to a school when it’s time to write that application essay.
6. Sign Up for Extracurricular Activities
When just starting out as a sophomore, we’d recommend as many extracurricular activities as you can think of. That’s because, until this point, it’s common to not really know how something will translate into the real world.
You may love listening to music, for instance, but Band just doesn’t do it for you. Learning the mechanics of something you previously liked will make or break your continued interest in it. And it’s not really something you can cross off the list or move up in rankings until you’ve seen them in action.
As your high school career persists, it’s okay to remove certain extracurricular activities from your schedule. Just make sure what you’re holding onto is something you can really apply yourself towards. Otherwise, it’s not worth keeping.
7. Know How to Sell It
Colleges and universities may differ in what they expect from your application package, but most will require similar things (i.e., application, essay, scores, etc.). Read the requirements of each carefully. Then, make sure you’re ready for primetime. Here’s how you do it.
- Start way ahead of the deadline
- Make a schedule showing the milestones you’ll need to hit to stay on track
- Work on the packet every day until it’s time to send it out
- For any written requirements, run it through a spell-checker and a program like HemingwayApp or Grammarly to pull out any editorial missteps and misuses
- Submit it all the way the university tells you to
- Hold onto read receipts or received notifications, as these will give you a good indicator of when you can expect a response
Aim as high as you want. But don’t be afraid to move down the list. And don’t be discouraged if you have to end up attending a state school near your hometown at first.
College really doesn’t “count” until you get to graduate school anyway. That’s not to say an undergraduate degree is worthless. It’s not. But a four-year degree attained is as good in one location as it is another, and staying around your home base can give you the accomplishment without the massive debt.
Use the four-year path to prove yourself for the graduate or law school you’d like to attend. You can worry about anything beyond that when the time comes.
8. And Finally … Avoid Shortcuts
Loughlin, Huffman, and all the others on that godforsaken list thought they’d found the easy way out. They would never get caught. Until they did. Unfortunately, when that day came, it not only caught them; it caught the children they thought they were helping.
Now the kids are paying for the sins of the parents, and a cloud will follow them around for the rest of their lives. (Thanks, Internet.)
The sooner you realize there are no shortcuts with how to get into college, the better off you’ll be. Not only will it make you free from worry as your hands will be clean, but it’ll also teach you how to step up to a challenge and conquer it without leaning on someone else for support.
Knowing How to Get Into College the Right Way Will Pay Long-Term Dividends
Learning how to get into college is one of the first big steps you can take as an independent adult. And it’s a necessary one. Because graduation will be here before you know it, and if you don’t start planning now, then you will be scrambling when the time comes.
So now it’s your turn, readers? What are some of your big concerns with the college application process? Sound off in the comments section below.
[Featured Image by Wikipedia Commons]