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The Scholarship Game
A No-Fluff Guide to Making College Affordable
By Luke Arnce
John Hunt Publishing Ltd.Copyright © 2016 Luke Arnce
All rights reserved.
When you mix hormone-addled teenage minds and major life decisions, the result is usually less than satisfactory. Unfortunately, these are the conditions present when you are forced to decide where to go to college, and the colleges don't make it any easier. They flood your mailbox with glossy brochures showing students smiling and laughing on grassy lawns and put so many facts and figures in your face that you feel like you're studying for some test. How are you, as you search for a place to spend the next four years of your life, supposed to cut through the college propaganda and determine where the grassy lawns are greenest? Additionally, how do you determine what colleges you can actually afford?
I know the feeling. I was also overwhelmed with the task of selecting a college. During the admission process, I applied to eighteen schools, wrote over twenty essays, and took part in sixteen interviews. It sucked. I would never wish such a tedious endeavor on my worst enemy. However, the ordeal gave me a lot of experience with many aspects of college admission. So, instead of annoying my friends with tidbits about college admission, I decided to write this book — a no-fluff guide to deciding where to apply, building college applications, and smoking college interviews and scholarship weekends written by a student for students. Just so you guys don't think I'm some random schmuck writing on a subject I know nothing about, I was able to win over $1,000,000 in school-specific scholarships, so my methods have had some success.
This book is a compilation of information and tips that I picked up when I was going through the application process myself. It will address selecting colleges, filling out applications, and scholarship interviews along with some other stuff. Hopefully, it helps keep you from going insane during your application process. Please keep in mind throughout that I am by no means the law on this stuff. These are just tips and bits of information that I found useful, so if you don't agree with something I've said, you don't have to listen. Now that the disclaimer is out of the way let's get going. It's time to get you some application savvy so you can spend more time enjoying your senior year instead of sweating over your college applications.CHAPTER 2
Building Your Resume
As Sun Tzu once said, "Every battle is won or lost before it is ever fought." Well, Sun Tzu might as well have been writing a book on applying to college instead of military strategy because his advice is wholly applicable. If you wait until when you're applying to colleges to build your resume, you are a little late to the party. Most of the time, students participate in sports, band, or other extracurricular activities without thinking of their activities as part of their resume, so students can end up building their resume without thinking about it. However, it is a far better game plan to be intentional about designing your resume early so you aren't stuck piecing one together at the last minute. Starting your resume in your freshman year also helps you keep track of everything you've done, and it's better to be forced to pare down your resume than to be forced to rack your brain for other stuff you did just to fill the page.
Think of your resume as a candy bar with your GPA, ACT/SAT, and course difficulty as the plain chocolate exterior, and the extracurricular activities as the gooey, delicious center made of nougat and caramel. It's true; nobody's favorite part of the candy bar is the outside. It's just a housing for the tastiness in the middle, but nobody is going to eat a candy bar, no matter how delicious the middle is if the chocolate shell is moldy. A good ACT/SAT, a high GPA, and a difficult course load probably won't get you into the colleges you want by themselves, but a bad ACT/SAT, a low GPA, and four years of easy classes will get your application tossed. Does that mean you have to take hard classes, do your homework, and study for standardized tests? Yes, it does. Also, if you aren't interested in the hardest classes at your school, but you could do well in them, suck it up and take them. You can be picky with your courses in college, but in high school you need to take the classes that show colleges you have the academic chops to handle college level courses.
Excluding of your ACT/SAT, GPA, and course difficulty, the rest of your resume should showcase accomplishment, leadership, motivation, and service, so find activities that fit the criteria and participate in them. Try to participate in activities you're interested in, but also, try some things you might not like. Stretch yourself. Even if you hate every minute of it and decide never to do it again, you can still put it on your resume.
The easiest way to start participating in activities you can put on your resume is through your high school. High school's typically have a variety of clubs or programs for students like student council, football, choir, and FBLA. Some of these programs call for a major time commitment. However, others require almost none even if you're in a leadership position, so do a little reconnaissance on the clubs you plan on joining. Try to participate in activities you're really interested in, but also join a few clubs that require little time commitment that might not be intriguing to you. You might end up liking a few more than you thought, and the others will just show that you've made an effort to determine your interests.
Another thing colleges will love, even if you don't, is leadership positions, so run for as many as you can handle. But running for offices is scary. Well, tough. High school is where you're going to get most, if not all, of your leadership positions for your resume, so you're just going to have to grit your teeth and do it. If you lose the election, nobody will care or remember. Even if they do, you probably won't see them after high school anyways. Also, keep in mind that not all leadership positions are created equal. There is president, and then everything else, so, unless you don't think you can win the presidential election, run for president. If you do end up running for some other office, make sure it's the office with the least opposition because all offices besides president are the same in the eyes of colleges. Keep in mind that colleges won't know how many students are in the clubs at your school, so whether you're president of a club with six people or sixty, all your resume will say is club president.
Community service should also be on your mind as you craft your resume. You don't necessarily have to go out and be a modern Mother Teresa unless service is something you're passionate about, but you do need to show you aren't a coldhearted jerk with no concern for others. Besides looking good on your resume, service can actually help change your perspective on life. Serving people who are less fortunate than you can give you a better appreciation for what life has given you. However, this is a book on crushing your college applications, not squishy feelings, so let's get back to putting service on your resume. Some go-to options for community service are soup kitchens and after-school tutoring programs. Sometimes, schools even have community service student organizations, which provide opportunities for students to serve in various ways. Community service is also required for select scholarships and entrance into some honor societies, so you can find several opportunities to double dip by getting service hours for your resume and something else. Make sure to keep track of your hours of community service, because many schools will ask you to list hours of service. Well, I've sufficiently sucked the altruism out of volunteering; I feel like taking a bath.
Besides volunteering and accumulating leadership positions, you should also focus on amassing accolades to showcase your talents. If everyone at your school knows you're a world-class opera singer, but you've never performed on stage or entered any competitions, your talent won't be communicated in your resume. Show off your talent by entering relevant competitions. Otherwise, colleges will assume you don't have the talent. If you're good at something that has a club or team at school, join the club and go to the competitions, but go beyond that. Say you're good at art, for example. Yes, enter all the local contests and showcases your art class at school participates in. Do some research; find state and national contests to enter your art in as well. Not only do the outside contests help showcase your talent, but they also show you have the initiative to succeed on your own.
In fact, showing initiative and growth is a major part of building a strong resume. Colleges want to admit students with upward trends — students who improved their grades and became more involved as high school went on. The primary method for showing initiative on your resume is to participate in school activities. Don't stop there, though. Go beyond and find projects to work on outside of school, like the competitions in the art example. You can also show initiative by interning or volunteering at a business or in a college department you're interested in. Don't worry. Getting involved in a business or college department isn't as difficult as it first seems. Just ask. People outside of high school aren't going to actively recruit students to their businesses or departments, so you're going to have to be proactive. Send the professors you want to work with an email about your interest or stop by the business you're interested in to see if you can volunteer for them. They might let you get involved, and if they don't, you can just ask someone else. The only thing that's certain is if you don't ask, you won't receive.
Another aspect of your resume that might be worthwhile to develop is hidden extracurricular activities. Something would be categorized as a hidden extracurricular activity if it doesn't fit well anywhere else on your resume, but it provides interesting insight into you as a person. These types of activities help pique the interest of the admissions officer who's trying not to fall asleep after reading his third application in a row with Model U.N., Student Council, and French Club. Try to make sure the hidden extracurriculars you include are more like, "taught myself Swedish" or "personally developed a diversified stock portfolio with a 200% return" not "casual Halo gamer" or "lover of many television shows." If it doesn't make you look good, don't include it.
By building your resume with leadership, accolades, community service, extra-scholastic activities, and a few hidden extracurriculars in mind, you will have a strong resume. However, for a resume that puts you in the running for big merit scholarships or intrigues the admissions officers at even the snootiest schools, you're going to need some extra oomph. In order to make your resume stellar, you'll need at least two or three hook activities — activities that make whoever is reading your application call their co-workers over to look at. These activities do need to be related to your interests because they will probably take up a lot of your time. Activities like running your own business, writing music and getting it published, filing for a patent, starring in a play that people who aren't related to you pay to see, or placing in the top ten in a national competition are great. To compile activities and accomplishments at this level, you have to buckle down and do the hard work. However, if you can reach those goals, or even get close to those goals, not only will your resume be dynamite, but you will uncover determination and ability you never knew you had.
What you want to show schools with your resume is that you've been successful in the high school environment, but you had a thirst for more that drove you to participate in activities outside of school. Now, you're ready to break out of the constraining cocoon of high school, and flutter like the well-rounded butterfly you are onto a college campus. You can do it. You can be the butterfly. Just work hard and record your activities as you go along. Then, you won't have the added stress of trying to remember everything you've done in high school while trying to figure out where you want to apply, which is an arduous ordeal in its own right.CHAPTER 3
Now that you've crafted a superb resume, you need to decide which colleges you want to send it to. There are over 4,000 two or four-year colleges in the United States alone, so to efficiently determine which schools you're interested in, you need to establish personalized criteria for selecting schools. Let's start off with some bad reasons to apply or not apply to a particular college.
1. Applying to a school because your friends are. Yes, it's easier to enter a foreign environment with some familiar faces, but just because it's easy or convenient doesn't mean it's the right decision. Will the fact that you have friends on campus make your first lunch in the cafeteria less awkward? Yes. Will the fact that you followed your friends to a school that doesn't offer a major in computer science hurt your chances of becoming a software engineer at Google like you always wanted? Undoubtedly. Remember, the primary function of college is to give you perspective, and prepare you for a career, not to provide a place for you and your high school buddies to retell old stories. By hanging out with your friends from high school in college, you're depriving yourself of the opportunity to meet other interesting people who don't remember that time you accidentally called Mrs. Thompson, "Mom."
2. Avoiding applying to a school because it looks too expensive. A school's sticker price can be misleading. Often, the most expensive schools are also the most generous. In many circumstances, attending a university with a ridiculous sticker price like Harvard or Yale is more affordable than attending a local university with a low sticker price, particularly if you're in a low socioeconomic group. Stanford now guarantees that if a student's family makes less than $125,000, they will pay no tuition, and many other elite institutions are now making similar offers. So before eliminating a school from your application list because you assume you won't be able to afford attending or applying to a school because you think it will be cheap, complete the online net price calculator provided by the school. You might be surprised.
3. Applying to schools because they send you tons of mail. This may sound a little ridiculous at first, but don't be surprised if you find yourself holding one of the school's postcards midway through application season and thinking, "I know everything about this school is wrong for me, but I just appreciate their tenacity. Maybe I should give them another look." Don't do it. Put that postcard in the trash with the thirty others they sent you last week. Don't let your stalker schools wear you down. You would never date a stalker just because they always seem to be around and interested in you, so don't apply to a stalker school for the same reason. If the schools weren't right for you when you first looked, don't allow their never-ending streams of mail to make them seem more attractive.
4. Applying to a school because it is highly ranked. Just because a school is highly ranked, doesn't mean the school is a good fit for you. It's easy just to look at the rankings and base your applications on someone else's opinion, but you're not finding the schools that are best for you. The methodology you use to select schools is going to be different than the methodology U.S. News and World Report uses, and that's how it should be. Allow what you find important in a school to direct your search.
5. Applying to college because you think it's the next thing to do. College is a major investment of time and money. Don't waste your time if you don't have a good reason for going. Going to college because you want to make more money, is a valid reason to attend, because, on average, those who graduated from college make more money than those who didn't. Wanting to learn and experience life in a different environment also makes college a good option for you. College campuses are melting pots of ideas and customs from around the world, which provides students with the chance to see how others formulate ideas and act. College is also helpful if you're following a passion. To conduct the Boston Symphony Orchestra or perform brain surgery, you're going to have to go through some college. There's no way around it. Those are all good reasons for attending college. However, if you're going to college because you want to party, your parents want you to, you don't know what else to do, or something else along those lines, you might end up with a mountain of student loan debt and nothing to show for it.
Once you know you want to attend college, many factors go into determining where you want to apply. For starters, you need to decide where, geographically speaking, you want to go to school. If the mere thought of living in frigid temperatures makes you look for the nearest bridge, do not apply to schools in northern Minnesota. Additionally, if the thought of missing your Mom's next birthday makes you cry through two boxes of tissues, don't apply to schools far away from home. If where you live for the next four years is important to you, make location a factor in determining where to apply. There is no sense in applying to a school in a location you know you will hate.
Excerpted from The Scholarship Game by Luke Arnce. Copyright © 2016 Luke Arnce. Excerpted by permission of John Hunt Publishing Ltd..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Getting Started 1
Building Your Resume 3
Selecting Colleges 9
Deciding when to Apply 21
Activities List 25
Letters of Recommendation 35
Following Up 37
Secondary Applications 39
Scholarship Weekend/Interview Tips 41
Individual Interviews (One-on-One) 47
Individual Interviews (You with many Interviewers) 49
Group Interviews (Roundtable) 51
Group Interviews (Article Discussion) 53
Group Interviews (Task-Based) 55
Following Up (Again) 57
What To Do When You Get The News 61
Negotiating with Colleges 65
Making the Final Decision 69
Parting Words 71