Things to think about as students begin applying to colleges

Getting into college is about more than test scores and grades. That’s a comfort to many college-bound seniors — but that also means there are more areas where they need to shine to get accepted into their dream school.

Colleges are looking more and more at the rigor of courses students are enrolled in, grade trends and seeing if students continued to challenge themselves academically during their senior year, said Paul Seegert, associate director for operations for the University of Washington’s Office of Admissions.

“Academics are the main drivers with SAT scores a small piece of the whole academic puzzle,” Seegert said.

Admissions also consider extracurricular activities and personal statements. Students should take advantage of the chance to tell a fuller story about themselves and explain any glitches, such as a bad grade, Seegert said.

“The personal information helps to give context for the academic information,” he said.

By senior year students have already laid the foundation with the courses they enrolled in and their grades, Seegert said.

“Filling out an application is like taking an exam: you can’t study anymore; all you can do is the best you can,” he said.

Get organized: Career counselors in the Edmonds School District recommend students prioritize deadlines — and not just those for admissions.

Some students get tunnel vision and focus solely on application deadlines, said Erika Spellman, school-to-work coordinator at Mountlake Terrace High School. They forget there are other important deadlines, including financial aid, scholarships and giving faculty ample time to write a strong recommendation.

To help, counselors host admissions essays events to proofread and help students bolster their essays. Proofreading is a common-sense tip, but some overlook this step.

“Kids aren’t as conditioned to write about themselves, and then they’re charged to do it for something really important,” said Jillian Wellington, school-to-work coordinator at Edmonds-Woodway High School.

Each fall Spellman hosts a “Get Organized for College” workshop so students can meet with their counselors and ensure their grades and credits are on track. She tells students to enroll in more than the minimum required classes and finish the year strong academically as some scholarships are contingent upon that.

Consider finances, fit: “I tell students to apply to their dream school if they can afford the application fees, and always apply to the one you know you’ll get into,” Spellman said.

Financing college is a huge concern from parents and students alike, Wellington said.

“I encourage parents and students to have an honest conversation about expectations and resources available,” she said.

Wellington tells students to consider if a potential school is a good academic and personal fit for them, rather than go somewhere popular or to follow their friends.

“You want to succeed emotionally and academically,” Wellington said.

Expect the zany: Alvin Lieu, a senior at Edmonds-Woodway, is vying for admission into the University of Chicago, Georgetown University, Duke University and Santa Clara University. Chicago and Santa Clara’s early application deadlines were earlier this week. The four universities’ intellectual and academic rigor and social vibe enticed Lieu, a full-time International Baccalaureate candidate, to apply.

People should realize filling out a college application is significant, Lieu said. If you’re spending six hours on a school project, you should apply equal parts to an application.

The University of Chicago, for example, requires applicants to complete three essays in addition to the common application. Compounding the challenge are zany essay topics like, “compare and contrast the children’s toy Play-Doh to the philosopher Plato.”

“The best Christmas present would be to hear from the University of Chicago,” Lieu said.

Start early: Gergana Ivanova, a senior at Edmonds-Woodway, was startled when an application for Pepperdine University included an essay topic challenging the applicant to, in 100 words, write something that would make admissions staff laugh.

The part-time International Baccalaureate candidate also is applying to Loyola Marymount University, Northeastern University and the University of Washington. Her advice to others is to start the process early, take tasks one day at a time and be organized.

“I know people testing for the first time this month and have deadlines Dec. 1 and all I think is ‘good luck,’” she said.

College guide

Edmonds School District’s 2011-12 guide to college admissions can be found at http://tinyurl.com/EdCollegeGuide.

College application checklist

Fall

• Take the SAT and/or ACT once more

• Complete applications in order of deadline, not popularity

• Complete applications for Early Decision, Early Action or Early Action Single Choice

• Have a teacher or counselor proofread essays

• Give faculty at least two weeks to write recommendations and a resume including your accomplishments

Winter

• Send out applications

• Follow up with colleges to ensure they received all materials

• Continue combing for scholarships

• Request high school transcripts

Spring

• Notify college you’re attending and those you won’t attend

• Visit schools if the trip is affordable

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