5 Resources and Tips for Getting Scholarships and Financial Aid for College

5 Resources and Tips for Getting Free Money for College

College can be really expensive.  Below are a few obvious (and not so obvious) things you can do to get that free money.  

Free money for college

This should be you.

 

Tip #1: Fill out the FAFSA. Yeah, fill it out even if you don’t think you’ll qualify. The federal government uses the FAFSA to see if you qualify for over $150 Billion in aid. But here’s the thing. Many state governments, private institutions and colleges use it to see if you qualify for state and institutional scholarships too. So do. 

RESOURCE #1: Need help figuring out the FAFSA? Check out Edvisors amazing and comprehensive guide to filling out the FAFSA.

Tip #2: Fill out the CSS/Financial Aid Profile. The College Scholarship Service PROFILE is used by over 400 private institutions and colleges, particularly highly-selective schools, to gather additional information about financial aid and scholarship eligibility. Chances are, you're applying to at least one school that requires it, so find out which schools use it.

RESOURCE #2: Get the full list of schools using the CSS Profile in 2017/2018 here. The College Board’s awesome 1-page student guide to filling it out can be found here.  Got a question? Call them at (305) 420-3670. (Their customer support is pretty solid.)



Tip #3: Apply early. Like, right now.  Yes, I know. This is the same advice that everyone gives you about everything. But with financial aid, it’s actually really important.  Some reasons:

  • FAFSA now opens October 1st instead of January 1st, allowing you to get your Student Aid Report (SAR) in time for early action or early decision notifications.
  • While FAFSA money doesn’t “run out” as many people believe, money sometimes does run out for scholarships and colleges that use the FAFSA for granting financial aid packages. The early bird gets the $$$.
  • The CSS profile is no walk in the park. The questions are much more detailed than the FAFSA and will require wading through W-2s, bank statements, and other tax documentation. But it’s worth it because free money.

RESOURCE # 3:  My brother created the ultimate Google Sheets document for tracking all of your scholarship research and applying. Copy it here and get started now!

Tip #4: Apply for institutional scholarships. Many schools automatically consider you for merit and institutional scholarships. But many schools offer scholarships that must be applied for separately and often require earlier application dates, additional essays and separate interviews.  Be sure to look for these opportunities by contacting the financial aid offices of schools you're applying to.

RESOURCE #4: Use Google! It’s your greatest resource in the scholarship search.  Don’t believe me? Look at the first thing that came up when I googled “Scholarships at UVA”

5. Tip #5: Apply for outside scholarships. I know, it’s obvious. But you’d be surprised how few students actually put in the time and effort to apply for these and how easy it is to actually get them.  With smaller scholarships that are less than $2,000, sometimes the quantity that you apply to is more important than quality (or in this case, the size) of the scholarship.

RESOURCE # 5: USA Today explains the 11 best websites for finding outside scholarships here. (I agree with them.)

Ready to get started? There’s billions of dollars in scholarships out there.

Download this then register here to go get it.



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Higher Scores Test Prep Interview: A Walk with the College Essay Guy (Episode 29)

An interview with College Essay Guy and Higher Score Test Prep.

From the page:

"Lightning Round Q&A

Q1: What’s your best piece of advice for families as they begin this journey?
A1: Get help. Parts of the college admissions process require specific expertise.

Q2: What is your favorite college admissions book, blog, or tool that no family should be without?
A2:  CollegeExpress.com and CollegeEssayGuy.com

Q3: What should a family who is overwhelmed by the college admissions process focus on?
A3:  Take time to pause and check in with each other. Focus on the long term goal.

Q4: What is your all-time favorite book?
A4: The Brother’s Karamozov by Fyodor Dostoyevski*

*These links are affiliate links through Amazon. You will not pay extra; however, we do receive a small reimbursement if you purchase through our links. Thank you for your support of The College Checklist Podcast!"



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Four Things Undocumented Students Need to Know About Applying to College

resourceFour Things Undocumented Students Need to Know About Applying to Colleges for

Four important questions answered and oodles of resources to help undocumented students prepare and apply for college.

1. Can I still still go to college if I am undocumented?

Yes. There is no federal policy restricting undocumented students from being accepted at a university.

2. Am I eligible for financial aid?

It depends on what state you live in. Undocumented students are ineligible for federal aid, but many schools offer in-state tuition and state and university scholarships to undocumented students. You can find a map of these states here, or on this page.

3. Will applying to colleges give the federal government information that will get me deported?

No. Schools administration do not legally have to give information to the federal government about its students under FERPA (see "Laws and Regulations" below for more information). And any information given to these schools cannot be held against you in court. When it comes to applying for scholarships, the policies different from source to source, so make sure to read their agreements carefully.

4. Should I give up hope on going to college?

No way! You are not alone in this journey. There are many people in your community who are in your same position or are devoting their time and energy to making sure you get to college. Now is the best possible time to apply. 

Here are tons of resources for helping you get there:



Applying to College

How to Get Your Testing, Application Fees, and Basically Everything Else for Free
The title says it all. This is the best and more practical place to start.

The Ten Step Process to Applying to College as an Undocumented Student
Find a college, choose a major, build support, push yourself.

The CollegeBoard’s Repository of Resources for Undocumented Students
A list of organizations and resources for how to get support through applying and attending college.

Free Access to College Essay Guy’s How to Write the Personal Statement
Just write us an email at assistant@collegeessayguy.com telling us that you are interested in a pay-what-you-can option and you can get free access.

Matchlighters Scholarship
Free college admissions help: four hours of one-on-one essay feedback and two hours of college-list development

Paying for College: Scholarships and In-State Tuition

A List of Schools’ Financial Aid Policies toward Undocumented Students
Each school has their own policies. While your options may be more limited, there are many schools out there that strongly support you in your journey.

A List of Private Scholarships for California Universities

How to Cut Down the Costs of Attending College

MALDEF’s Scholarship Resource Guide for high school, college, and graduate students

4-Year Colleges & Universities Admissions Policies, Financial Aid, and Scholarships
Admission policies, financial aid, and scholarship opportunities at colleges and universities throughout the nation and abroad.

Laws and Regulations

Free or Reduced-Price Legal Help
When in doubt, ask a professional.

The Nuts and Bolts for Getting Ready for College
See section 1 here for a brief introduction to the important policies related to eligibility for applying to college.

DREAM Act - Five Facts You Need to Know About the DREAM Act
Policies differ by state so you’ll have to do your research.

DACA - The pros and cons of applying for DACA
DACA is a temporary option to defer deportation: “If you are considering applying for DACA but haven't yet done so, take the time to first consider your own personal, immigration, and criminal history and the risks of providing these details to the U.S. government.”

FERPA - The US Department of Education
You have a right to privacy regarding your educational information.

HB60 - Illinois Coalition for Immigrants and Refugee Rights
An Illinois act that allows in-state tuition for undocumented students.

HB540 - Resources for Undocumented Students (AB 540)
A California act that allows in-state tuition for undocumented students

Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN) - American Immigration Council
A number given to people without social security numbers so that they can still pay taxes, gaining tax credits, getting a driver’s license, and other things.

Resources for educators

Post-Election: What Educators Can Do to Support Undocumented Students
Everything you need to know about how you can support undocumented students.



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A Brief How-to Guide for the Short Answer Questions on Your Common App

A Brief How-to Guide for the Short Answer Questions on Your Common App

You know those Common App short answer questions required by USC, Princeton, Columbia, Stanford, U Chicago, and Yale?

Apparently I’ve got a lot to say about them. How do I know? 

Because, as I was editing a student's short answers this week, I realized that, as with the Activities List and “Why us” essays, I was repeating myself.

Time to create a guide, I thought.

This is that guide. 

With 11 tips. 

In a Dos and Dont’s format.

- - - 

1. DO: Think of your short answers as an advent calendar. 

 
Whose idea was this?
 

Whose idea was this?

Each one is a tiny window into your soul. So make sure when the reader opens each one that there’s something awesome inside. Like a tiny horse with miniature bells that actually jingle. Not like a crappy piece of milk chocolate (you know the kind I’m talking about).

I feel your pain.

I feel your pain.

Can you do that in like fifteen words? You can. How?

2. DO: Use all the space allotted to explain your answer.

Pro-Tip: You’re often given space for thirteen words for a short answer. So use it up!

In other words, answer "Why," even if the prompt doesn't ask you to. Why?

Because each answer is an opportunity to get to know you better and sometimes the takeaway isn’t clear or obvious from the thing itself. Example:

Question: (from USC) What's your favorite food? 
Just-okay answer: “Tacos.”

Your reader might read this and think: Um, great. You... live in California?

Better answer: "My abuela's birria tacos--recipe has been passed down for generations." 

#culture #family #goats (Because that's what birria is: goats. #themoreyouknow)

Another example of a just-okay answer:

Q: Who is your role model?
A: Louis Zamperini

Reader thinks: Great, no idea who that is. 

Don't make the reader Google your answer. She won't.

Instead, write: 

Olympic athlete Louis Zamperini, who survived concentration camps and overcame severe alcoholism. 

But...

3. DON’T make the short reason you provide (or any of your answers) super obvious.

Example for USC question: 

Q: What’s your favorite website? 
A: Instagram (social media photo-sharing site)

Yup. That's... pretty much what Instagram is. Thanks for telling me zero about you.

Another bad example (for Stanford):

Q: What historical moment or event do you wish you could have witnessed?
A: The Big Bang. It was the beginning of our universe and it would have been amazing to see that. 

Yup, that’s… what that was. (Also, fyi, pretty much everyone writes “The Big Bang” for this question.)

Better answer (by a student accepted in 2015): 

A: I want to watch George Washington go shopping. I have an obsession with presidential trivia, and the ivory-gummed general is far and away my favorite. Great leaders aren’t necessarily defined by their moments under pressure; sometimes tiny decisions are most telling--like knickers or pantaloons?

Also:

4. DO get specific.

Q: What inspires you?

Non-specific example: Documentaries. They are my favorite source of inspiration

(Side note: Don't sound like a robot.)

Better answer: Documentaries. "Forks Over Knives" made me go vegan; "Born into Brothels" inspired my Gold Award.

Also:

5. DON’T for your favorite quote, say something that you'd find on one of those "Success" posters or a Hallmark card. 

 
                                                                 Mm. Deep.

                                                                 Mm. Deep.

 

Cheesy examples:

  • "Life is what you make of it." (or)
  • "Dreams are X" (or) "Always follow your dreams" (or)
  • "Life is like a dream and dreams are like life are dreams dreams life life dreams." 

Pretty much anything with "life" or "dreams."



6. DON’T use Top 50 adjectives on the "3-5 words to describe you" question.

Why not? Again, they don't tell us much. 

And what are the Top 50 adjectives? You can probably guess them. 
Examples: adventurous, friendly, compassionate, passionate, empathetic, passionate (yeah, I’m making a point here).

In fact, don't use adjectives at all. One of my favorite answers for this was "Mulan."

Yeah, that Mulan.

Yeah, that Mulan.

Oh, and:

7. DON’T use adjectives that repeat info already clear on your application.

Example: motivated, hardworking, determined

Cool. You and every other student with a GPA above 3.5.

Which reminds me: 

8. DO make sure your adjectives are all clearly different and interesting: 

In the example above, they all basically mean the same thing. So make sure they reveal something interesting about you.  Tell me who you’d rather meet:

Someone who is ‘passionate, persistent, and extroverted?’

Or would you rather meet an ‘ardent, panglossian visionary?’

Or maybe the ‘gregarious horse-whispering philosopher queen?’

I have questions for that last girl.

Oh, and hey:

9. DON’T worry so much about pissing people off. 

I'm doing that in this guide, using sarcasm and words like "pissing." 

Let me clarify:

Students often ask me, "Is [this] okay? Is [that] okay? I don't want them to think that I'm too [blank]." 

Oh, you mean you don't want them to think that you have a personality. 

I encourage students to take (calculated) risks on these. To push boundaries. To be, I don't know, funny? Human? Compare, for example, the following answers: 

(Yale) What's something you can't live without? 

Play-it-safe answer: My family.

Me: Zzzzzz.

Better answer: The Tony Stark-made arc reactor in my chest

This is me after reading that answer.

This is me after reading that answer.

Which reminds me: 

10. Don't check your humor at the door. 

If you're funny in life, feel free to be funny in your short answers. If you're not funny, no need to start now. 

Irony is one of the best ways to demonstrate intelligence and sensitivity to nuance.

Check out these just-okay and better examples, all for Yale 2015:

JUST-OKAY ANSWERS:

The two qualities I most admire in other people are… ambition and drive
(SMH. Same thing, bro.)

I am most proud of… my passion.
(There’s that word again. Also, it’s too abstract in this context. Show, don’t tell.)

I couldn't live without… my cell phone.
(Yup, you and everyone else.)

Who or what inspires you… the sunset
(Seriously?)

What do you wish you were better at being or doing? Answering these questions.
(Heads-up: meta answers are pretty common.) 

Most Yale freshmen live in suites of four to six students. What would you contribute to the dynamic of your suite? Good times and great conversation.
(Oh look I'm asleep again.)

BETTER ANSWERS (written by a student who was accepted to Yale in 2015):

The two qualities I most admire in other people are… Spock’s logic & Kirk’s passion

I am most proud of… Only cried once during The Notebook (maybe twice)

I couldn't live without… The Tony Stark-made arc reactor in my chest

Who or what inspires you? Shia LaBeouf yelling “Just Do It”

What do you wish you were better at being or doing? Dancing-especially like Drake, Hotline Bling style

Most Yale freshmen live in suites of four to six students. What would you contribute to the dynamic of your suite? A Magical Mystery Tour of Beatles keyboard songs

You totally want to meet this guy, right?

Make the reader totally want to meet you. 

A few final tips:

11. DO: Offer a variety of things you're interested in.

So if you love science and you wrote a supplemental essay about science, don't tell us about 20 journals/websites/publications you’ve read… on science.

Show not only your interests in astrophysics but also literature, philosophy, Star Trek, programming, and Godfather 1 and 2 (but not 3.)

Got a favorite short answer example? Share in the comments below!



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Top 5 Tips to Improve your ACT Math Score

Top 5 tips to improve your act math score

ACT Math is a real challenge for some test-takers. Sometimes, even students who pride themselves on their math skills can be caught off-guard by the ACT. Below are five tips to help you improve your ACT Math score, whether you’re a “math person” or not.

Tip # 1: Be attentive to detail

Noticing small details is essential to scoring well in ACT Math. So many ACT students will say they missed math questions due to “stupid mistakes.” In these so-called “stupid” mistakes, test-takers see all the information in a math problem, but they fail to properly recognize certain details.

ACT Math loves to test your ability to notice and correctly interpret every number, symbol, word, or graphic in a math problem. As you practice for the test, teach yourself to scan ACT Math questions for small-but-important-details, such as decimal points, math signs, the wording of story problems, and the components of graphs and charts.

Tip # 2: Approach multiple choice questions strategically

There is no numeric entry in ACT Math, just multiple choice. The correct answer to each math problem will be right in front of you, among the answer choices. When you’re not sure of the right answer, you can always find the correct response by thinking logically and strategically. Learn how to eliminate incorrect answers, and learn the different ways in which ACT Math likes to trick you with tempting-but-wrong choices.

Tip # 3: Research good ACT prep materials

Not all ACT prep materials are created equal. A good set of prep materials for ACT Math is important—think helpful tutorials, good advice, and useful practice materials. Check Reddit for helpful advice and suggestions from other students, and browse trusted ACT blogs for information-packed reading.

Tip #  4: Learn to minimize calculator use

The next time you practice ACT Math, I suggest you play a little game: pretend that you get charged five, maybe ten dollars every time you use your calculator. This turns calculator use into a real decision, doesn’t it? And it should be a real decision!

Yes, the ACT lets you use a calculator on the test, yet excessive reliance on a calculator is a trap! Sometimes mental math or estimation can get you to the right answer almost instantly—much faster than you could if you keyed every step into your calculator. Also remember that writing a few problem steps on scrap paper increases your accuracy. It’s pretty easy to hit the wrong number on a calculator keypad, but much harder to actually write down the incorrect number (and reread it a few times without catching it). Always think carefully about whether you really need that calculator, and look for ways to avoid calculator use.

Tip # 5: Know what’s on the math test, and practice every skill

The #1 mistake students make is not dedicating enough time to all the math topics tested on the ACT. Don’t make this mistake! Especially when there are so many resources guiding you in the right direction. Explore a list of the five most frequently-tested ACT math topics. Prioritize topics that give you problems, and give the ones that come easily to you a break. With the right preparation, you’ll be that much closer to reaching your dream ACT score!

For nearly ten years, David Recine has been teaching students ranging from K-12 to university grads. He is a test prep expert; writing articles for Magoosh that cover everything from tricky SAT vocab words to complex ACT math topics. You can read more of David’s awesome blog posts on the Magoosh High School Blog.



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How to Write a Resume for Colleges Using Your Common Application (With 3 Amazing Examples)

how to write a resume for colleges using your common app part 1 of 2

Do I need to send a resume to colleges? (Part 1)

Before you start making a resume to send to colleges, you should first consider this important question:

Do I need to create and send a resume to colleges? 

What do I mean? Well, a few things.  Ask yourself:

1. Do my schools even want me to send them a resume? 

Find out by checking each school’s admissions web page or logging onto the Common App to see which schools include a place to upload a resume. Each school has a different policy on whether or not to submit a supplemental resume and it’s usually a good idea to follow their instructions. #Sarcasm

The University of Virginia says clearly that they do not want students sending additional resumes.  Other schools like Brown University, Boston College, and Carnegie Mellon provide space for uploading optional resumes in the Common App, whereas some schools like the University of Texas - Austin say that submitting a resume is “strongly recommended.” i.e. You should probably do it.

In short, look at what each school requires.



2. Secondly, does my resume provide insight that isn’t already on my application? (Or just because I can send one, does that mean I should?)

So if submitting a resume is optional, how do you know if your resume provides value beyond  your Activities List?  Easy. Take a look at your entire application, including your main Common App essay, your Activities List (maximum of 10 spots and 5 honors/awards), your supplemental essays, and your Additional Info section. 

(Note: If you haven’t noticed, that’s a lot of space to submit information about what you’ve been doing.)

Then ask yourself this: Is there something important about my application that is not already being highlighted or communicated clearly? One example might be:

  • Significant work experience. Have you worked multiple jobs almost full-time to help support your family? Or did you have an awesome internship that you couldn’t fully explain in the 150 characters that the Common App provides? Or maybe you spent hundreds of hours studying marketing and internet search engine optimization and started your own business? It might be worth mentioning these in more detail. Take a look at this (real) resume and ask yourself: Would it have been possible for this student to include all of this detail in 10 spots of 150 characters each? Probably not.

Example Resume #1.

I know, this resume looks unreal for a high school student.  But even if your experience is 1/3rd of this and you’re not able to fit it into your Activities List, consider creating a separate resume that highlights your unmentioned accomplishments and experience

Here are some other reasons to create a separate resume:

  • So many awards. If you’ve won 28 awards as Captain of a Nationally Ranked Colorguard team, it might be worth creating a separate resume to list them all, since they definitely won’t fit on the 5 spots they provide you.
  • So much community service. If you’ve been involved with 6 or 8 separate service organizations in different capacities or led an unusually high number of projects, it might be worth creating a separate resume to highlight each of those and what you’ve done, rather than taking up all of the space on your extracurricular activities list.
  • So many responsibilities. Did you have a lot of different jobs within one particular organization? Is it difficult to list both what your responsibilities were and the impact you had on the organization in 150 characters? The resume is your chance to go into greater detail about your diverse roles and responsibilities, as long as it communicates and highlights new information.

IMPORTANT FINAL NOTE: If there are just one or two smaller activities that you couldn’t fit in the ten spaces provided on the Common App activities list, you can actually probably just include those in the Additional Information section and not have to create a separate resume just to include those two. Check out this blog post to learn how to use this space.

3. Lastly, are there other reasons for creating a resume?

Yes! For example, if you are:

  • Applying for outside scholarships:  When applying to scholarships from 3rd party organizations, many require resumes in addition to essays.
  • Applying to jobs or Internships: If applying to either of these as a high school student or college freshman, it would be easy to tweak your college resume and gear it towards specific internships or summer jobs.
  • Attending an interview: If you have college interviews with alumni or for jobs or internships, it might be a good idea (read: you probably should) bring a copy of your resume to provide some talking points during your interview. They may have seen it already, but it never hurts to be prepared.

Read on to part 2 to see how to turn your Common Application into a simple and clear resume and see two more awesome sample resumes.

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How to Write a Resume for Colleges Using Your Common Application (Part 2 of 2)

how to write a resume for colleges using your common app part 2 of 2

This is part two of the guide to making a simple resume.  Be sure to read part one here.

To follow along, click this link to open up a template, go to File > Make a copy and copy it to your Google Drive and replace the information with your own as you read.

To begin, your basic resume should have three sections: education, experience, and honors.

Oh hey, look. The Common App also has sections like these: “Current or Most Recent School”, “Activities”, and “Honors”. Reminder: this guide is how to translate these sections directly from the Common App into your resume sections. It’ll save you lots of time and produce a solid resume.

And if you haven’t yet completed your Common App Activities List, read this article and complete that first before going any further. 

Here’s how to translate each section:

EDUCATION

This is the simplest part. No need for fancy footwork--just plug in information. Your resume could look like this:

Education

High School Name, City, STATE (start year – end year)                 

GPA: Weighted: #.## / Unweighted: #.##      SAT Subject Tests:
SAT: ####                                                             Subj 1: ###
ACT: ##                                                                  Subj 2: ###

EXPERIENCE

Easy as this: Copy and paste all of the components asked for in each entry on the Common App into a new entry in the “experience” section of your resume. 

Here are the components that your Common App asks for:

  1. Activity type.
  2. Position/Leadership description and organization name. (50 character limit)
  3. Please describe this activity, including what you accomplished and any recognition you received, etc. (150 character limit)
  4. Participation grade levels.
  5. Timing or participation: (Hours spent per week, Weeks spent per year)

Example of Common App entry:

  1. Volunteer activity
  2. Chief Facilitator, International Feed-the-Youth Summit, Philadelphia 
  3. Developed lesson plans, lobbied local businesses for sponsorships, held marketing sessions, established partnerships to run 2-wk leadership camp.
  4. 11th grade
  5. Summer 2015.

Here’s what that might look like when plugged into a resume:

Experience

Chief Facilitator, International Feed-the-Youth Summit, Philadelphia

Developed lesson plans, lobbied local businesses for sponsorships, held marketing sessions, established partnerships to run 2-wk leadership camp (Summer 2015).

Clean and simple. Feel free to break this down into bullet points and add a bit more detail so it looks like the examples in this guide. Maybe like this:

Chief Facilitator, International Feed-the-Youth Summit, Philadelphia (Summer 2015)

  • Held marketing sessions and lobbied local businesses to establish partnerships to run 2-week leadership camp 
  • Developed lesson plans on leadership for 60 middle and high school participants


HONORS

Also easy: Put all of the components listed per entry in your “honors” section into an entry into your “honors” section of your resume.

Your honors section in your Common App asks for these components:

  1. Honors title.
  2. Grade level.
  3. Levels of recognition.

Example:

  1. Advanced Placement Scholar with Distinction
  2. 11th grade
  3. National

If you were to translate this into a resume, it might look like this:

Advanced Placement Scholar with Distinction, National Level (2014)

But don’t stop there. Notice you have 100-characters on your Common App, and you can use that space to emphasize selectivity. How? Like this:

Advanced Placement Scholar with Distinction – National Level (2014) - Award given to students scoring an average of at least 3.5 on all AP exams taken and scores of 3 or higher on five or more of these exams.

Anything else I should include on my resume?

There might be a few more things to include, if you have them. It also might depend on the purpose of your resume. Examples:

Additional Educational Opportunities

  • A summer enrichment experience such as the Center for Talented Youth, the Research Science Institute (RSI), or Duke TIP
  • MOOCS (Massive Open Online Courses)
  • Online classes from a community college or elsewhere

Proficiencies:

  • Programming languages like Java, Python or C++
  • Spoken languages with proficiency level
  • Significant experience with software like Final Cut Pro, Photoshop, or others.

A cover letter:

  • If you’re using your resume for internship or job experiences, include a short half- to full-page explanation of your goals and experience that will make you an asset to the organization.

For examples of how to incorporate these into your resume, see these examples below.

All-star student number 1

All-star student number 2



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How to Write your Extracurricular Essay without Rockstar Achievements

How to Write your Extracurricular Essay without Rockstar Achievements

Not everyone has had a chance to speak at a UN conference.

Or play in Carnegie hall.

When your most valuable experiences aren’t tied to big name titles (like State Champion, National Scholar, First Place, Founder and CEO), that doesn’t mean your experiences won’t bring value to a university campus. 

This article gives three tips for shedding light on some of the things that are harder to put into words.

But first: These tips piggyback off of one of another article, which offers six techniques for writing your 150-word extracurricular essay, which you should totally check out first.

Ready? Here we go:

Tip #1: Quantify your experience.

This is crucial. While you may not have a job title, a well-recognized company, or dollar signs (like money raised) that can make an activities list pop, quantifying how you spent your unstructured time shows you’ve burned the midnight oil, you’ve put in hard work, in short--you've done great stuff. Here’s an example:

I’ve read every book by Paul Farmer and 50+ books and 20+ films on Global Health and social justice to better understand social health care inequity.

This isn’t just for STEM folks. If you're an artist, consider writing down all the hours spent and projects you’ve worked on, even if you didn’t get a chance to finish all of them. Here’s an example:

I’ve created ten short films, worked as an actor in seven (nominated best actor--see add'l info), and have written over 200+ pages of script.

Only you know how much time and energy you’ve put into your passions. While society values well-recognized names (“Fulbright Scholar”), competition winners, and large numbers (“$5,000 for cancer research”), things that people tend to focus less on are the endless hours of unstructured time, unfinished projects, and unrecognized work required to learn skills, develop yourself, and affect change in your community. Give yourself a chance to be proud of this time well-spent. Here’s one more example:

I’ve spent 80+ hours coding 10K+ lines of code for a natural language processing program that correlates the gender of historical figures with the number of verbs performed by each gender in the text of middle school history books (unpublished study).


Tip #2: Briefly mention what roadblocks stopped you from pursuing a related Rockstar Achievement and then explain what you did instead.

Important: Your extracurricular essay should briefly mention roadblocks only to that extracurricular activity. Don’t use this space to mention roadblocks to your academic career in general (i.e. why you failed a certain semester or didn’t take more AP classes)—that’s for your additional info section.

Admissions officers will understand that some students have not had the same access to resources and opportunities as others (i.e. ten years of piano lessons, started a non-profit, traveled the world before age 10, etc.).

Instead, what readers want to know is that you took full advantage of the opportunities presented to you, and that were specific to your circumstances.

While counselors may have some information about your high school or socio-economic environment, they won’t have all the details. Why not make it easy for them? Example:

Without a means of transportation (in Korea the driving age is 18), I was unable to participate in school-sponsored activities or outside tournaments, so I spent most of my time taking online college courses (MOOCs) and reading books about world health care.
Or:
Unfortunately, I had to drop basketball my junior year because practices finished after dark and I had to take public transportation home and it is not safe to walk through my neighborhood late at night. However I still helped fundraise for the team and played basketball on the weekends with my little brother. 

Other possible roadblocks:

  • Did your school lack funding or not even have a particular club?
  • Was there too much bureaucratic red tape? (Be specific, if so; don’t whine.)
  • Were you or a family member sick, making it difficult for you to participate in a meaningful event?
  • Did your family lack the funds to pay for your flight to a conference?

Some ideas for what you did instead:

  • I started that club myself.
  • We put together a fundraiser to raise money for the trip.
  • When I couldn’t take that class, I studied on my own (if it relates to your extracurricular activity).


Tip #3. Mention opportunities even if you were unable to attend due to financial, health, or other reasons

For example:

I was accepted at the Stanford Medical Youth Program (SMYSP) but was unable to attend because my family couldn’t afford the cost of the five-week residency.

This was not a “missed opportunity.” This was a success, even if it didn’t go as far as you wanted or expected it to.

Not only is this an acknowledgment of your partial success, your reader might see accepting you as a chance to finally give you the chance to pursue your dreams.

 
Chuck Norris – How to Write Your Extracurricular Essay
 

Feeling inspired yet?

Time to get writing. 

Want help on your Common App personal statement?

Check out this Free One-Hour Guide to Writing the Personal Statement.

WANT HELP NAILING YOUR PERSONAL STATEMENT?

CHECK OUT THE FREE ONE-HOUR GUIDE BELOW.

 
 

The Free 1-Hour Guide to the UC Personal Insight Questions

The Free 1-Hour Guide to the UC Personal Insight Questions

Remember that free 1-Hour Guide to the Personal Statement with the step-by-step process with the Essence Objects, Values Exercise, and example essays?

Well, I messed around and did a version for the New UC Application. Why?

Because I’m the College Essay Guy. It’s what I do.

So here’s the deal: the UCs are looking for some very particular information (14 pieces of information, in fact), and the 8 new personal insight questions are intimately connected to these 14 points.

Here’s a more detailed breakdown:

Lesson 1.1 starts off with a Brief Guide to the UC Application so you get the big picture and answers to questions like:

  • What are UC admission officers looking for in these new prompts?
  • How do the new Personal Insight Questions fit into the 14 points of comprehensive review?
  • Also, what ARE the 14 points of comprehensive review?

Glad you asked.

Lesson 1.2 dives deep into each one. For example, when the UC schools say they like to see that you’ve completed “special projects”, what does that even mean?

Lesson 1.3 shows you how to write an awesome UC Activities List and provides some great examples.

In Lesson 1.4, you’ll get inspired as I walk you through the Values Exercise (via video) and help you come up with the topics and content for your responses to the UC prompts.

Lesson 2.1 helps you turn your topics into real actual essays through two different structures: Montage or Narrative.

Then, we get down to business and I walk you through the following:

Lesson 2.2 - How do I answer the PIQ (Personal Insight Questions) by writing about personal challenges through the Narrative Structure?

Lesson 2.3 - Example Narrative Structure and Analysis

Lesson 2.4 - How do I use the Montage Structure to answer the PIQ?

Lesson 2.5 - Example Montage Structure and Analysis

Finally, if you’re looking to really take your essay to the next level, you can take my in-depth How to Answer the UC Application Prompts course or if you’re ready to tackle your Common App essay, take a look at either my Free 1-Hour Guide to Writing the Personal Statement or the more in-depth How to Write a Personal Statement course.

Happy writing!

P.S. What do you think of the new UC prompts? Love ‘em? Hate ‘em? Tell me why below.

CHECK OUT THE FULL GUIDE BELOW.

 
 

The Objects Exercise - Video Walkthrough

This is one of my favorite brainstorming activities. Why?

It’s one of the most efficient ways I know to help generate a TON of content for your personal statement and also add texture to bring your essay to life.

Also, it’s just fun to do and a great way to reflect.

Ready to do it?

Click here for a list of questions to help you with the exercise.  Then, watch the video below.

What’s one of your essence objects? Share it in the comments below and tell us what it represents to you.


Check out the one-hour guide to the personal statement for more brainstorming exercises.


WANT HELP NAILING YOUR PERSONAL STATEMENT?

CHECK OUT THE FREE ONE-HOUR GUIDE BELOW.