June 20th, 2012

That Awkward Moment When…College Search Edition!

Not realizing you’re in the wrong class until 40 minutes in. Hearing your roommate talk passionately in her sleep about Ryan Gosling. Calling your lab partner by the wrong name…again. College is full of spectacularly awkward moments. (And you’re gonna love it!) But the college search and admission process are fraught with potentially awkward moments as well. Recovering from these little hiccups might be tricky, but luckily, you can avoid them by following the tips below!

That awkward moment when…you realize you sent in a college application essay with an egregious error.

Misspellings, grammar mistakes, even run-on sentences and weak writing in general: these things make admission counselors cringe, and they certainly reflect poorly on you as an applicant. A moving personal essay that ends with “and that’s why I want to go to XYZ University”—when you were applying to ABC College—is another common yet avoidable error.

This is why it’s essential to proof the bejesus out of your college applications, especially the essay. Give yourself an hour or two before doing so to approach the writing with a fresh set of eyes. Do not rely on automatic spelling and grammar checks. Reading the essay aloud is helpful as well, as it’s often easier to hear confusing phrasing and pick up on lost little prepositions, conjunctions, and articles. The editing stage is also a good time to ask for help from teachers, mentors, friends, or family.

Another common error is simply failing to answer the essay prompt. The “write about someone who influenced you” prompt in particular is a doozy. You can write a compelling essay about your grandmother’s adventures in the Amazon jungle, but if you don’t relate it back to how she affected your life, your essay missed the mark, and it will definitely hurt your application. Read and reread the prompt to ensure you grasp the question being asked.

Truly, you should put ample time and planning into your college application essay(s) from the beginning. Don’t forget: the essay is your chance to describe yourself in ways your GPA and test scores never could, so don’t squander the opportunity!

That awkward moment when…you discover your best friend/girl friend/boy friend doesn’t intend to go to the same college as you.

You don’t want to go into the college search on a pinky swear and a promise to spend the next four years with your BFF. Where you attend college should be an independent, autonomous decision, and, truly, it’s probably the most important one you have made so far in your life. Narrowing your options based on someone else’s expectations is a bad idea.

The college decision can impact a lot of things: your happiness during the next four years, your opportunities to gain relevant work experience, your career connections for the future. Yours.

If your dream school just happens to align with your BFF’s, that’s great, but even then, you don’t want to spend freshman year joined at the hip. This is your chance to break out on your own, learn about yourself, find a niche (or several), all removed from that small pond that is high school.

You should also remember that college is a time of great change and personal growth, and sometimes people grow in different directions. This often makes the transition from high school couple to college couple very difficult, and committing to a school because of a significant other is a notoriously risky move.

That awkward moment when…you hear about a little-known school in a little-known town that would have been perfect for you.

Imagine running into one of your classmates after your first year at State University. He tells you about his time at Tiny Liberal Arts College in the middle of Minnesota, and it just sounds incredible, exactly what you wanted in a college. Why have you never heard of this magical place?

It’s important to go into the college search with an open mind. There are over 4,000 colleges and universities in the U.S.; you can look at that large number as intimidating, or you can see it as comforting, even liberating, because it means you have a good chance of finding not just one but several colleges at which you are likely to be very happy. Don’t be afraid to consider schools you’ve never heard of either, even those that seem nontraditional, like single-gender schools, conservatories, or institutes of technology.

Of course, narrowing your options takes lots of research and introspection. But when you start that college search journey by putting together a thoughtful list of things you really want in a school—size, majors, extracurricular activities, location—you can then filter your options quite effectively using college searches or by working with your guidance counselor. And you might be surprised just how manageable a college list you end up with when you eliminate schools that don’t meet most of your criteria: a mid-sized school with a swim team, co-ed housing, Greek life, and a strong microbiology program may be less common than you think.

Also of note, do not include price in your initial list of criteria. It’s sure to be a consideration eventually, but you never know what kind of financial aid you’ll receive from a school. Even the most costly private institutions can cost about the same as a state school after you factor in scholarships, grants, and work-study.

That awkward moment when…you learn about a scholarship you totally could have won, had you only done your research and applied.

There are a lot of scholarships out there—seriously, billions of dollars worth. So many, in fact, that some go unused every year because no one applied! You need to be tenacious in your quest for scholarships and financial aid, putting in just as much time and effort as you did to find that perfect college. And if you’re applicable for a scholarship, you should apply. Period.

True, there’s a big difference between the big, well-known national awards and the scholarships offered by your local rotary club, but you have absolutely nothing to lose by applying for both.

Think about what makes you unique. Do you play an instrument or a sport? Belong to a unique club? Are you a vegetarian or the offspring of a firefighter? There are scholarships out there for all these things and more! Use scholarship search tools or just good ol’ Google to find awards that might match your qualifications: Michigan + oboe + scholarship. See what you find! Ask your family, neighbors, and friends if they know of scholarship opportunities as well. For example, your mom’s company may have a scholarship fund, and if it does, you absolutely want your application in the pile.

Here’s another scholarship tip: Sometimes, those “optional” questions that appear on college applications influence scholarship opportunities and special programs, but if you don’t answer them, you won’t be considered. Learning you could have qualified for a scholarship had you only taken the time to answer one more measly application question? That’s an awkward moment for sure.

Jessica Tomer is an editor at Alloy Education. You can read more of her college and scholarship search advice at CollegeXpress, a resource for college-bound and matriculated students.

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