Completing college applications and writing essays

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Applying to college can be complex and even daunting, which is why 20 years ago Rebeca Romero Rainey helped co-found Bridges with Pamela Shepherd. Rebeca sees Bridges’ work as relevant as ever, noting that “the process has gotten even more complicated and more expensive.” Given the unique circumstances, goals and needs that every student and their families have, Bridges tailors each college counseling session to the individual. Read more about Rebeca in our November Spotlight (bridgesproject.org).

October’s Learning Curve explored different kinds of colleges, including factors that a prospective student needs to weigh when identifying the best fit. The November Learning Curve will investigate various aspects of the college application, from the basics found in every college application to writing a personal essay for a more selective college or even a scholarship application.

Most two-year colleges have open admissions (anyone with a high school diploma or HSE/GED can enroll) and applying there is straightforward. You can obtain a paper application form in the college’s class schedule booklet, or apply online. Required information includes personal and parent or guardian details, high school or HSE/GED graduation, previous college attendance, degree sought and residence status for in-state tuition purposes. Applicants need to send an official copy of their high school or HSE/GED transcripts and/ or their most recent college transcripts to the college. Most new or transfer students will pay an application fee.

Some four-year colleges offer open admissions. Most have admission requirements, which means high school coursework, grade point average, standardized test scores, recommendations from counselors and teachers, and even high school activities, can be considered for admittance. If a college requires any of these, it’s important to ensure that you provide all the materials to the best of your ability. Transcripts, SAT/ ACT scores and recommendations must be submitted accurately and on time.

If you’re applying for scholarships or to a more selective college, you will probably be asked to write an essay. A required essay gives you the opportunity to reflect on and express who you are, beyond test scores and grades. Your essay should reflect your experiences and what matters to you, and be written in such a way that the reader clearly hears your voice.

How to get started writing a personal essay? Simple ways include brainstorming, creating an outline or free writing. Set a timer and write your biography, make a list of what you love, or note key moments in your life that have made you who you are.

A first draft will probably surpass the word limit and read rough, which is why revising and editing are essential to writing an essay that has an obvious introduction and thesis, supporting details and a conclusion. Give yourself plenty of time to write and polish your essay.

Vary language, sentence length and structure, so the essay engages the reader. Ask others for feedback. Read your work out loud to ensure the narrative makes sense and flows well. Avoid spelling and grammar mistakes. Don’t assume that the reader knows what you mean when you use acronyms or refer to a school-specific club.

Bridges’ college counselors are available to help you. Visit our website (bridgesproject.org) or call (575) 758-5074 to set up an appointment in advance of your application or scholarship deadlines.

Mackenzi Frederick is Bridges development coordinator.

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