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5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Applying to College

This post is from a student, parent, or professional contributor. The opinions expressed by the author are their own and do not necessarily reflect the positions, viewpoints, or policies of Niche.

A white girl with short blond hair sits in her bed at night. The lights are out and she is illuminated by her Apple laptop.

Applying for college can be daunting. There are so many variables to consider, including cost, location, major, and prestige.

You also may have the pressure of expectations. Will my stats be enough? Is this an environment somewhere I will be successful in? How will I pay for this?

I used Niche when it came to finding where I belonged. My favorite feature was the reviews sections where I could see what others said about their experiences at a school and what they gained from going to a particular school.

I was fortunate to have a great admissions counselor, amazing guidance from my peers, wonderful teachers who inspired me to love school at the Alabama School of Fine Arts, and tremendous support from my mother.

Nevertheless, there are things I wish I knew before applying to college and resources I wished I had utilized more. 

 

It is going to take a lot of work, time, and research, so be patient. 

I initially had little to no idea what the whole college admissions process would entail.

In the beginning of my senior year, I had a full schedule, including my specialty dance classes and rigorous academic load. I decided to drop an Advanced Placement class for a study period to allow more time to work on applications, research colleges, and apply for scholarships.

With so many variables to consider while not knowing exactly what I was looking for other than a school with a dance major, I was lost and overwhelmed. 

The time I dedicated to college applications, including research, organization, testing, and applying for scholarships, was equal to the time I would spend on a class, part-time job, or independent research project.

Because I knew the outcome would drastically impact my life, future, and career, I was afraid of making the “wrong” decision or not being happy where I ended up choosing. Staying optimistic was important to enjoying the process. 

Since I started looking for schools by the end of my junior year, the entire process took a whole year. I had to work on being patient and remaining confident in the end result. As the proverb goes, “Good Things Come to Those Who Wait.” 

I am appreciative of the opportunities I have gotten from going to Point Park and would not change my decision if I had a chance to go back.

I try to remind myself college is not finite. It is there to prepare me for the future, emotionally, intellectually, and to ensure I have the capabilities to succeed. 

 

There are ways to request application/standardized test fee waivers.

This is something I wish I utilized more. There are certain requirements for different applications but I’ve included some below, including qualifications for fee waivers when it comes to applying through the Common Application, standardized testing, or applying for aid on the College Scholarship Service (CSS) Profile.

As a side note, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is always free to apply. The policies may vary for international students, so be sure to clarify any fees or requirements.

Common Application

You are eligible for fee waivers if you say “yes” to any of the following:

  • You have received or are eligible to receive an ACT or SAT testing fee waiver
  • You are enrolled in or eligible to participate in the federal free or reduced price lunch program (FRPL)
  • Your annual family income falls within the income eligibility guidelines set by the USDA Food and Nutrition Service
  • You are enrolled in a federal, state, or local program that aids students from low-income families (e.g., TRIO programs such as Upward Bound)
  • Your family receives public assistance
  • You live in a federally subsidized public housing, a foster home, or are homeless
  • You are a ward of the state or an orphan
  • You can provide a supporting statement from a school official, college access counselor, financial aid officer, or community leader

American College Test (ACT):

Each student who receives an ACT Fee Waiver must meet ALL eligibility requirements: 

  1. Be currently enrolled in high school in the 11th or 12th grade 
  2. Be testing in the United States, US territories, or Puerto Rico
  3. Meet one or more of the indicators of economic need listed below: 
  • Enrolled in a federal free or reduced-price lunch program at school, based on US Department of Agriculture (USDA) income levels (see table). 
  • Enrolled in a program for the economically disadvantaged (for example, a federally funded program such as GEAR UP or Upward Bound). 

Note: If the student participates in a program, but is not economically disadvantaged, they are not eligible for a fee waiver. 

  • Resides in a foster home, is a ward of the state, or is homeless 
  • Family receives low-income public assistance or lives in federally subsidized public housing
  • Family’s total annual income is at or below USDA levels for free or reduced-price lunches on the USDA Food and Nutrition Service website

Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT):

You are eligible for fee waivers if you say “yes” to any of the following:

  • You are enrolled in or eligible to participate in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP)
  • Your annual family income falls within the Income Eligibility Guidelines set by the USDA Food and Nutrition Service
  • You are enrolled in a federal, state, or local program that aids students from low-income families (e.g., Federal TRIO programs such as Upward Bound)
  • Your family receives public assistance
  • You live in federally subsidized public housing or a foster home, or are homeless
  • You are a ward of the state or an orphan

College Scholarship Service (CSS) Profile:

  • If the student qualified for an SAT fee waiver  
  • If the student is an orphan or ward of the court under the age of 24  
  • Based on parental income and family size (e.g. family of 4 would qualify with income of $45,000 or less)

Advanced Placement Fee Reduction:

  • The College Board has different eligibility criteria for AP Exam fee reductions, depending on whether a school or district participates in the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), a program that enables high-poverty U.S. schools and districts to offer breakfast and lunch at no charge to all students.
  • Schools and districts that meet the criteria and choose to participate in CEP can not use a student’s enrollment in CEP to determine eligibility for AP Exam fee reductions, because all students in these schools or districts, regardless of family income, are automatically eligible for free meals. Accordingly, CEP schools and districts must determine each student’s eligibility for AP Exam fee reductions.

When it comes to an individual school’s application, do not be afraid to ask if they could waive or reduce their fee. Since I was applying as a performing arts major, my fees racked up quickly.

Furthermore, if they accept video auditions and that is more financially reasonable for your situation, ask to see how the school can accommodate. Paying money or taking the risk to travel during the pandemic for an in-person artistic audition may not be something you or your family is comfortable with. 

Your Guide To Acing The College Admissions Essay

Network with people already at the schools you are interested in.

In my opinion, what makes a school great are its people and culture. If you have a connection with someone who is already going to a school you are interested in, I would encourage you to reach out and pick their brain about their experience.

One of my friends gave me the best advice about the fear of being annoying. “If you are not bothered by someone asking you questions, chances are they are not bothered by you asking them questions.” 

If you do not know anyone, look someone up on the school’s social media page or check the location tag on Instagram for students who go to the college. Schools typically like to brag about their students, so look for features or story takeovers.

Another pro tip is to see who has tagged the school. This can give you insight on what events students are doing and give you another person to potentially connect with.

At the time you take an in-person tour of the college, the tour guide will probably know most answers to your questions, and if they do not, they can direct you to someone who does know the answer.

Be sure to note how the students are interacting with each other and the professors. Admission offices are a great resource because they can connect you to a student who is willing to share more personalized knowledge on a specific major and/or program.

Even if you cannot take an official tour, being on campus or in the area can give you good information about what it would be like to live there.

Virtual tours, YouTube videos, TikToks, Zoom panels, and information sessions are great ways to gain insight and give you time to personally connect to students.

You can also look at the college’s student run newspaper. I work for mine, the Globe, as a staff writer and cover almost all the performances running, including the Conservatory of Performing Arts Theatre, Musical Theatre, Dance, and Cinema Department.

Other departments of our newspaper include News, Sports, Opinions, Features, and more. Students’ perspectives on anything and everything that happens on the university’s campus can be found in our newspaper, so it’s a great resource for current and prospective students.

 

Your social media presence and persona are important.

Schools will be looking at your social media page, so be aware of what you share online.

I first got Instagram in 2012 during my senior year of high school so I could start a new “official” business page. I felt I needed a page that could be public, and with a professional page, I can connect and follow other professionals while showcasing different projects I am working on.

Even though there are some things on my social media pages I have deleted, anything and everything that goes on the internet is permanent.

A good rule of thumb when it comes to posting is, “if you would not show it to your grandmother, you should not post or send it.” Be aware, students have lost scholarship or admission offers due to bad behavior on social media.

 

Write essays beforehand to save time and energy.

Even with the study hall I added my senior year, I found it difficult to find time to develop my essays. By brainstorming, writing, drafting, and editing before any of my applications were due, this saved me from scrambling to do everything last minute.

I would also suggest writing essays around these topics, because these are the most frequent prompts I have seen when applying to scholarships. 

  • Why did you decide to major in _____ major?
  • What inspired you to choose this major?
  • What do you want to do with your major / future career goals?
  • Explain your financial need. / Why do you deserve _____? 
  • Tell us about a challenge you encountered and how you overcame it. 
  • Tell us about a time when you had a belief or idea challenged. 
  • Who inspires / inspired you and why? 
  • Open Ended 

Here is a link to the 2021-2022 Common Application essay prompts to get started on. Remember, they are looking to get to know you and find reasons to accept you. Adhere by the word limit, but do not be afraid to be expressive

If you are looking to major in the performing arts, I would suggest compiling and refining your audition material, resume, and headshot. 

It is a good idea to get all your applications looked at by your college advisor, mentor, teacher, parent, or trusted peer.

 

This is an exciting time to explore yourself and who you aspire to be. By sharing my experiences, I hope to provide insight and guidance for a smoother process and transition. 

As said by Amelia Earhart, “The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life; and the procedure, the process is its own reward.”

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Author: Rosalie Anthony

Rosalie is currently attending Point Park University earning her Dance- B.F.A degree with a minor in French. Previously, she attended and graduated from the Alabama School of Fine Arts in dance. She is passionate about learning, teaching and mentoring. In her spare time, she enjoys working out, chatting with friends, and discovering new places to go in Pittsburgh.