Work smarter, not harder, is one of the strategies that we encourage students to use, but there is a risk that you might get so focused on minimizing your work that you sabotage yourself.
One of the most common places students stumble into self-sabotage is getting focused on minimizing the number of essays you have to write and losing sight of your ultimate goal:getting into your dream college.
Creating a Writing Map and following our advice for how to be smart when it comes to reusing essays will keep you from making that mistake!
1. Know when to reuse an essay as-is, when to revise it before reusing, and when to write a completely new essay.
As you are making your Writing Map, you are looking for opportunities to reuse answers so you can work smarter, not harder. But don’t get carried away when it comes to reusing answers. Remember that your goal is to get into the colleges on your list, not to complete your applications with the fewest essays possible.
You should reuse an answer as-is if the questions are nearly identical. If the questions are similar, but distinct, you should revise your answer for each question. This is especially true for the “Why College X” questions. You’ll get more information about how to use a “template” for your Why College X or Why Major X essays in Week 11. If the questions are unique, then you need to write a completely new essay. A generic answer will add nothing to your application and might even detract if it is inaccurate or non-responsive for a particular college, which often happens.
2. Even when programs are virtual, participating in events hosted by colleges might give you a leg up in the admissions process.
Events hosted by colleges are first and foremost marketing events designed to persuade you to apply and attend their college. So why would you attend one if you already know you want to apply to a particular college, and how could it possibly give you a leg up in the admissions process? Well, it’s all about learning to think like an admissions officer and understanding what each college on your list considers when making admissions decisions.
In the last ten years or so, many colleges (for a variety of reasons) have begun to consider “demonstrated interest” as a factor in the admissions process. “Demonstrated interest” is nothing more than an evaluation of how interested you are in the particular college and what evidence they have of that.
One of the easiest ways to “demonstrate interest” is to attend one of these events, introduce yourself to the admissions officer, and ask at least one good question so that you leave a positive impression. You can refer to your attendance in your answer to the “Why College X?” question and get double credit.
Wondering how to find out if the colleges on your list consider “demonstrated interest”? Just check the research you did on the College Board’s Big Future website in Week 3 and see if the college listed “Level of Applicant’s Interest” as a factor they consider.
3. What you need to know about scholarship search services.
There's good news and bad news when it comes to scholarship search services. The bad news is that scholarship scams abound, and every year thousands of hopeful college applicants and their families get duped by them. It is so tempting to sign up for a service that "guarantees" you'll get a scholarship, but the only guarantee is that you'll never see the money you paid to this service again. Before you pay a single dollar to a scholarship search service, use this checklist to evaluate whether you are about to become a victim of a scam rather than the recipient of legitimate assistance.
The good news is that there are scholarships out there and that it is relatively easy for you to identify them for FREE thanks to the internet. You can use a tool like Fastweb or FinAid and the College Board’s Scholarship Search.
One note about "free" scholarship search services: They are free to you, but many of them are for-profit enterprises. So who pays? For the most part, these sites are supported by colleges, scholarship organizations, and financial aid related companies (such as lenders). They pay these sites so that they can have access to you! They want to sell you on themselves. So once you sign up for these services, you will likely become a target of a lot of marketing including internet ads, e-mails, and snail mail. Our advice? Just deal with the hassle factor of all this extra stuff coming your way. It is worth it to get the information you need about scholarships for free.
In other words, the easiest way to avoid being the victim of a scam is simply to do your research.
Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.