Do Sweat the Small Stuff! Part 2

Today, Alice Kleeman continues her excellent blog post about the "small stuff" that can trip up a college application process. Here are more of the frequently glossed-over college-related tasks that can make a difference:

  • Your name

        Seems like a simple question, right?  But maybe you are Maria Juana Ortiz on your birth certificate, and Maria J. Ortiz at school, MJ to your friends, and Maria Juana Ortiz-Santos to your extended family.  Maybe you think that doesn’t matter.  But when a college is trying to join your SAT or ACT scores to your file; when a financial-aid office is trying to figure out whether the aid application it received belongs to you or someone else; when your diploma and final transcript carry different names -- under those circumstances, the name you provide can cause serious delays in processing important paperwork.  Choose one name for the college process and use it every time. 

        Since the Free Application for Federal Student AID (FAFSA) requires you to use the name on your Social Security card, you might as well use that one across the board.

        •     Application “extras”

        If you think that because your “long essay” is finished you can take a casual approach to the other questions and essays a college asks of you, you are making an enormous mistake.  In fact, when you stop to think that the Common App essay is asked of all applicants, and the supplements are asked only of the applicants to that particular college, you’ll realize that your responses could be the key to showing that school that you are, indeed, a great match for its programs. 

        The “Why Us?” question, a frequent Common App supplement prompt, provides your greatest opportunity to show that you get it—you know the college, you know yourself, and you see the fit.  If you’re not dedicating your full time, energy, and attention to supplements—even the ones that might appear at first glance to be throw-aways (“What are three words your friends would use to describe you?”)—you’re hurting your chances for success.

        •     Deadlines

        You’ve probably learned in high school that if you turn in that history paper a day late, your teacher might roll her eyes or even lower your grade—but it’s no big deal.  Maybe at home your parents’ insistence that you clean your room by Friday is just another expression of their hopeful wish that you’ll comply—but it’s no big deal if you don’t.  College, financial-aid, and scholarship application deadlines are a big deal, and in fact missing deadlines by even a few minutes—or failing to realize that a deadline could be related to a specific time zone, not yours!—could eliminate you from consideration altogether, costing you money in lost scholarship or aid opportunities or even admission to your college of choice.  Yes, this means you’ll have to respect a sometimes-confusing array of varied deadlines, including “priority deadlines” (that often relate to consideration for merit scholarships, so why would you ignore them?), but a bit of organization legwork can help you keep track. And when you cross that last deadline off your list, you’ll know you’ve done all you can to maximize your opportunities.

        •     The bottom line

        How many times have you dashed off your signature without a second thought to what it means?  A college, scholarship, or financial-aid application is not the place to take a cavalier attitude toward the written or electronic embodiment of who you are: your integrity, your word, your guarantee.  Your signature at the bottom of an application conveys more than you can imagine; it promises, “Everything above is entirely true, I’ve done my own work, and I stand by every word.”   And that’s saying a lot!

I could go on offering examples of “small stuff” that turns out to be not so small in the world of college admission, financial aid, and scholarships.  But you get the idea!  The time, energy, attention, and enthusiasm you dedicate to every aspect of the process will surely pay off for you, not just in college-related outcomes, but in the process of becoming a mature, responsible, and responsive adult.  So sweat the small stuff. You’ll be glad you did!


Alice Kleeman has served as the college advisor for 18 years in Menlo- Atherton High School's College and Career Center. A public high school of 2,000 students in the San Francisco Bay Area, Kleeman enjoys serving Menlo-Atherton's diverse population of students.




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