College application season is in bloom for the Class of 2018, which leaves many students and their parents asking, “What does it take to get accepted and earn those full ride scholarships?” There is a lot of information out there, but what specifically is the recipe for success for a student in Mesa? Meet Sydney, Jake and Adriana, three students who followed these steps, landed scholarships to the schools of their choice and who are currently thriving in their first years of college.
There are four key elements that can work together or independently and accomplishing at least three will set you up for the best chances of college entrance and scholarship success. The first is preparing for and excelling on the PSAT and SAT or ACT. If you are looking to apply to elite Ivy League schools or other institutions with acceptance rates under 10 percent, then a score over 1,300 on the SAT or 30-plus on the ACT might be your only way to even get your application looked at by admissions officers. State colleges look for over 1,120 SAT or 22 ACT as one admission requirement. Whether you use free online test prep like Khan Academy or prefer to take a costly course, make sure students have taken practice exams and examined areas that need work, starting in their sophomore or junior year of high school. Many seniors take the test multiple times, but with limited dates available, fall of senior year is too late to start test prep.
Academics is a given. It is important to know that the College Core GPA starts in freshman year of high school. Most colleges like to see students who have taken several honors, Advanced Placement or College Prep Courses. These courses typically are worth weighted credit, which means an A is worth 5.0 instead of 4.0. This can improve your class rank, but it is important to remember that colleges take out these weights when looking at your GPA for scholarships and college entrance. An un-weighted GPA of 3.5 or higher and a class rank of top 10 percent will give you the best chance of securing that full ride. State college admissions requirements include a GPA of 3.0 or top 25 percent class rank. If a student struggles in a course and ends up with a grade they do not feel represents their ability, the course can be retaken at school or through online programs like Mesa Distance Learning or MDLP.org. It is also possible to start earning college credits while in high school with Dual Enrollment Courses through Mesa Community College, where you register for specific classes at the local high school and through the teacher, enroll at MCC as well, to earn credit at both locations. Advanced Placement courses also offer a test at the end of the course and a score of 3, 4, or 5 can earn college credit. Selecting the right courses and earning high grades is a given for college entrance and scholarship success.
Although the above two items alone will likely get you entrance and possibly some scholarship money, at state universities like Arizona State, University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University, there are a lot more scholarship options through the city of Mesa, college donor scholarships and outside scholarships if you add on the two additional key elements of involvement in school clubs/sports and community service. The more selective schools expect these activities for entrance. All three students mentioned above participated in the Mayors Youth Summer of Service all four years of high school. They did service learning, learned leadership skills and built character by assisting in animal care at the Maricopa Animal Care and Control facility, they packed food for the homeless at organizations like Feed My Starving Children and United Food Bank and supported foster kids by holding a clothing drive and assisting at Helen’s Hope Chest. The city of Mesa has a volunteer list on their website at MesaAZ.gov, as well.
Sydney, a sophomore at ASU, Barrett the Honors College elected to stay in town for college. She is an avid dancer, earned the Woods Scholarship and combined that with ASU scholarships for academics. She held leadership positions in the National Honor Society and Coyote Connection leaders at her high school. She attended Rotary Youth Leadership Training through RYLA and HOBY, Hugh O’Brian Youth. She also worked throughout high school cleaning office complexes.
Jake, a freshman at Northern Arizona University, chose go out of town for college. He earned the Lumberjack Scholarship and combined that with several outside scholarships. He attended Boys State in high school, was a member of National Honor Society and was both a captain of his high school soccer team and played years of club soccer. He also played football, ran track and worked painting houses in the summer.
Adriana, a sophomore at Cornell University, an Ivy League school in upstate New York, chose to venture across country. She earned the Dean’s Scholarship, the Mesa Service Learning Scholarship and was a Hispanic Scholar from her PSAT score, as well as several outside scholarships. She was an officer in National Honor Society, captain of the varsity basketball team, starting pitcher for the JV softball team, the Girls State delegate and attended HOBY. She also worked as a restaurant hostess.
Achieving the kind of success that Mesa students like Sydney, Jake and Adriana achieved takes hard work and dedication to academics, personal development and leadership training preferably, starting in their freshmen year of high school and continues through graduation. However, if a current high school student of any grade wants to get involved, it is never to late to start.
Need based scholarship money is also out there. The FASFA opened on Oct 1, for current 2018 seniors. Based on a family’s need there is money available through programs like Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant at Mesa Community College and through a Pell Grant available at most institutions. The time is now to collect your 2016 tax information and sit down as a family to complete the online form at Fafsa.ed.gov. Help is available from your local high school or college if needed.
Applying for college is a huge process. Arizona state colleges have rolling admissions and the applications are found on their individual websites. Often you get admissions results in a matter of days or weeks. If applying out of state, students should look into the Common Application (commonapp.org). Hundreds of schools are available with one application form, which mean only writing one heart felt essay. Students are encouraged to select a minimum of three, with a maximum of about 20 schools. It is good to select a “safety school,” a student is likely to be admitted to, but also a couple “reach” schools that fit with their major and preferences, but may be more selective. If you have the means, visiting each campus helps the student to get a feel of what living there for four years might be like. Remember each school will have an application fee, although you can get this waived in some cases. They will also all need copies of the student’s transcript, SAT/ACT scores and their AP test scores, which can become costly. In addition, some colleges will require teacher or counselor recommendations and supplementary essays. Its important to start this process early and that time is now for the Class of 2018. Many of the top colleges or universities will accept applications through the first week of January, but hold acceptance letters, as late as April 1. The entire process will take most of senior year.
If all this sounds overwhelming, don’t feel alone, it is! It is almost guaranteed that both students and parents will come to a point where they are ready to give in, but learning coping mechanisms to get through stressful life situations like college application preparation is part of what grit is necessary when in college, dealing with prelims, projects, deadlines and a higher level of rigor than students have ever experienced. After acceptance, it isn’t over, because then students have to get the school all the necessary admittance paperwork, select a dorm and plan their first year schedule. In the end, when a family experiences that right of passage moving a college freshmen into their first dorm room, it will all be worth it. Remember, whether just starting high school or about to finish, there are many resources out there to assist you with all of the above. The first step is the academic advisors at your own high school. Mesa students like Sydney, Jake and Adriana made it through the process and you can too! Good luck to the Class of 2018 during this life-changing year.
– Tamara C. Tapia is a career and technical education teacher at Mesa High School.