Applying for college is like applying for a job
Only about 20% of high school students have a job, while a whopping 69.7% of students enroll in college upon graduation. For the 20% of high school students who have already entered the workforce, applying for college may seem eerily familiar to you because you’ve applied for jobs before.
Selecting the right college is overwhelming and there are many choices to consider.
- Where do you want to live?
- How much do you want to pay?
- What do you want to study?
- Do you want to study abroad?
- Do you want to attend a community college first to save money?
- Do you want to attend your parent’s alma mater?
- What if I change my mind later?
When applying for jobs people often find themselves overwhelmed, especially when using massive online job boards. Websites like Monster or Indeed are like opening Pandora’s box. The search results for a single city often reveal tens of thousands of jobs. Similarly, choosing between some 5,300 colleges in the United States is an intimidating decision. So, where do you start?
Applying for college is a full-time job.
You will go through an intensive process requiring you to pay a fee, submit an essay, take standardized tests, complete the application, obtain letters of recommendation, receive scrutiny for your report cards and some colleges require a resume which is problematic for the 80% of high school students who have never worked before. Align your expectations with reality—expect to be busy and work hard. Start applying as early as possible and schedule blocks of time during the week and weekends to chip away at applications. Take your time and do not rush. Proofread all written content and have family and friends double check your work before submitting it. The admissions department processes thousands of applications, so how do you stand out?
How to stand out.
Ultimately, on a college (or job) application the goal is simple—you’re trying to impress someone.
Play up your strengths. You must sell yourself and demonstrate your value. Every person is different and endowed with unique gifts. Are you tech savvy? Highly athletic? Do you have a silver tongue? Are you great at chess? Figure out what your strengths are and emphasize them throughout your application. Another great way to stand out is to use numbers. Start enumerating your accomplishments because numbers pop in written content like a college admissions essay. The best achievements to highlight include: volume of people, making money, saving money, meeting an organizational goal, alleviating a burden of volunteering and saving time.
Some high-school examples include:
- Gave a speech to 250 students at an area sports tournament.
- Earned $1,500+ for the annual philanthropic fundraiser.
- Received “Most Improved” award upon increasing GPA by 20% in 2018.
- Surpassed raffle ticket sales goal of 500 tickets.
- Handled $2,500 daily cash register drawer balance.
- Volunteered 200-Hours during a city-wide mayoral campaign.
As a high school student, you probably didn’t increase the quarterly profits by 25% at your company or manage a $2-Million budget. If you worked as a cashier or retail clerk, you can enumerate the amount of money you handled in your daily drawer and the volume of customers you served daily. If you never worked, enumerate the accomplishments you made as a student, such as your win/loss record as the team captain or the number of events you attended on behalf of the student body.
It helps to know somebody.
The “good ole boy system” is a theme that will repeat throughout adulthood. As the saying goes, “Your network is your net worth.” It is wise to start building your professional network at a young age so you can reap the benefits for your entire life. Today’s youth have a distinct networking advantage with the onset of social media. LinkedIn is the primary social network designed for career professionals and has over 500-Million users.
Create a LinkedIn account, make it nice and start adding every adult you know: your parent’s friends and co-workers, your teachers and coaches, people from your religious or social groups, your neighbors, the parents of your classmates, local city officials, mentors and anyone else you know. As you get older, more of your peers will create LinkedIn accounts and you should add them as well. If you start accumulating your network in high school, you will easily have thousands of LinkedIn connections by the time you graduate college. You will find that LinkedIn users are great professional allies to have upon entering the workforce.
Remember that college is temporary, and the end goal is to launch your career.
Buy into networking early. Do not make the same mistake as many mid-career professionals and wait to start networking when you are 30-years old and desperately searching for a new job because you have a terrible boss. Start now. People are your number one asset and the best possible investment you can make for your career.
Originally published in Stars & Stripes Europe on January 31, 2019.