Survival Guide: Applying for College, Top Ten Tips

College. Every 18 year old dreams about the day that they can move out of the house and start their adult life adventures. The dreams about parties and co-eds are quickly halted when our young hopeful realizes he or she needs to actually apply and get in to college before the higher education can begin.

This process has taken a personal turn for me, even though I graduated from high school seven years ago. My younger sister is embarking on the big project and it is, well, exhausting. I do not even live there, and her college application dramatics feel like they are happening to me.

Here are ten tips to help you get in the college you want and help you out once you’re in:

1. Grades matter

They are the number one thing colleges look at for admittance. That and your ACT or SAT score. Colleges these two indicators as a way to weed out students. If you do not hit a high enough mark, they will not even consider you even if you have other qualifications.

2. Extracurriculars really do set you a part from the crowd

Clubs, musical talents, student council and service create a well rounded student. This is what really turns the GPA and ACT scores into a person. If you are pitted against another student with equal test scores and GPA, it will be the extra things that make the decision.

3. Go to school for free

College is expensive. With tuition costs rising every year And you can figure out a way to go for free. Scholarships are a very popular way to help ease the burden of tuition. There are merit scholarships that are based off grades and test scores. They basically award the “you-on-paper”. Other school scholarships look at those extracurriculars and often require an essay. Some are offered for diversity. Scholarships are also awarded by each department as well. You can find outside scholarships through major companies and through Web sites like

4. Pay for college through grants

A grant is free money from the government that does not need to be paid back. Federal grants are awarded based on income, those with most need will receive the most. If you are under 24 years old, they will look at your parent’s tax information to determine if you are eligible. The online form takes some time, but it is worth it if you are awarded any money. This is also the way you apply for loans through the government. But like any loans, the governement loans must also be paid back. There are two types of government loans: subsidized and unsubsidized. Subsidized loans have a lower interest rate, around 4 percent. While you are in school, the government pays the interest for your loan. You do not have to pay back the loan until you graduate. Unsub loans have a higher interest rate around 6 percent. It is similar to the sub loan because you do not have to pay it back until you graduate, but you are accountable for the interest while you are in school. Even though you do not have to pay back the loan until you graduate, you can make small payments while you are in school if you can.

5. Prepare to take care of yourself financially while in college

Get a student job, but work only part time. It is important to succeed at school which can propel you into your career. Apply for a meal plan. Sig up for student health insurance. These all can help you transition into the life of a college student.

6. Student discounts

Other ways to save money is to take advantage of student discounts. You can get movie tickets, play tickets and restaurant discounts just for being a student. You can also get a discount for student health insurance. Not having health insurance when you have a health scare can ruin you financially, especially when you are financially unstable as a student. Take advantage of the fact you can receive discounts.

7. Get killer letters of recommendation

Glowing letters from your favorite teachers or administrators can be icing on the admittance cake.

8. Get involved

I would say that getting involved is one of the most important things you can do when moving out and going to college. When I say get involved I mean like go and have fun, volunteer, and get to know your classmates especially in your classes you never know when you might need class notes, a partner or just someone to talk to. There are a ton of fun things to do, parties, fun lectures, clubs or even recruiting events where you can get to know industries you might be interested in, if nothing else they usually have free food. One of the most important ways to get involved is to talk to your professors whether you talk to them after class, commenting in class or visiting them during their office hours. This can pay huge dividends when you are having trouble with an assignment, exam and who knows they might be able to write you a letter of recommendation or become a great friend and mentor.

9. Start preparing now

All of the skills to succeed in college do not suddenly appear once you step foot on a college campus.  Start preparing now. As a high school student you can learn the basics of budgeting, get involved in high school activities and take classes that will earn you college credit.

10. Have back ups

You are never a shoe-in. It is always nice to have Plan B.