Prep Talk Blog > June 2009

You might have been raised to believe that bragging is impolite, but if you plan on getting into the college of your dreams, then you'd better rethink that philosophy. Not only is bragging about yourself perfectly acceptable, but it is also a vital part of the college application process. After all, your grades and test scores can only say so much about you, but when it comes to community service and extracurricular activities, you’d better start boasting—and a brag sheet will help you do so.

What is a brag sheet? A brag sheet is like a resume: it lists your accomplishments organized by school year and category (such as sports, clubs, and community service). You'll want to include information like the number of hours you've spent on each activity, positions you've held, and awards you've won. When college or scholarship applications ask you to list your extracurricular activities, you can refer to your brag sheet in order to fill in the information quickly. Rather than racking your brains for every last hour of volunteering you completed, it will all be there on your handy-dandy brag sheet. It’s a great timesaver!

Like a resume, the brag sheet is also a great way to prepare for an interview with an admissions counselor. Reread it before you go in to refresh your memory, so you are not left stumped when asked about your leadership skills or what you did last summer. After all, attending a Glee Club rehearsal or a lacrosse practice might have become second nature to you, which is why you need the brag sheet to help remind you of all your accomplishments outside of the classroom. The brag sheet is also helpful to give to the teachers whom you are asking to write recommendation letters; they know you well in the classroom, but the brag sheet gives them a sense of who you are after the school bell rings.

Your brag sheet is a work in progress. Update it on a regular basis so that it is always ready to go, whether you are applying for college, a scholarship, or even a part-time job. Brag on! Remember, colleges not only want smart students, they want active ones as well so that their campuses remain exciting and vibrant places to be.

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A degree may be the most significant thing you receive from your college, but at the University of Tampa, students get more than just a four-year education. Any graduate can hold their wedding reception in one of the school's three ballrooms (originally built as part of a luxury hotel) at no cost. Not every college has perks this lucrative, but as admissions becomes even more competitive (for both the applicants and the schools),these little extras sometimes make the difference between an accepted applicant who matriculates and one who doesn't. Check out some of the special benefits students enjoy at the following schools:

Free (or discounted) transportation: Eco-friendly University of New England lets its freshmen choose between a $480 Gary Tiburon bicycle or a Zipcar gift card loaded with 28 hours of driving. Stanford University offers students $282 through its Commute Club for carpooling, public transportation, and biking. Students also receive $96 in Zipcar credit.

Free laptops: At Wake Forest and Villanova University, students are given a free laptop when they enter as freshmen and it is replaced junior year by a new laptop that they can keep after they graduate.

Free vacations: Cottey College, a two-year, liberal arts women's college, offers an all-expenses paid spring break trip to Europe for the senior class (in addition to free maid service and five-star cuisine for all its students).

Maid service: Stereotypes of rotting take-out containers under unmade beds don't exist at George Washington University, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, or Xavier University. These schools give their students complimentary maid service to keep on-campus rooms shiny and clean.

Laundry service: At Davidson, students get their clothes picked up, washed, dried, pressed, hung, and dropped off free of charge. (Dry cleaning is extra, though!) Belmont University, Bryn Mawr College, and Xavier also offer free self-service washers and dryers so students don't have to worry about making change for the machine.

Cheap recreation: For a $20 annual membership in the golf club, recreational golfers can rent equipment and use the private facilities at Syracuse University. At Stanford University, students only pay $25 a round (normally $110 a round for guests) at the school's famed golf course. Michigan Technological University also owns a ski slope where students can rip it up for free without having to pay for lift tickets.

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Truth: Submitting your application by the deadline is key. Most of the time, however, submitting your application earlier than the college requires does not guarantee you’ll be accepted. But, it’s always a good idea to plan ahead, allow for ample time to complete the application, and of course, write your essays.

But what if you already know which college you wish to attend? Getting a head start on your application can have its advantages. First, take a careful look at the many options available during the application process. Several colleges and universities provide an Early Decision Program for students who are certain of which colleges they wish to attend.  

What is an Early Decision Program?

An Early Decision program allows high school students the opportunity to get a jump-start on the application process. A word of caution: make sure you do your research and you are certain you want to go to a particular college, as most Early Decision programs require you to withdraw all applications at other schools and attend if you are accepted. Check with the admissions department to see if they offer an Early Decision program, and if so, what kind of restrictions apply.  

What are the benefits of an Early Decision Program?

A better chance of getting into the college you want:
Statistics show many colleges let in more early decision applicants than regular applicants. This makes sense when you think about it. Colleges want students who are serious about attending their schools because this affects their "yield" (the percentage of students who enroll out of all the students who are accepted). Early decision applicants are often required to attend and therefore, the school's yield goes up along with its rankings.

A head start:
Being a part of an early decision program means you will have an earlier application deadline, usually six weeks before the regular admissions deadline. However, this also means that you will hear a decision before regular applicants and that means you can begin your financial aid applications, dorm assignments and one-on-one college interviews before the rest of the group. One early decision applicant talks about their experience here.

What are some disadvantages of an Early Decision Program?

Binding agreement:
One thing you must keep in mind is that if you’re accepted as an Early Decision student, you must attend the college. This is why it is so important to do as much research on the schools that interest you as you can. Make sure you know tuition rates, GPA expectations, graduation requirements, and expected financial aid before you begin an Early Decision Program. 

Only one application:
If you decide to go the Early Decision route, keep in mind you can only apply to one school’s Early Decision program. If you wish to apply to any other college or university, you will have to go through the regular application process.

Tell us what you think about the early decision program. What do you like/dislike about it? Have you had a good experience with it? We want to hear from you

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No one likes a suck-up, but everyone needs well-written recommendation letters to apply to college. Here are some tips on how to score strong letters without being obnoxious:

Stand out in class. Even if you're not a star student, contributing to discussions and making a good effort won't go unnoticed. Along the same lines, not paying attention will lead to you getting noticed in the wrong way. (And if you're a quiet student who does neither, you might not make much of an impression at all!) Make sure your performance in class is up to par, so your potential recommenders won't have any reservations when you ask for a letter.

Build relationships. Quick chats before or after class go a long way toward strengthening relationships with your teachers. They may be adults with very different lifestyles than yours, but that doesn't mean they're not interested in your passions and pursuits. Rely on your teachers for advice, guidance, and support and don't be afraid to talk to them about your life and your goals. Besides, the more your teachers know about you, the more they can write once application season rolls around.

Don't worry about grades. Just because you're getting an A in trigonometry doesn't mean you should ask your math teacher for a recommendation. Choose teachers who know you well and can write personal, authentic letters which actually allow admissions officers to know you. Those will be stronger than letters testifying to your good scores on tests. If you're not a great student, a strong, well-written recommendation could be what you need to edge out the other candidates.

Start early. Admissions season is a busy time and many teachers may be writing multiple recommendations in addition to their daily work (grading papers, teaching classes, etc.) Depending on the deadlines, you want to give your teachers at least a month to write and send your recommendation. Ideally, you should start asking for letters as soon as you finalize your apply-to list.

Choose wisely. At least one of your letters should come from a teacher who taught you in an academic subject (so P.E. is out of the question). If a school accepts multiple letters of recommendation, you could ask your tennis coach or your newspaper adviser to write an additional one. This allows you to demonstrate more facets of your skills, personality, and talents.

Prepare an information packet. Make sure your recommenders have all the information they need by including in a folder the following items: your resume or "brag sheet", your personal statement(s), recommendation forms (if needed), a list of colleges and deadlines, and a pre-addressed and stamped envelope for each college you are appying to.

Be polite. Don't forget to send a thank you card! It's an important gesture that demonstrates your appreciation for the time they took to write your recommendation.

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Just when your mailbox thought it could take a breather from all those college brochures and viewbooks, another barrage of envelopes is beginning. These days, however, the mail is probably all coming from one school—the one you’ll be attending this fall! Your chosen college is preparing you for a smooth transition to campus this fall. Keep your eye out for information on "orientation", which is a period (usually before the start of the official academic year) when freshmen and transfer students spend some time on campus before classes begin in order to get acclimated to their new homes.

Sure, you might have ruled the school as part of the Class of 2009, but come fall, you’ll be a lowly freshman again. Whether you are going to a small college that fits on a city block or a large one that could house your high school in its sports complex, you’ll need some guidance learning the ropes. Enter Orientation, a highly orchestrated day or days of events that help newbies, like yourself, get acquainted with what will be your home-away-from-home for the next four years.

Think of Orientation as a GPS device that will take you through your first days and weeks at college. Orientation is so much more than showing you around on campus—that’s what maps are for, after all. Instead, administrators and upperclassmen are there to help you understand the ins and outs of campus life and get you acquainted with the usual (like the best time to hit the cafeteria) and the unusual (like what to do if you get the flu).

From silly icebreakers that encourage you to get to know your classmates to more serious discussions about how to stay safe on campus, Orientation is both fun and informative—which is exactly the point. Colleges and universities want their students to be happy and well-informed, which is why schools usually pull out all the stops to welcome new students. In fact, some schools, like the University of Kansas, view Orientation so seriously that they have taken it from a single event to an ongoing process, providing a knowledgeable staff that is available to freshmen and transfer students during their entire first year on campus.

College is a four-year-long investment, which is why it’s wise to spend a few extra days getting to know your new campus. For many students, Orientation is a great way to relieve some of the anxiety they might feel about leaving home in the fall because it takes away some of the mystery about campus life. Got questions about college? You’ll find the answers during Orientation, along with new friends and the beginning of a whole new chapter of your life.

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Do you think it's fair if college admissions professionals "google" you or look at your Facebook profile during the admissions process?
Yes. If it's out there, it's fair game.
No. If it's not part of my official application package, it shouldn't be considered.
I don't know.
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Don Munce