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OC HIGH / STUDENT NEWS AND VIEWS : APPLY YOURSELF : Start early and write often if you want to attend the college of your choice, say those who have been through the process. Members of the Class of '96 are advised to start the process now--two years ahead of when they want to pack up and head off to their favorite campus. A guide to getting into college, including a suggested timeline and tips from college-bound students who have been through the tangle. : Two Toughies: the Essay, the Choice

July 08, 1994|KAREN LIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Karen Lin, 18, a new graduate of Dana Hills High School, has survived the college application process and will attend UC Berkeley this fall.

Sitting down and writing an essay for your college application can be daunting. The same goes for sifting through all the colleges to select the one that's right for you.

Application Essay

Most colleges require applicants to write an essay on a specified topic. Some of the most frequent topics: write a personal statement that gives the admission committee a sense of you as an individual; write about a life experience that has influenced your personal and intellectual growth; write about your educational objectives and/or your career objectives, or choose a prominent person you would like to interview and explain why.

A common regret among seniors who fall victim to procrastination during the college application season is that they didn't leave enough time do a strong essay--including the time to revise and carefully edit it. The application essay can be a simple task or a traumatic ordeal, depending upon how you decide to go about it.

Time becomes an important factor for the essay and the entire application procedure. As many college-bound seniors will tell you, starting early is wise if you want time to overcome any unexpected obstacles.

Don't be afraid to talk yourself up. The main goal is to sell yourself to gain admission. However, remember to be sincere and be yourself. Admission officers read hundreds of essays and can easily spot a fake.

Also remember that, in order for the admission panel to get an idea of who you are, they need to know not only what you do but what you think. So try to express your thoughts and reactions, both positive and negative. A laundry list of facts won't tell them enough about you.

Don't be afraid to ask a teacher, family member or friend to read your essay and give you some constructive advice. And always make a copy of your essay for your files, just as you should for all your college application documents.

Choosing Colleges

Picking the college that you may one day attend for four years of your life is difficult. The importance of this decision is the main reason why you should explore all of your options.

Call it shopping for the colleges that best fit your personality and expectations. Like any consumer, you should take into consideration your budget and what is on your shopping list.

In this case, your shopping list should include characteristics of the college, including size, location, student population, social life on campus and academic programs. Ask lots of questions. What is the average class size? The available majors? Are dorms co-ed or single-sex? What is the ratio of males to females? How do students get around? What is the community like? What are the recreational possibilities?

Always try to visit a campus before applying. If that's not possible, at least make sure that you visit the campus you agree to attend.

While you are on campus, try to sit in on some lectures to get a handle on what it will be like if you decide to attend that college. Check out the dorms, libraries and other facilities. Also, talk to some students to get the lowdown.

Some students get caught up in college shopping and lose sight of the main objective--to find the college that will best prepare them for the working world.

While it is important to shop around, you should thoroughly research which campuses offer your major (if you've decided on one) or courses that interest you. Remember, this is four years of your life, and you want to get the most you can out of it.

Some students regret not going to the college of their choice--they were encouraged by others, most often their parents, to attend a different school.

While you and your parents should discuss what college you should attend, it's undoubtedly to your advantage to go to the college you feel best about. However, it is imperative that both parties keep an open mind so that a compromise can be made.

When looking into colleges, consider all the possibilities, such as a college in another state or even another country.

As you visit colleges you have your eye on, keep your shopping list close at hand; it will help you be a smart shopper.

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