Serge W. Desir, Jr.
By Serge W. Desir Jr., USFSP Director of Orientation and Enrollment Marketing Services
ST. PETERSBURG — It’s nothing new to say that the college admissions process can be challenging. I know it’s a strange experience that seems murky, but it’s my professional observation that many of the obstacles can be overcome by knowing what questions to ask, to whom to ask those questions, and when.
Our goal at USF St. Petersburg is to provide guidance to make the admissions process easier and more transparent for students and their families. Today I’d like to share with you the seven steps to college admissions.
- It starts in 9th grade: The quality of your high school record often has the most weight in the admissions review process. Focus on English, mathematics, natural science, social science, and foreign language. Being active in extracurricular activities and community engagement IS also important.
Finally, you should take the ACT and the SAT at least one time before finishing your junior year. This will allow you to apply to college early in your senior year, not just for admission consideration but also for financial aid and other important factors.
- GPA matters: It’s not just what classes you take but how well you do in them that impacts your admission to college. If you know you can do well in more challenging courses such as honors, Advanced Placement, or dual enrollment, take them. (Doing well typically means that most of your grades are Bs or higher in all classes.)
And be strategic in the courses you select. For example, if you plan on majoring in Engineering, don’t stop taking math your senior year just because you have all your units met; rather, continue to challenge yourself to ensure you’re the most prepared you can be.
- Know the deadlines: Colleges have different types of admission deadlines. Some schools have fixed deadlines. Other schools – like USF – have a rolling process in which applications are regularly collected, reviewed and decisioned over an extended period of time. Regardless, it’s almost always best to apply as early as possible since this reduces the risk of a mishap (like transcripts not arriving in time) and offers greater access to a variety of options and resources, like scholarships. Speaking of scholarships…
- Do your scholarship research: There are plenty of scholarship opportunities. The key to successful scholarship research is very similar to successfully preparing for college admissions, including applying early and doing well academically.
There are a variety of free resources for scholarship, some through the colleges to which you apply, or through groups like the College Board or fastweb.com. Regardless, never pay for scholarship research. Likewise, never pay for financial aid.
- Apply for financial aid early: Unlike many scholarships, financial aid is designed to help those with financial need. It is nothing to be embarrassed about. The key for most forms of financial assistance is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or the FAFSA.
Completing the FAFSA in a timely fashion (as early as October of your senior year) may result in free money (grants and need-based scholarships), work-study (working for the college to help support yourself), and loans (money you’ll eventually repay). And never pay to submit the FAFSA since, as the name indicates, it’s free. (https://studentaid.gov/h/apply-for-aid/fafsa)
- Understand when your application is complete: For some schools, a complete application is the successful submission of the application form. For others, it’s submission of the form in addition to items like official transcripts, tests scores and an application fee or waiver. Still, other schools require essays (proofread!) and recommendations. Knowing how a school defines an application is incredibly important to present yourself in the best light.
- Visit campus: Visiting the campus of a college you’re considering helps you make sure you’re making the right decision. Remember, you will likely be on that campus for four years, and you need to make sure it feels like home.
And, if you can’t visit in person due to financial difficulties, check to see if there’s a virtual tour option, as these have become increasingly common over the past few years.
If you have questions or would like more information, we have many people at USF St. Petersburg who can help explain the process. Feel free to reach out at any time to firstname.lastname@example.org.