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Senior Tips: Common Application and Scholarships

January 25, 2018

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At first glance, the process of applying for college can seem daunting. Thankfully, there are multiple colleges in the state of Virginia that use the Common Application (also known as the Common App), which is an undergraduate college admission tool that breaks down the application process, making it easier to manage and complete applications. However, in order to benefit the most from this tool, it is important to know exactly what the Common Application can do for you.

The dashboard is where you can view colleges you have chosen to apply to, as well as their deadlines and writing requirements. You can also learn about and file for financial aid, take a look at scholarship opportunities, or compare the costs of different colleges. When you begin an application, a checklist appears on the left-hand side of the screen. Here, you will see the following sections: Profile, Family, Education, Testing, Activities and Writing. At the top of each section there will be a video tutorial to help you complete each component correctly.

One benefit of the Common App is that you will only be required to write one essay because all information entered and work completed will transfer to each school’s application. Writing a winning essay may seem challenging at first, but taking advantage of the help available to you is vital. Marcus Rini, FCHS’ College Advisor, will happily meet with you to discuss, review and offer input regarding your essay. “I visit classrooms and present on FAFSA and the necessary steps of the college process. I help students keep up with application deadlines and work on resumes, personal statements, application fee waivers, register for ACTs and SATs, recommendations and scholarships,” said Rini.

“My advice for students depends on their grade level. Juniors should begin visiting colleges, online virtual tours are a good option for out-of-state schools. Juniors should also make sure they are taking the correct classes and a rigorous course load. The Career Center will happily advise all students,” said Rini.

Within the Common Application, you have the option to add an advisor, which is generally a school counselor. The advisor will examine the information and make sure you are putting your best foot forward. You will also have the option to add recommenders, which is a great way to improve your chances of admission. Recommenders are generally past teachers, bosses or coaches who have seen your strengths and abilities. When asking for a letter of recommendation, it is important to meet face-to-face, be polite and make eye contact. Once you have completed your Common Application in its entirety, it is time to look for scholarships. The School Counseling Department here at FCHS has a list of local scholarships on their website,

These include scholarships from Tenaska, the Community Credit Union and many more. With so many scholarships available, some tend to go unnoticed or have few applicants. You should apply for as many as you can in order to better your chances of being chosen. “A friend of mine’s son was able to pay for four years of school entirely with scholarships. No matter how little, it all adds up. I just wish kids would have more information regarding scholarships and how important they really are,” said FCHS Registrar/Administrative Assistant Lisa Searcy.

Fastweb is another helpful tool for finding scholarships. After creating a personalized profile, the site will provide you with a list of scholarships based on your GPA, SAT, scores and other criteria.

For students interested in attending Piedmont Virginia Community College (PVCC) next fall, help is available to you as well: PVCC Career Coach Melissa Phillips is ready to extend a helping hand. She can offer career assessments, help register for classes, choose an area of study, compare different options, take a look at scholarships or financial aid and ensure that students have their ducks in a row.

PVCC tuition is one-half to one-third the cost of four-year colleges in Virginia, so that’s often a big reason why students choose to start there. Also, the classes are small (you’re not in a 200-person lecture hall), so you get to know your professors and they can give you a lot of attention.  Free tutoring is built into the cost of tuition, so you can get help anytime, and there are more than 45 clubs to join. Finally, it’s close by, so most students live at home and commute,” said Phillips.

An early-graduate of FCHS, Madison Stoltz enrolled in PVCC immediately following the fall semester. “There are so many options for help when I am confused, I save money there, I chose my schedule and still have time to work after school, and it is close to home and even closer to my job. It’s great,” said Stoltz.

Even though the months leading up to college can be stressful, it is important to remember that you are not alone. There are plenty of people willing to provide help, guidance and information to make this process as stress-free as possible.

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