College Essays – Making it Strong

There are multiple facets about the college application process: the actual application, the letters of recommendation, the application fee and of course the essay or personal statement. Below are a few essay topics from various colleges to give you an idea about what to write. I’ve also included helpful hints on how to make your essay stand out among the thousands.

1. Influential person/people, or thing:

  • Univ. of Colorado:  Who are the influential people in your life? How have they contributed to your development as a person?
  • Colorado State:  Identify a book, song, or movie that changed your life; what was the nature of the impact it has had on you and how does it inform who you are today? How might it shape who you will be at Colorado State University?

2. Overcoming an obstacle:

  • Univ. of Colorado: Discuss any events or special circumstances that have affected your academic record, as well as any adversities you have overcome
  • Colorado State: Describe an obstacle or challenge facing you, your family, your school or your community. What have you done (or what do you plan to do) to address this challenge? How does Colorado State University fit into your plan?

3. Leadership

  • Colorado State: Describe an experience or event that has allowed you to demonstrate leadership and/or that illustrates your service to others (family, school, community).What was most meaningful to you about your experience? How will this experience benefit you at Colorado State University, and how might your experience enrich our campus community?


  1. Follow the minimum and maximum word guidelines closely. Admissions counselors have to read thousands of essays and personal statements and they don’t want to read something that is too wordy – they just don’t have the time
  2. Keep it clear and concise. This means re-read your work. Re-read it again. And again. Don’t use six words when one word will do. Take out any excessive “thats.” 
  3. Check your spelling and your grammar. “Anyways” is not a word. You don’t need the “s.” Do not write like you speak. Essays and personal statements are supposed to have your voice, just don’t say, “dude” or “that’s whack.” They’ll think your writing is whack.
  4. Include pieces of your life they would not otherwise know from reading your application. Talk about your culture, upbringing, neighborhood. They want unique people on their campuses.
  5. When in doubt ask me, or another adult to read the essay. We’ll give you feedback and make it stronger.

Graduation checks

Seniors it is imperative for you to meet with your counselor second semester if you are in danger of not graduating. The second semester is VERY busy for the entire counseling department (CSAP, ACT, registration etc.) so you must schedule a time to meet with them. If you need credit recovery get the paperwork now. Adult Ed (SAM) is closed for winter break, so you can do your work, but can’t check in with them until January 4.

Workin’ hard for the money

Winter break is a great time to work on scholarships and getting paperwork together for financial aid. There are multiple scholarships available in the counseling office and on the SVVSD Counseling web site: Check out the financial aid and scholarships buttons on the sidebar of the counseling site – there you will find a ton of information and resources to help pay for college.

ALL students need to apply for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) regardless of which college they are going to attend. The FAFSA looks at parent income to see what the family’s Estimated Family Contribution (EFC) will be.  Parents and students (if the student works) will need to get their taxes done ASAP before the end of February so students can get the most financial aid. If parents cannot process their taxes until later in the year, a student and his/her parents can use the previous year’s tax return (if the information has stayed largely the same) and then update FAFSA after the new taxes are done. Additionally students and parents should sign up for a PIN so they can electronically sign their FAFSA. Your PIN is what you will use throughout your time in college (including graduate school).

Here is the site to get your PIN:

Here is the site to start your FAFSA:

Also all Colorado graduating seniors want to apply for the College Opportunity Fund (COF). COF provides a stipend to eligble undergraduate students – it helps pay for a portion of your in-state tuition.  The amount of the stipend you recieve is based on the number of credits you take in college per semester.

You can sign up for COF at this site:

Here is a brief overview of what types of financial aid are available. This is information is from the 2010/2011 Colorado Collegiate Handbook.

  • Grants: money from the federal or state government, college/university or private companies/organizations. Most grants are need-based and do not need to be repaid
  • Scholarships: Money that is won/earned for a variety of reasons (academics, athletics etc). Some scholarships are need-based and they do not need to be repaid
  • Work-Study: money that is earned from work, usually on campus while you are in college. The government/college pays for the works study and the students are paid as they work their hours. This can be awarded to both need and non-need students. The money is not paid upfront for the college bill but can be used for living expenses throughout the term
  • Loans: money that is borrowed from the federal/state government or a private lender. Loans must be repaid upon graduation, if the student leaves or drops below half-time status. There are parent and student loans.
    • Unsubsidized loans: interest on the loan starts accruing as soon as you sign/accept the loan.
    • Subsidized loans: interest does not accrue until after you graduate. Try to get as much subsidized loan money as possible to save yourself more expense later on

Credit Recovery

There are multiple ways to recover credit for classes you failed. You need to meet with your counselor to discuss your options and create a plan to graduate. Here is a list of what you can do, and when.

1. After-school credit recovery at Skyline: If you are in grades 9-12 you can take an after-school CR class. The class costs $80 (this is 1/2 the price of summer school) and it runs for nine weeks. Here is Spring 2011 SHS Credit Recovery info: Mondays through Thursdays, January 24 – March 24. Class is from 2:45 – 4:00 p.m. Get an application from your counselor.

2. Summer School: for 9-11th grade; there are two “semesters” of summer school. The cost is $160/.50 credit. So if you have to make-up all of 9th grade English, the cost will be $320. Some scholarships or payment plans are available. If you don’t pay, you don’t get the credit. The summer school schedule will be out in April or May, so check with your counselor.

3. Senior Alternative Makeup (SAM): SAM is for graduating seniors only. A parent/guardian must attend the Orientation session with the senior, then the student can start doing the work. The SAM program is housed at Adult Ed (on the corner of 9th Avenue and Main Street). The cost for .50 credit is $120. If you are on free or reduced lunch, the costs can vary. You must get an application from your counselor.

4. eLearning: is for seniors and juniors only. The student must watch the online orientation and apply for the program. You must meet with an advisor/facilitator weekly. The cost is similar to SAM. See your counselor for details.

5. BYU Independent Study: $124/.50 credit for high school courses. Check with your counselor to see if SHS accepts the classes you want to recover. You can register for the courses online at

Deadlines, Deadlines, Deadlines

“Oh the weather outside is frightful and the fire is so delightful, and since we’ve no place to go, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.”

While many students are counting down the days until Winter Break, there are many things that still need to be done: finals, college applications, signing up for credit recovery (it starts in January) and scholarships. 

Time management and organization are often the downfalls of many students. Here are some time management and organization techniques to help get you through the last few days of first semester:

  • Final project often have multiple components so it’s nice to break the project down into smaller ones. By giving yourself mini deadlines you can get the project done in manageable chunks of time. Write out those To Do lists with deadlines
  • Check Infinite Campus for any missing assignments – ask your teacher if you can still turn those in for any/some credit
  • Get a planner and color code your “to do’s.” I always put social activities in blue ink; work activities/meetings in black and I hightlight them. And for good measure I put the same info into my phone with reminders – you can never have too many personal reminders, right?
  • Two words: COLOR. CODE. I found that I really needed to have one notebook and one folder for each class and I made their colors match so I could easily recognize them for each subject
  • If you know you are not going to pass a class or you have a class to make-up, see your counselor ASAP. There are multiple credit recovery options (SAM @ Adult Ed, eLearning and after school credit recovery).
  • Some studies suggest if you schedule 20 minute study sessions followed by 20 minute study breaks you’ll retain more information.
  • Don’t forget to schedule time for yourself. People often think they can power through all their tasks with zero breaks but that usually creates brain overload. Don’t forget to go exercise or visit with your family and friends to create balance. If you burnout before vacation you’ll be miserable or worse, sick.

Visit to Heritage Middle

I was lucky enough to get to work with SHS Student Ambassadors today. Gina (the 9th grade counselor) and I presented to the 8th graders about preparedness for high school. The Ambassadors were AMAZING – I am so impressed. These are six of our amazing students: Miguel Berumen, Natalie Finke, Courtney Honchar, Annie Lawrence, Georgina Orona Sonora and Francisco Sandoval. These six students communicated well with the 8th graders and they covered a diverse range of student activities etc.