Comparing Financial Aid? Ask These Questions!

For many high school seniors and their families, the college selection process includes a comparison of financial aid offers. As you narrow your list and weigh your options, there are a few important questions to consider. Keep this list handy as you compare financial aid packages:

  • What is the renewal criteria for my financial aid? Does your financial aid package include an academic scholarship? If so, be sure to check the criteria for scholarship renewal. Academic scholarships at Hope are guaranteed through your sophomore year and renewable for your two remaining years if you maintain a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or 2.75, depending on the scholarship. We want to ensure you have time to be involved with activities outside the classroom — internships, student clubs, service projects and more — that help build a strong resume for the next steps in your career.
  • Does my financial aid apply to off-campus programs such as study abroad? Your financial aid at Hope, including merit-based scholarships, travels with you for any Hope-approved off-campus programs.
  • What is the school’s graduation rate? How feasible is it for students in your preferred academic program to graduate within four years? At Hope, 87 percent of our graduates finish in four years or less.
  • What type of learning environment do you prefer? The most valuable financial aid is one that supports your education in an environment where you will thrive. Consider the factors critical to your success, including:
    • Academic offerings: Does the college offer the majors and minors you’re seeking?
    • Size of school: Where do you see your best fit — at a large, mid-sized or small school?
    • Faith: Is an active faith community important to your personal development?
    • Faculty-student relationships: How closely do faculty collaborate with students, not just in terms of faculty-to-student ratio, but also in the quality of interaction?
    • Mentorship: What kind of one-on-one attention will you receive — from academic advising to academic coaching — from career advising to preparing for graduate school?
    • Opportunities: What opportunities exist for off-campus study, hands-on research and creative performance? Can you participate in athletics, student clubs, and volunteer with service and leadership programs?
    • Sense of community: What words would you use to describe the community you’re seeking? Tight-knit? Friendly? Safe? Active? Fun? Social?
    • Support services: What services would be beneficial to you? Academic success center? Group study and peer partnership programs? Counseling and psychological services? Health center?

We are eager to help you answer these questions and any others you may have. Schedule a campus visit to talk to us in person, or contact us at admissions@hope.edu or 616.395.7850. We can’t wait to tell you more about what makes Hope such a special place!

Once in Your Shoes: Reflections from the Harveys to Prospective Hope Parents

Feel like you’re swimming in questions about searching for the right college? You’re not alone! In this series, “Once in Your Shoes,” four Hope families share their wisdom about the college search process as they were once in your shoes. We’ve asked these families some admissions-related questions, with the goal of letting their experiences help you.

Jodi and Scott Harvey

Scott and Jodi Harvey, from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, reflect on their family’s Hope admissions process. The Harveys’ daughter, Allie, is a member of Hope’s Class of 2022.

As college decision letters began arriving in the mail, what went through your minds?

Will Allie make the right choice? Will we be able to afford it? What if she makes the wrong choice? What will she major in? There we so many questions and uncertainties!!   

I don’t recall a lot of stress around the question of her getting into the schools she applied to, but rather I feel there was more anxiety about deciding between the schools she did get into. Helping her navigate questions of size, campus atmosphere and fit was the most difficult part of the process. I feel like Allie knew very early in the back of her mind that Hope was her first choice, but she was still questioning what the right choice was and how to make that decision. As parents, we tried to be supportive and let her make her own decisions in her own time. We let her know early on that this was her decision and that we would support whatever choice she made and make it work.

What was the criteria you were using to help in the decision process?  

Size, cost and the ‘this is it’ feeling she had on campus. Size was something that she really went back and forth on. She really wanted a school that was big enough to get involved, spread her wings and have fun but not too big where it lost that sense of community. As for cost, since all three of her top choices were out of state and/or private, at no time was in-state tuition even a consideration. Because of that, we were quite interested in the scholarship and grant options available at each of the schools. Finally, and above all, we wanted her to feel like the school she chose was someplace she felt ‘at home’ from day one.

Jodi, Allie and Scott Carpenter

What role did Hope’s faith dimension play in the decision process?  

Allie really wanted a school where she would be surrounded by like-minded peers who share a love for Christ and there is no doubt that the key factor for Allie choosing Hope was the Christian element. From the moment we sat in chapel on our first campus visit, I knew where she would want to call home. I still remember the goose bumps I had in chapel that day seeing all of the students (standing room only) pack the chapel and worship because they wanted to, not because they had to.  That was the factor that all other schools were compared to during her college search from that day on!

What advice do you have for parents regarding visiting campuses?  

Take your student to as many schools as you can so that they can get the feel of the campus first hand. While websites and virtual tours are great, they cannot replace the experience of an actual visit where you can see students interacting, feel the vibe of the campus and take in the surrounding area. Campus tours were my (Jodi) favorite part of the whole process!

What concerns did you have or can you share about paying for college?  

I think we had, and still have, the same concerns all parents have when it comes to paying for college. We were hopeful to receive as much money in scholarships and grants as possible. We encouraged her to look at in-state schools and apply for any and all scholarships she could but did not limit her choices because of these things. We were very clear with Allie what our “budget” for her was and weighed all of her options with her. I would suggest to others going through the process now to weigh the value of the return on investment at all the schools they are looking at. 

When did Allie know Hope was the best and possibly only option?  

From day one of our first visit!  She loved hearing the student perspectives during one of the breakout sessions and attending chapel. From then on, all other schools were compared to Hope and all other towns compared to Holland.

Any other thoughts or stories you would like to share?  

My advice would be to enjoy this exciting time. Take the time to explore as many college options as your child is interested in. Visit a variety of schools – different sizes, locations, public, private, city, small college towns.  The more you visit, the better feel your student will have for what feels right. Chances are you will be as lucky as we were and just know once you find it.  Be supportive of your student and the choice he/she makes. This is a big decision and as much as you want them to make the right choice, he/she is the one who will be moving out and living at the school the next four years.

Other Posts In This Series

2019 Countdown to Hope

It’s a new year! And a new chapter for you as well. You’ll be starting college life in just a few months. These are exciting times — but let’s be honest, these can be stressful times, too.

We want to take the worry out of your upcoming transition to Hope College and Holland, Michigan, so we’ve created a “Countdown to Hope” — your checklist on next steps for financial aid, scholarships and enrollment.

January

  • Join Hope College Connect! Connect is our online community for admitted students.
  • Create a FAFSA account. If you have not done so already, create your Federal Student Aid ID (FSA ID) at fafsa.gov and send your information to Hope using our Federal School Code, 002273.
  • Complete and submit the FAFSA. Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) at fafsa.gov, using 2017 tax information.
  • Watch your mailbox for scholarship info. Hope began notifying admitted students about academic (also called “merit-based”) scholarships in mid-December.
  • Respond to requests. As the Office of Financial Aid staff reviews forms, they often contact families to request more information. Be sure to respond if contacted!
  • Join the conversation! Follow Hope on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat (hope_college) and YouTube. Don’t forget to use the hashtag #Hope2023.

February

  • Last call for scholarship materials! Submit or update your materials (new test scores, class rank, GPA or high school transcript) by the February 1 deadline to be considered for academic scholarships.
  • Watch your mailbox for a financial aid package. The Office of Financial Aid begins sending financial aid award letters in early February. This letter includes your award package, which indicates the types and amount of aid offered to you for the 2019–20 academic year.

March

  • Last call for financial aid forms! Still need to submit financial aid forms? Be sure to do so by the priority filing deadline, March 1.
  • Remember to save your spot. In early March, Hope mails admitted students a request to submit the $300 enrollment deposit at hope.edu/deposit. This deposit reserves your place in the Class of 2023.

April

  • Attend Admitted Student Day! Saturday, April 13 is our annual Admitted Student Day, the perfect day to take a final look at Hope before you make your decision.

May

  • May 1 — National Candidates Reply Date! To guarantee a place in Hope’s Class of 2023, submit your deposit at hope.edu/deposit. After May 1, a deposit reserves your place only if space is available. (The enrollment deposit is nonrefundable after May 1.)
  • Watch your inbox for housing info. In late May, Hope emails housing materials to all students who have reserved their place in the Class of 2023.
  • Watch your mailbox for class registration info. Also in late May, Hope mails personal Hope College account and class registration information to all students who have reserved their place in the Class of 2023.

July

  • Save the date. In early July, Hope mails orientation materials to all students who have reserved their place in the Class of 2023. Make plans for you and your family to attend the many activities scheduled throughout Orientation Weekend in late August.
  • Find out where you’ll be living. Also in early July, Hope mails housing and roommate assignments to all students who have reserved their place in the Class of 2023.

August

  • Review your schedule. Watch your inbox for your class schedule, which Hope emails to all students who have reserved their place in the Class of 2023.
  • Celebrate! You have arrived! Your first year at Hope begins with Orientation Weekend held in late August. Move-In Day is Friday, August 23.

Once in Your Shoes: Reflections from the Goszkowiczs to Prospective Hope Parents

Feel like you’re swimming in questions about searching for the right college? You’re not alone! In this series, “Once in Your Shoes,” four Hope families share their wisdom about the college search process as they were once in your shoes. We’ve asked these families some admissions-related questions, with the goal of letting their experiences help you.

Rich and Kathleen Goszkowicz

Rich and Kathleen Goszkowicz of Muskegon, Michigan, reflect upon their family’s Hope admissions process. The Goszkowicz’s daughter, Grace, is a member of Hope’s Class of 2022.

As college decision letters began arriving in the mail, what went through your minds?

After the busy time of making decisions about where to apply and completing the application process for each school, there was a welcome pause before hearing from the schools regarding acceptance. Our daughter handled this time with relief. She had done all she could and all there was to do was wait to hear from each school. Our family considers worrying about things out of our hands as a misuse of time and emotional energy. So, this time of wait was met with a sigh of relief and filled with the enjoyment of fall.

What was the criteria you were using to help in the decision process?  

Our daughter considered both large state universities and small private colleges. We made multiple visits, connecting with staff and professors at the four institutions on her short list. We discussed the possible benefits and drawbacks of each college based on the following: areas of study available, possibilities for changing areas of study, programming of classes to allow for interests outside discipline, financial implications, level of comfort with the environment when visiting, and does this place feel like “somewhere I could live.”

What role did Hope’s faith dimension play in the decision process?  

It was not a primary reason but absolutely an added bonus. On one of our final visits, we attended Chapel. She was overwhelmed with the sense of community and connectedness Chapel provided. Basically, the decision had already been made but the experience left her with a sense of peace with her decision and solidified her choice. It was really quite powerful and we both had tears.

What role did location play in the decision process?

Location played a part in the decision process for ruling out places that were out of state, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, or in a major metropolitan area, such as Chicago or Detroit. Most likely, due to the proximity of Hope to our West Michigan hometown an hour away, our daughter heard more about Hope and knew alumni. As parents, the safety of Hope’s location was encouraging.

What advice do you have for parents regarding visiting campuses?

Our daughter visited four times prior to making her final decision. As time went on and it became apparent that she was leaning toward Hope, she took more interest in visiting opportunities. Staying overnight with students was a nice way for our daughter to visit without shadowing parents. It gave her the opportunity to spend a longer time and see how some of the day to day living played out.

What role, if any, did Hope’s status as a liberal arts school play in the decision process?

We encouraged our daughter to consider liberal arts as we feel many programs have become too regimented and do not allow for broadening of ideas, encourage interests or provide a well-rounded education.

Move-in day for the Goszkowiczs.

How did size of our institution influence the decision to attend Hope?

The size was the ultimate deciding factor. Hope was the place that felt most comfortable. 

How did financial aid/merit scholarship affect the decision to attend Hope?

Financial aid and merit scholarships gave our daughter the ability to choose Hope. Without this, Hope would have been off the table due to a lack of ability to afford the tuition.

What concerns did you have or can you share about paying for college?

Paying for college is an overwhelmingly huge concern for us. While we expect our children to contribute, we carefully considered our comfort level with the amount of debt they will assume. We planned as best we could but still fell far short. We still lose A LOT of sleep over this one. It also weighs heavily on our daughter as she looks to us for guidance but cannot truly understand the far-reaching financial implications. It heightens every decision about classes taken and potential changes in study area. At a time when kids should be exploring and broadening interests, they have become prisoners to debt. It is disturbing. Of course, this problem occurs for students at all universities and is not specific to Hope. Hope did a fantastic job for Grace making the financial piece fairly equitable to public universities.

Move-in day for the Goszkowiczs.

When did Grace know Hope was the best and possibly only option?

Our daughter put Hope at the top of her shortlist by December. Once the financial packages were available to compare, she was able to make a final decision with relief and joy.

Any other thoughts or stories you would like to share?

Hope’s personal attention from her admissions representative was amazing. It made her feel connected and welcomed from the very beginning. The interest in her ideas and questions made her feel as though she was connected with Hope from the very beginning.

Other Posts in This Series

Once in Your Shoes: Reflections from the Carpenters to Prospective Hope Parents

Feel like you’re swimming in questions about searching for the right college? You’re not alone! In this series, “Once in Your Shoes,” four Hope families share their wisdom about the college search process as they were once in your shoes. We’ve asked these families some admissions-related questions, with the goal of letting their experiences help you.

Chris Carpenter ’90 and Panechanh Choummanivong ’93 Carpenter

Christopher and Panechanh Carpenter, from St. Louis, Missouri, reflect upon their family’s Hope admissions process. The Carpenters’ son, Cameron, is a member of Hope’s Class of 2022.

As college decision letters began arriving in the mail, what went through your minds?

Did Cameron get into Hope College? Did we choose wisely with our selection of colleges to explore based on Cameron’s academic and career interests? Did Cameron spend enough time exploring Hope College, Holland and West Michigan? If Cameron selects Hope College, how will he cope with being eight hours away from home for the first time in his life without his parents and sister?  

As Hope alums, we had frequently shared memories of Hope College since Cameron was a small child. He had spent time touring the campus and listening to our stories many times as a teenager. While waiting for decision letters to arrive, we reminisced about our own college years, uncertainties, experiences, and lifelong friendships. We also reviewed the rationale for ranking Hope College Cameron’s #1 choice.

What was the criteria you were using to help in the decision process?  

Cameron had toured schools in Indiana and Missouri (our home state for the last 15+ years), some of which were larger and some that were more expensive. Cameron wanted to compete in college athletics as had his father. He was also comfortable in West Michigan with all of his grandparents and cousins within a 30-minute drive.  

However, the most important qualities that distinguished Hope from other colleges and universities were the engagement of the professors and coaches and the camaraderie Cameron noted during the Fly-In Weekend. The student body made him feel comfortable, while the professors he met generated excitement at the academic opportunities ahead.

What role did Hope’s faith dimension play in the decision process?  

We were comfortable allowing Cameron to explore his spiritual growth in the open-minded atmosphere of Hope College.

Cameron and sister Kayla led a walk around campus.

How many times had you visited campus before the final decision to attend Hope was made?  

Cameron had been on Hope’s campus several times during summer vacations on Lake Michigan growing up. Since Holland is an eight-hour drive from St. Louis, he didn’t have the opportunity to visit Hope during the high school year because he was committed to cross country, basketball, and track. However, he did fly to West Michigan for the Fly-In Weekend in the fall of his senior year. The opportunity to live in the dorm for a couple of days, attend classes, and encounter actual students who were studious, sufficiently challenged by their academic workload and content seemed to seal the deal for Cameron. After that weekend, he never spoke of any other colleges and has never looked back.

How did size of our institution influence the decision to attend Hope?

The size of the student body, dorms and classrooms significantly contributed to Cameron’s level of comfort with Hope College. He went to a large urban high school but seemed to know almost everyone in his graduating class. His state champion high school cross country team remains extremely close knit, and he wanted to repeat that team experience with his college career. Hope’s Cross Country program was fantastic at explaining the world of Division III sports for the scholar-athlete, especially Coach Northuis.

What concerns did you have or can you share about paying for college?  

Chris: Every semester of my four years at Hope College in the 1980s, my parents reminded me of how expensive the school was relative to state schools and how I probably wouldn’t be able to return the following semester. I had one or more jobs every semester at Hope College and was only able to afford the meal plan my freshman year. We have worked very hard for the last 30 years to ensure that our children would never feel those stressors or uncertainty about their college education — and fortunately, they have not.

Panechanh: I also worked one or more jobs throughout my four years at Hope College. Since elementary school, our children have been taught that their most important job is to be stewards of their education by participating in class, completing homework, and preparing for every exam (including ACT/SAT) to the best of their ability. They have had jobs to learn the value of earning money, but never as a necessity for affording their education. We appreciate Hope’s attention to the cost of a college education.

Any other thoughts or stories you would like to share?  

[Admissions representative] Nate Haveman played an indispensable role in maintaining Cameron’s interest in Hope College. From visiting our home to having dinner with Cameron to sending intermittent notes telling Cameron about “The Pull” or other Hope events and checking in by email to see how senior year was progressing, no other college matched this level of engagement or sincerity. Whereas other colleges made Cameron feel as if they were capable of providing a four-year college education, Nate’s approach combined with Hope’s professors and Coach Northuis made Cameron feel as if he was coming home.

Other Posts In This Series

Countdown to Hope

It’s a new year! And, a new chapter for you, as well. You’ll be starting college life in just a few months. These are exciting times — but let’s be honest, these can be stressful times, too.

We want to take the worry out of your upcoming transition to Hope College and Holland, Michigan so we’ve created a “Countdown to Hope” — your checklist on next steps for financial aid, scholarships and enrollment.

November – January

  • Create a FAFSA account. If you have not done so already, create your Federal Student Aid ID (FSA ID) at fafsa.gov and send your information to Hope using our Federal School Code, 002273.
  • Complete and submit the FAFSA. Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) at fafsa.gov, using 2016 tax information.
  • Complete and submit the SAF. Visit hope.edu/saf, where you’ll find Hope’s Supplemental Application for Financial Aid (SAF). Complete the online form, then print, sign and send it to the Hope College Office of Financial Aid via mail, email or fax. (NOTE: The SAF cannot be submitted online.)
  • Watch your mailbox for scholarship info. Hope begins notifying admitted students about academic (also called “merit-based”) scholarships in mid-December.
  • Respond to requests. As the Office of Financial Aid staff reviews forms, they often contact families to request more information. Be sure to respond if contacted!
  • Join the conversation! Follow Hope on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat (hope_college) and YouTube. Don’t forget to use the hashtag #Hope2022.

February

  • Last call for scholarship materials! Submit or update your materials (new test scores, class rank, GPA or high school transcript) by the February 1 deadline to be considered for academic scholarships.
  • Watch your mailbox for a financial aid package. The Office of Financial Aid begins sending financial aid award letters in early February. This letter includes your award package, which indicates the types and amount of aid offered to you for the 2018–19 academic year.

March

  • Last call for financial aid forms! Still need to submit financial aid forms? Be sure to do so by the priority filing deadline, March 1.
  • Remember to save your spot. In early March, Hope mails admitted students a request to submit the $300 enrollment deposit at hope.edu/deposit. This deposit reserves your place in the Class of 2022.

May

  • May 1 — National Candidates Reply Date! To guarantee a place in Hope’s Class of 2022, submit your deposit at hope.edu/deposit. After May 1, a deposit reserves your place only if space is available. (The enrollment deposit is nonrefundable after May 1.)
  • Watch your inbox for housing info. In late May, Hope emails housing materials to all students who have reserved their place in the Class of 2022.
  • Watch your mailbox for registration info. Also in late May, Hope mails personal Hope College account and class registration information to all students who have reserved their place in the Class of 2022.

July

  • Save the date. In early July, Hope mails orientation materials to all students who have reserved their place in the Class of 2022. Make plans for you and your family to attend the many activities scheduled throughout Orientation Weekend, August 24–27, 2018.
  • Find out where you’ll be living. Also in early July, Hope mails housing and roommate assignments to all students who have reserved their place in the Class of 2022.

August

  • Review your schedule. Watch your inbox for your class schedule, which Hope emails to all students who have reserved their place in the Class of 2022.
  • Celebrate! You have arrived! Your first year at Hope begins with Orientation Weekend, August 24-27, 2018.

FAFSA: Five things to know

By Kristin Diekevers ’07, Associate Director of Admissions

What is the FAFSA and why is it so important?

The FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It is the primary application for receiving need-based aid at American colleges and universities. If you need help paying for college, submitting your FAFSA is the first step in applying for financial aid from most colleges and universities in the United States.

When do I submit my FAFSA?

The FAFSA is available annually beginning on October 1. It is to your advantage to complete the application early in order for colleges and universities to have the information they need to offer you an aid package sooner upon admission. Hope’s priority deadline is March 1 each year.

What information do I need for the FAFSA?

First, apply for a federal student aid ID number from the federal government. This is your username and password for federal student aid websites such as FAFSA.gov and studentloans.gov.

Second, gather your and your parents’ previous year’s tax information, social security numbers and your driver’s license. The FAFSA will ask for data from each of these sources.

Next, be sure to add Hope College’s school code to your FAFSA. Our code is 002273.

Where can I get help with my FAFSA?

There are many resources available to answer your questions and assist you with completing your FAFSA, including your high school guidance counselor, your Hope College Admissions representative and the Hope College Office of Financial Aid Office. FAFSA.gov also offers a free web chat tool.

What happens after I submit my FAFSA?

Processing your FAFSA takes time. Once the federal government has reviewed your information, they will send your data to the colleges and universities you requested. Those schools will then use your FAFSA data to prepare your financial aid package. In some cases, you may be required to submit additional documentation to verify the data on your FAFSA. This verification process is required by the U.S. Department of Education.

Financial aid notifications are typically sent to students in early February. More information about how financial aid is calculated is available on our Financial Aid website.

What else do I need to know?

Completing the FAFSA is free and quick, and you only have to do it once a year, so don’t be intimated! Feel free to contact the Hope College Office of Financial Aid with your questions. Their website is also a great resource for additional information about the FAFSA process.

Are you asking these 6 questions on your college tours?

By Kristin Diekevers ’07, Associate Director of Admissions

Ahhhh, the changing of the seasons. We are about two weeks shy of the official start of fall (it’s September 22 if you were wondering), and colleges are back in session. That means many of you are doing yourself the awesome favor of scheduling college visits — seriously, there is nothing you can do to get to know a college better than by visiting.

Colleges are ready with their welcome mats and most tour guides are ready for the typical questions (and if they aren’t, be skeptical). How many students go here? What’s the average class size? Are freshmen allowed to have cars? How are roommates determined? What do students do on the weekends?

Four students walking on sidewalk under trees.

But you want to be a savvy consumer, right? Dig a little deeper into the college experience and consider asking these 6 questions on every college tour.

  1. What aren’t you showing me? There might be good reasons for limiting what you see — time length of tour, spaces reserved for faculty/staff, building hours, etc. However, it’s worth asking because you might also uncover areas of deferred maintenance or areas of concern for the college. In either case, you might consider circling back to these areas by yourself before you leave the campus.
  2. Take time to smell the flowers. Yes, this is a statement, not a question, but it’s important. Pay attention to your surroundings at all times. How are students interacting with one another? With faculty or staff? With you? What is on the bulletin boards and what signs are hanging up on campus? Are there literally flowers you can smell (hey, there is something to be said for well-kept grounds)?
  3. What faculty or staff member helped you the most your freshman year? How so? People matter. Connections matter. Connected people are generally happier and more successful both in college and in the long-term. Asking this question will help you learn if students make an early and lasting connection with an employee of the college.
  4. How is conflict recognized and addressed on campus? Given our current political climate, I think this is a fair question. College is an important time for young people to further develop conflict resolution skills. We hope they have good examples of people doing this on their college campus at all levels. Is there dialogue or dogmatism? Are there forums or fear?
  5. What was your favorite lecture, arts performance, guest speaker or chapel message this past year? “Bueller?…Bueller?…Bueller?” (If you have not watched Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, please do so the minute you are done reading this blog. You’re welcome.) Lots of students can listen and comprehend, but are they being inspired? A lasting impression made by a lecture fuels a student’s learning, development and success as a human being.
  6. What would you miss the most if you graduated tomorrow? Why? Make sure you add: “You can’t just say your friends.” This all goes back to how connected to their eventual alma mater they feel. Do they swell with pride in talking about their school and show enthusiasm? Do you get those feels when they share their experience? It’s a good signal you’re making a connection too.

I’ve said to ask these questions on every college tour, but really, these questions could be repeated over and over to any person — faculty, student, staff, administrator, coach — you meet on campus. Your tour guide will have one experience, but if you’re really interested in the college, talk to everyone you meet!

Ready to ask these questions within the Hope community? We’re ready to welcome you!

10 Tips for writing an unforgettable college essay

By Kristin Diekevers ’07, Associate Director of Admissions

A 17-year old me is sitting at my basement computer, fingers lightly touching the good ol’ Gateway keyboard from yesteryear and…nothing. I’m blank. I’m here to write my college essay, and I’m straining not only on the first sentence, but the topic itself. Sound familiar?

The Common Application is set to go live August 1; it’s time to think about your college essay. Thrilling, right? I’m here to tell you it doesn’t have to be painful, and it can even be enlightening.

After a decade of reading thousands of college essays submitted to Hope College for admission, here are my top 10 Tips for Writing an Unforgettable College Essay:

  1. Your topic is not OSFA (One Size Fits All). Ask yourself this question: can anyone else write this essay? If the answer is yes, it’s back to the drawing board. Sure others may have a similar topic, but the way you tell your story should be uniquely you.
  2. We want the feels from the start. How do you want us to feel after reading your introduction? Are we balancing on a cliff eager to find out what comes next? Are we shocked by your personal admission? Are we nervous standing on stage with you at your first high school musical? An emotional connection leaves us excited to continue reading.
  3. Reeeelllllaaaaxxxx. Right now, you have time on your side. If you’re feeling wound up trying to organize your thoughts, just start writing and concern yourself with structure later. If writing in your bedroom makes you feel isolated and stuck, a change of scenery could help. It might even be that typing on a computer seems too permanent; grab a notebook and pencil instead.
  4. Review, revise, repeat x3. Remember Writer’s Workshop in elementary school? The writing process is important and should certainly be applied to your college essay, so be sure to proofread after each draft. You may have to rewrite entire sections of your essay, and though it can be frustrating, the end result will be something you’re proud to submit.
  5. It’s not a text, tweet or #nofilter. Don’t write like it is. You must use capital letters and punctuation. A series of generic one-liners will not produce a cohesive story nor can 140 characters. You may find inspiration through your social media, but put your filter on knowing your writing will be read by professionals.
  6. Develop your narrative. No term papers allowed. I have no doubt you did your research when you wrote about Kate Chopin’s motivation for writing The Awakening or the religious principles of the Puritans who settled in the United States. I will also be eager to learn about this when we talk. For your college essay, though, it’s all about painting a picture through the story you tell.
  7. Does your essay sound like you? It should. Over your high school career you have developed your own writing style, your own voice. That includes how you organize your thoughts, use punctuation, and what words you use (and don’t use). If one of your editors suggests a word that you know instantly doesn’t sound like you, don’t take his/her advice.
  8. We’ve read the rest of your application. Don’t pretend like we haven’t. When you apply for a job, your cover letter should not simply restate everything that can be found on your resume. Similarly, I end an application review by reading the essay. Though you may highlight an event or activity listed in your application, it should not be a summary of it or what you gained from each activity of which you were a part.
  9. Who else has read it? Admissions committees are made up of diverse individuals and personalities. It’s important the people reading your essay before you turn it in are diverse too. Choose people who know you well (parent, grandparent, teacher, coach, youth pastor) and those who don’t (a parent’s co-worker, a teacher’s spouse, the gang who has coffee with your grandpa every Friday morning). Collect their feedback and refer to #4 above.
  10. All good things must come to an end…a really good one. It’s time to wrap it up no more than 650 words later. Ending your story well is as important as starting it. Establish your take-aways and remember those feels.

Keep this in mind: your essay will be one piece of your larger application, and for most colleges, it will not be the sole item that makes (or breaks) your chances for admission. Head over to Common Application and get started (or continue) telling your story.