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Students, Parents Tackle College Questions at Fair

Oct 5, 2014

Parents and students wait for a workshop on financial aid and college to begin.
Credit Elise Thatcher

On Sunday, October 5th, Aspen High School hosted just under three thousand students and parents from Lake City, Durango, and other far flung Colorado towns. They quizzed University representatives and took workshops as part of the Colorado Western Slope College Fair. It’s been around for years, but this time, the focus was on helping students with the details, like essay writing and affordability.

  A large classroom is overflowing with mostly high schoolers. There are parents here and there, looking a little dazed or very, very focused.

"I thank of you each for coming early to the fair this morning, I hope you’ll consider it to be a good use of your time.”

Gary Ross is Dean of Admission at Colgate University in New York State. This morning he's the application essay guru, and sets the scene for when a student's application could be read.

"It's 7:30 in the evening in late January. The admissions officers are seated around a table. The room smells of stale bread and old mustard from the sandwiches that were eaten at noon. People are exhausted, maybe a little cranky. Your application is the next one to be reviewed. It's the 78th application to be reviewed that day.”  

Students and some parents wait for a workshop to begin on writing the ideal college application essay.
Credit Elise Thatcher

How to make it stand out, in a good way? First, what not to do.

"Never ever, give into the temptation, to use one of the essays floating around on the web."

The Admissions office has likely seen it before, and all hope of getting in is probably torpedoed. An application essay should be from the heart, about an event or issue the students knows well, and it should reveal something about how a student thinks. Aspen student Julia Jungquist pipes up.

"Would you prefer if someone was like risk taking in their essay, rather than someone who had just a really well constructed kind of basic essay?"

"I would definitely prefer an essay that is well written, that you believe represents the best of your writing ability."

Afterwards, Jungquist says the advice helps.

"I'm always curious, do they prefer someone who's authentic and strong and have very different ideas, even though they can't grasp them totally? Or do they prefer a student that knows a subject very well, knows what they’re talking about so it’s a very well structured, even though it’s maybe not something new that they’re presenting.”

more than 2000 students and several hundred parents participated in the 2014 Colorado Western Slope College Fair.
Credit Elise Thatcher

Students and their parents also perused booths for many colleges and universities.

The next workshop is how to afford being on campus, especially with student debt skyrocketing.

"Are we running out of handouts? Where's the handouts now? We have a lot still?”

A legion of mostly parents cram into a small classroom. Jim Swanson, Director of Financial Aid at Colorado College, reviews how to apply for scholarships and loans, and tricks to make that easier. Fruita sophomore Ethan Archer has this question.

"Say I went to CU and I joined with the ROTC and I got a scholarship through the ROTC. Will that change my eligibility?

"Great question, you guys have great questions..."

The answer is yes, one scholarship could affect another. But Swanson encourages the crowd to apply for aid, for every school a student really wants to attend. Because there are so many variables, sometimes the most expensive school offers the most scholarships-- turning out to be the most affordable option.