Stressed about college? A college-planning coach offers tips to make the experience more enjoyable


Photo courtesy of Tax Credits via Flickr

Story by Heather Gonzales

Terror. Stress. Anxiety.

These are common emotions associated with the college application experience. Choosing the right college and the right degree path is a seemingly high-stakes decision with irreversible consequences. What if you don’t like the school once you get there? What if you don’t like the subject matter? Will it be too late to change your mind?

“I’m terrified,” senior Samantha De Leon said. “I don’t know where I want to go, and what I want to do, and there’s a lot of pressure.”

But, one local college-planning professional is trying to make the college application process less stressful for students. And, she has some tips to help students feel more confident about their decisions.

The best place to start, according to Alexandra Ellison, founder and chief of Dunce, an education consulting and college planning institute located in Carson City, is to consider one’s interest, the skills one would want to make use of and the type of environment they would like to work in.

“Be willing to look beyond brand name and consider schools that fly under others’ radars – these places may be itching to get student like you and they’ll use money as the carrot to get you to go.” – Alexandra Ellison, Dunce founder.

“I’m noticing more stress about this point among this new generation I’m working with,” Ellison said. “You guys seem to feel like you have to pick your career now. You certainly don’t.

“Talk to a bunch of adults – most will tell you they’re doing something vastly different than what they thought they’d be doing when they were 16. If I were to do what I thought I’d be doing when I was 16, I’d be working for the FBI.”

Because student interests are likely to change or evolve through college and beyond, Ellison recommends students take the time now to immerse themselves in a number of their interests.

She thinks students should job shadow and take on internships to discover more about the careers their interested in. This isn’t as difficult a process as it may seem. McQueen offers internship opportunities presented under the G.A.T.E program. Other options are to search for or simply call places that administer internships and job shadowing.

These options will take some effort, Ellison said, but she thinks the effort will pay off in the long term.

The more experience you get, the more context you’ll have,” Ellison said. “It’s hard to make career choices when you’re sitting in your bedroom.”

Websites such as are also helpful resources for discovering your interests. It is similar to the questionnaire that the ACT provides at the beginning of the test.

“When I took that ACT test [in March of last year,] they asked you all these different interest questions. I was in the range of working with people and all those fields like that,” De Leon said.

Money tends to be the next big issue that students worry about. Scholarships can be an efficient way to earn money quickly and easily. Most scholarships can be earned from essays but there are some that one can simply sign up for and be randomly chosen to receive the money.

According to Lisa Williams, McQueen’s career center facilitator, Wells Fargo does a drawing every month for scholarship money.

The career center also provides students with plenty of information about scholarships, colleges and the military. Williams has even made a packet full of scholarships and the corresponding websites that students may pick up.

Sometimes scholarships are just not enough to get by. FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is an application for need-based scholarship money; it is suggested that every student signs up for it. It is based on the a student’s financial aid and allocates federal grants, loans, and work-study funds to students.

Nevada also provides the millennium scholarship worth up to $10,000 paid on a per-credit hour basis when a student is taking up to 15 credits per semester of college. A rate of $40 per-credit hour is given to students at Nevada community colleges and a rate of $60 per-credit hour is give to students at Nevada state colleges.

Students are eligible for the Millennium Scholarship this with either an overall GPA of 3.25 or higher, or a sufficient ACT or SAT score. Students are also required to take four units of English, four units of math, three units of natural science and three units of social science and history to be accepted to UNR, all adding up to a total of 14 credits.

On the other hand, schools can and will pay for you to come to their school. Some school websites provide a net price calculator that help compute an estimate of how much money a student will have to pay in order to go to that school. Merit-based aid and money given based on one’s grades and other abilities are also an option, except at Ivy League schools. They are given especially when a student is placed in the top ten percentile of the incoming class, according to Ellison.

“There are thousands of private scholarships to apply for, but they are very competitive and typically, small fry compared to what colleges themselves will give you. Be willing to look beyond brand name and consider schools that fly under others’ radars – these places may be itching to get a student like you and they’ll use money as the carrot to get you to go,” Ellison said.

While planning for the future is important, it is equally important to stay true to oneself along the way.

“Remember that where you end up does not define you as a person. Don’t let a bunch of college admissions officers, whom you’ve never met, determine your happiness. Have fun with it. See it as a game. But don’t let the results define you,” Ellison said. “You’re never stuck. Life will take you in many fun and crazy directions – let it do that for you! You never have to be stuck doing any one thing in any one place forever.”

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