Get into College
If you’re about to graduate from high school, you’re probably very excited about starting a new chapter in your life. However, before you can head off to college and expand your horizons, you need to apply and be accepted! Applying for college can seem like a daunting process for many people. However, by being strategic about your class and activity choices in high school and being disciplined about completing your application, you can ensure your application is as strong and likely to be accepted as possible.
Part 1 of 3:Positioning Yourself for Success in High School
1. Make a list of things to focus on to strengthen your application
Make a list of things to focus on to strengthen your application. Most colleges evaluate potential students on a number of objective and subjective standards, including your academic record, your standardized test scores, your overall character, and so on. Keep a list of these criteria to guide your activities in high school and to keep your eye on the big picture.
For most colleges, especially the more selective schools, your academic record (as reflected in your transcript and GPA) and your ACT or SAT scores will be the most important criteria. These should be your top priority when trying to bolster your application.
Don’t neglect extracurricular activities; they’re more important on your application than you may think. Focus on activities that reflect passion and engagement. Remember, college admissions boards will judge you as a whole person, not just as a student.
Colleges evaluate your character on a more subjective basis, based on your essays, letters of recommendation, and interviews.
Be realistic about what your strengths and weaknesses are and use them to your advantage. A weakness in one area can be outweighed by a strength in another and vice versa.
2. Choose classes
Choose classes in high school that will give you a leg up in applications. You should enroll in classes that will look good on your college application and also will give you college credit. Take classes that will challenge you, but don’t overload yourself. You don’t want to get an ulcer while you are still a teenager!
Take AP and IB courses. AP and IB exams not only demonstrate a willingness to challenge yourself but also often give you college credits later. Talk to your school counselor about taking AP courses online if your high school doesn’t offer them.
Fulfill the coursework recommendations of colleges you are interested in. Most 4-year colleges want applicants to have taken 4 years of each main academic subject, including foreign language. Treat suggestions as requirements.
For example, if one of your prospective colleges requires 3 years of high school science but suggests four, you should take 4 years of science to remain competitive.
If you’re confident in your academic abilities and interested in a topic, consider taking more advanced courses in that subject. This will impress the colleges you apply to and may even grant you course credit.
3. Maintain a competitive GPA
Maintain a competitive GPA. You don’t need a 4.0 to get into a great school, but remember that your cumulative GPA for all 4 years of high school is sometimes used as an initial screen for colleges that receive a lot of applications. Higher grades will make you stand out and expand your college choices.
If you’re a freshman or sophomore, focus on earning a relatively high GPA now. It’s much easier to maintain a high GPA for 4 years than it is to spend 2-3 years trying to raise an already low GPA.
AP and Honors classes are typically graded on a weighted GPA scale in which higher grades raise your GPA more than they would in a normal class on account of the added difficulty. Considering enrolling in weighted GPA classes to quickly boost your GPA.
Use the average GPA of admitted students at the colleges you want to apply to to get a sense of these schools’ academic expectations of you.
4. Distinguish yourself in activities outside of school
Distinguish yourself in activities outside of school. Your extracurriculars will do a lot to strengthen your application and demonstrate to colleges your commitment. Focus your time on a few activities that you find most rewarding and pursue leadership positions in them.
College admission boards can tell when a student only does an extracurricular to pad their resume. Make sure you do things you actually enjoy doing.
Schools look at student activities to see students’ passions, their leadership abilities, and how they impact their communities.
Examples of some activities you could do include working for a school newspaper, volunteering in your community, or playing on a sports team.
Enter contests. Awards will help your application stand out, and even if you don’t win, the experience can’t hurt.
5. Use your summers productively.
Use your summers productively. When it comes to working towards your college application, you’re not limited to the school year. Use your summer to find an internship, volunteer, get a job, attend a summer program, or take courses at a community college.
For example, if you’re aiming to major in history, consider volunteering at a local history museum or historic site. You’ll get valuable experience, make your application stronger, and the museum will definitely appreciate the help!
If you know what you want to study at the college level, consider reaching out to a professor at your local college whose research topic interests you and ask if you can get involved.
6. Make a resume and update it every semester
Make a resume and update it every semester. Keep track of your activities and the dates you participated in them so you don’t forget anything when filling out your applications.
Use your resume to keep a record of your courses, academic awards, community service, work experience, and extracurricular activities.
Use active verbs when describing your activities (e.g., “created” and “led”) to make you stand out as a doer rather than a passive participant.
7. Get to know your teachers
Get to know your teachers. Reach out to them after class to ask questions or discuss topics of interest. This will help you to receive a strong letter of recommendation from your teachers and to begin building your professional network early.
Developing a rapport with your teachers will also give you added sources of mentorship and friendship that may come in handy as you continue your academic career.
You’ll want to ask your teachers in person when the time comes to ask for letters of recommendation. Having a previously established personal relationship with them will make this conversation a lot less awkward for you.
8. Take the SAT or ACT
Take the SAT or ACT. Sign up to take the test in winter or spring of your junior year; that way, if you are unhappy with your scores, you’ll have plenty of time to study and take the test again.
Take the PSAT in October of your junior year if your high school offers it. This will help you learn what to expect on the actual exam, and if you do well enough, you may receive a financial award from the National Merit scholarship competition (free money!).
Get a test prep book at least a month before your test and work through it. Focus especially on areas you have difficulty in and take full advantage of the book’s practice tests.
Use the practice questions posted on the SAT and ACT websites. The SAT, for example, provides a regular Question of the Day. Khan Academy is also a free online source of SAT practice questions.
Consider enrolling in a test prep class, if possible. Don’t worry if you can’t afford to take the class though; it is completely possible to improve your scores through independent studying.
9. Take SAT Subject Tests in areas you have excelled in
Take SAT Subject Tests in areas you have excelled in. Unlike the SAT and ACT, these exams test knowledge of a specific topic such as Biology or U.S. History. Most selective colleges require you to submit scores for two different Subject Tests.
Take the Subject Test immediately after finishing the relevant coursework at your school. For example, if you take Biology in your freshman year and do well, you should take the Biology Subject Test as soon as possible afterwards while the knowledge is still fresh in your mind.
If you are considering a career in a STEM field and have taken some trigonometry and precalculus, you should strongly consider taking the Math 2 Subject Test. Many colleges will prefer math proficiency beyond the scope of the general SAT.
Part 2 of 3:Deciding Where to Apply
1. Research schools to find which ones fit you the best
Research schools to find which ones fit you the best. Use a college guidebook, college mailing lists, and college websites to start learning about schools you might apply to. Decide what you want your ideal college to be like and use that to guide your research.
For example, you might look for schools to apply to based on their strength in the field you plan to major in. Alternatively, you might decide that having a fun or enriching college experience is most important for you and look for schools in exciting places.
Use a college search engine to search for schools based on specific criteria, such as student body size, location, and average GPA.
Schools will sometimes hold information sessions for prospective students in different locales. Attend any sessions that are hold in your hometown to get more information about the school of your choice.
2. Visit schools in person if possible
Visit schools in person if possible. Even with extensive research, it can be difficult to get a true “feel” for a college without spending time on campus. When you visit, sign up to attend a campus tour or information session– or both. Both will give you valuable knowledge.
Campus tours are often student-led, while information sessions are typically led by admissions officers. Remember during these tours that they’re trying to make the school look as good as possible; they won’t tell you about any negative aspects of campus life if you don’t ask first.
Take notes during or right after your visits. Without anything to refer back to, schools may begin to blend together in your head!
Pay attention to campus atmosphere. What are the students like? What are they doing as you walk around campus? Can you imagine yourself among them?
Set aside time to explore the area surrounding campus. Find out what sort of activities, entertainment, and resources you could take advantage of as a student there.
3. Assemble a balanced list of schools to apply to
Assemble a balanced list of schools to apply to. No matter how strong your application is, most colleges are not 100% guaranteed to admit you. You will need to apply to schools that range widely in selectivity to ensure that, come spring, you have been accepted to at least one program. Your list should include reach schools, target schools, and safety schools.
Reach schools are colleges that you have only a small chance of being accepted to. Many college counselors will say that a college that accepts less than 15% of its applicants should always be considered a reach school, no matter how accomplished the student.
Target schools are colleges that you have a good shot at being accepted at. You fit the profile of their accepted students: for example, you fall within their average range of test scores and GPA.
Safety schools are colleges you are very confident you will be accepted at. These should be schools you apply to ensure that, if your target and reach schools all reject you, you’ll still be accepted to at least 1 program.
4. Take cost into consideration when deciding on schools
Take cost into consideration when deciding on schools. Higher education is expensive; talk with your family about how much you can reasonably afford to pay for college. At the same time, remember that most colleges are “need-blind” and may offer you financial aid if you are accepted.
Most college students receive at least some financial aid in the form of grants or scholarships. If you’re worried about your ability to pay for school, there’s a good chance you’ll qualify for some level of financial aid.
Seek out the “Price Calculator” on college websites, and enter your family’s financial information to find out how much aid you can expect to receive.
Be sure to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as soon as possible after October 1 to determine your eligibility for federal and state financial aid.
5. Decide if you will submit an Early Application
Decide if you will submit an Early Application. Some colleges offer an “Early Action” or “Early Decision” option, which allows students to submit their applications earlier in the fall and receive their admissions decision sooner, in December. Consider applying early if you have a clear first choice school or just want to avoid the suspense of waiting on a decision.
Keep in mind there are differences between these two options. Early Action is non-binding: you are not obligated to attend the college if accepted. In contrast, students accepted to a college through Early Decision must enroll there.
If you have a clear first choice college, apply Early Decision if possible. Early Decision increases your chances of getting in by demonstrating to a college that they are your first choice.
If you are unsure where you want to go, apply Early Action. Colleges generally have higher admissions rates for early applicants. Plus, hearing back earlier on will save you suspense– and a favorable decision will put your mind at ease!
Part 3 of 3:Completing Your Application
1. Make a timeline for completing your application and stick to it
Make a timeline for completing your application and stick to it. Personally check the website of each college on your list and note the most up-to-date admissions deadlines. Set a schedule for completing each part of your application so that you’re able to submit by the deadline.
If you are prone to procrastination, create mini-deadlines to encourage steady work. For example, you might plan to finish one new application each week, or finish a section of an application each day.
Remember, your timeline will only work so long as you stick to it. Don’t let yourself fall behind on your schedule once you’ve made it!
2. Create a Common App account
Create a Common App account. More than 500 colleges currently accept this standardized application form. You only need to fill it out once, and once finished, you simply forward it to all participating schools you are applying to.
The app opens each year online on August 1st, so you can begin filling out your application over the summer (lucky you!).
The Common App requires a “personal statement,” a prompt-based essay of no more than 650 words. The prompts generally stay the same from year to year, so it’s possible to start drafting your response even before August 1st.
A personal statement will help admissions officers get to know you through some important aspects of your identity. Although there is no one correct format, the most compelling essays usually recount and reflect on a personal story.
3. Ask your teachers for letters of recommendation
Ask your teachers for letters of recommendation. The vast majority of colleges require letters from 2 teachers, both from core academic subjects. Ask early on in your senior year. Otherwise, your teacher of choice may be swamped with other requests by the time you reach them!
Choose teachers who have a high opinion of you. Ideally, your recommender will have seen you excel or work to overcome challenges and will be able to speak to your passion and intellect.
Choose recommenders who have taught you recently and for longer periods of time; they will have the best personal knowledge of you. You probably shouldn’t ask a math teacher from way back in freshman year or the senior year math teacher you’ve only known for 2 weeks.
Ask for your letters in person. You may feel awkward, but your request will have a more personal touch.
Offer to send your recommender your resume, to help them write knowledgeably about you.
4. Write any necessary supplemental essays
Write any necessary supplemental essays. Many colleges require essays specific to their school in addition to your personal statement. Like the personal statement, this is an opportunity to convey important parts of your identity in a compelling, readable way.
Two of the most common prompts for supplemental essays are “What do you want to major in?” and “Tell us about a favorite activity.”
Supplemental essays vary in word count between schools and some will ask you to write 2 instead of just 1. Be sure you read the instructions for writing supplemental essays closely before proceeding.
5. Revise and proofread your application before submitting
Revise and proofread your application before submitting. Now that you’ve finished your application materials, you’ll want to make sure no silly mistakes have slipped through the cracks. Ask parents, friends, or trusted teachers to read it over, but make sure the words and ideas in your application remain your own.
If you choose to edit your application for yourself, don’t do so immediately. Give yourself a day to rest and refresh your eyes, then come back to proofread what you wrote.
Make sure your essays don’t become so edited by other people that they seem like they were written by someone else. College admission boards will be able to spot this and it will reflect poorly on your application.
6. Prepare for any interviews
Prepare for any interviews. Not all schools require or even offer interviews; generally, schools will contact you after you submit your application with interview instructions. An off-campus alumni interview is a good and convenient option, but if possible, arrange an on-campus interview with an admissions officer, as this will hold more weight in the admissions process.
Relax. Your interview will probably not make or break you, unless you show up in torn jeans and a sweaty T-shirt and start swearing.
Research a college before going to its interview. Think about why you are applying to this specific school and what strengths you would contribute to it.
Have questions ready for your interviewer. This is a fantastic opportunity to learn more about the school, as well as to convey your genuine interest in a school.
Look on the internet for some common college interview questions, and practice your answers beforehand– but avoid memorizing responses in a way that will sound mechanical.
Brush up on some current events. You don’t need to know everything that’s going on in the world, but it’s not a bad idea to read the newspaper daily for a few days before the interview.