So how are you planning on getting into college?
If you’re a little genius, you don’t need to spend any more time on this page. This page isn’t for you. This page is designed for the rest of us.
We have a few tips, pointers and tricks to help you receive that big welcome envelope from the college of your choice.
You’ve Got Competition, Kid
Hey, you’re a bright kid. You get good grades and work hard. Why wouldn’t any college want you?
Let’s get real. There’s a bunch of other kids out there too. And many of them are getting up earlier, studying longer and working harder than you are.
It’s called competition.
And there are parents out there spending tens of thousands of dollars on guaranteeing that their little brat gets an acceptance letter from one of the same top schools that you want to go to.
It’s a buyer’s market. And what you’re selling ain’t so great.
What are you gonna do?
If you want to get accepted into a college, stop and think about what colleges really want. Think about what colleges want and look for in an applicant, and then make them think that you are an applicant that has what they are looking for.
Get Started Early
If you want to get into a good college, you can’t screw off for years and then suddenly in your senior year decide that you want to go to one.
It’s a process that you need to work on, it isn’t a single action. You just need to decide early on that a four-year college is in your future and then slowly work towards achieving that goal.
Start as soon as you can. The top universities want to see four years of good grades and involvement.
Plus, in order to take all the classes you might want to take before you graduate, you need to get started as a freshman.
Starting early also allows you time to slowly think about what kind of school you want to attend and what type of career you would like to get into.
Okay, so when you’re 13 or 14 years old, maybe planning for college isn’t what all the cool kids are doing. Don’t worry. You don’t have to spend all your time doing this. You don’t have to tell other people about it. But when you’re 18 and you’re at a great college — it’ll be pretty cool.
Re-Engineer the Process
Learn what you will need to have in order to get accepted into the colleges of your choice when you are a senior. Then work backwards and figure out how you will get those things.
For example, if your dream college requires four years of a foreign language, then you better take a foreign language your freshman year so you’ll have four years done by the time you graduate.
Or if you want to be president or leader of a student organization, you’ll probably have to be a part of that organization for a few years in order to earn that post, you can’t just sign up in your junior or senior year and suddenly become that group’s leader.
Take Stock of Your Assets
Colleges love applicants who have special abilities. They are looking for students who can differentiate themselves from all of the other applicants.
These special abilities can be either academic and classroom related or strictly extracurricular.
They also really like applicants who seem to have high potential.
But do you know what universities also need? Universities have sports teams, marching bands, choirs and other organizations that are very important to them. They need kids who can successfully fill all of these positions.
If you can be one of the students to fill one of these positions, you have an advantage. Work that advantage into your application.
Be realistic about which universities you apply to. Don’t apply to a bunch of schools that are out of your league based on your grades and test scores.
Develop a strategy that involves applying to some fantastic colleges, along with a good contingency plan for what would happen if those schools turn you down.
You should identify and apply to one or two safe schools (schools you’re sure will accept you ’cause you’re so awesome), one to three dream schools and one to three colleges somewhere in the middle. These schools in the middle are where you will most likely end up.
Each application takes time and effort. And each application should be somewhat unique to each school.
It’s better to send out just a few really good applications than it is to send out a bunch of average applications. For most kids, about four to six schools is good. Don’t apply to 15 or 20. You can’t do a good job on 20 applications.
Get started sending in your applications as soon as you can. By starting early, you won’t be rushing to finish them later. You need to do a great job on the applications.
And if you feel that you are a good candidate for early decision at a particular university or two, make sure those apps get in as early as possible.
Build Up That GPA
You need to get good grades. Having a high GPA is important. And you should try to get solid grades all four years of high school.
The first key to earning a nice GPA is to never have any low grade to average in. Just one low grade can really bring down a GPA.
If you have one class that you really hate and you aren’t doing well in, that is the one class, unfortunately, that you will really have to put in extra time on. You can’t afford a single bad grade. You gotta suck it up and do it.
Crush the SAT and ACT
One of the key factors all schools look at is the applicant’s SAT or ACT score.
You need to do as well as you can on these tests.
Unless you are really smart, you will need to spend some time preparing.
There are several different preparation books and guides you can use to get ready for these exams. There are also practice exams you should take to get you ready.
Your high school or local community college may offer a test preparation class. There may be a charge for some, but some may be free.
While there are some limits, you can effectively take both of these tests as many times as you like and, in the end, submit just the one highest score.
Don’t take the SAT or ACT without spending a good deal of time preparing for it. Don’t think that you will just take the exam and then, if you don’t get a good enough score, you will study for it and take it again.
Try to get a great score the first time. Things may come up that will prevent you from taking it again.
Take the ACT and SAT in the Spring of your junior year if possible.
So you joined the ski club, the golf club and the Spanish club. That’s great. You went to the meetings and had some fun. Super.
Congratulations — you’re trying to complete the bare minimum that’s required.
One of the things that really stands out on an application is when the student has an experience with starting something. It could be a club, a one-person business or a website. What it is isn’t so important.
Universities think when a student was involved in starting something it demonstrates creativity, initiative and leadership.
Even if what you started eventually failed — that’s okay as long as you can show you kept trying and didn’t give up.
When admission counselors are asked about what they look for in a candidate beyond grades and test scores, applications that include the word “started” always get their attention.
It’s great to join organizations. But if all you do is join a bunch of groups and follow what others are telling you to do — is that what college recruiters really want to see?
Schools want to enroll creative and original students. They want to develop future leaders.
If the past is one predictor of the future, then schools are looking for individuals who have been leaders in the past. So try to be a leader in some of the groups and organizations you belong to.
Becoming the leader of a group takes time. This is why you should get started in organizations as a freshman or sophomore so that you have the time to get to a leadership position by the beginning of your senior year.
And even if you aren’t the leader, try to be able to show that you were creative and that you helped to get other people involved. Show that you were an organizer and you provided leadership to whatever groups you were in.
Being a member of a lot of easy organizations isn’t really what the admissions department is looking for.
It’s better to be able to show a major commitment to just a couple of activities than it is to just half-heartedly join a bunch of different groups that you really aren’t involved with much.
Have Mom or Dad Graduate From That University First
You really have to get started early with this tactic.
If one of your parents, brothers or sisters attended this university previously, you may have a big leg up on the competition. And if there is a building on campus named after your Grandpa — congratulations, you can stop reading now.
Applicants who have close relatives that attended the university previously are known as legacy applicants. And if you’re one, your odds of getting accepted are greatly improved.
In fact, if you’re a pretty solid candidate and your parent graduated from this college, the possibility that you will be accepted may be increased by 20 to 50 percent.
Hit Your Essay Out of the Park
The essay can be one of the most crucial parts of your application. Try to write something different from what all of the thousands of other kids are writing about.
Try to communicate something about yourself that is different or unusual, not something that is already on your application or something that many others have already written about.
Steer clear of obvious essay topics. You are looking to write about something different from what a hundred other kids are writing about. The topic doesn’t have to be based on an important or historic event. It’s best if the topic is not about your take on a well-known event.
It should be something that happened in your life. You are trying to communicate something special about yourself.
You need to pick an unusual subject and then write the hell out of it. The writing has to be perfect. Make every word count.
This is just a short essay, so you can spend a lot of time rewriting it. Show it to a teacher you trust and have them give you advice on the mechanics.
The essay is the hardest part of your application and will take the most time to finish. You need to put in some solid time and effort on this.
You need to plan what you are going to write about. Try to be original, although coming up with a totally original idea is difficult. At the very least, try to not select a really common topic to write about.
Think about all of the other essays your admissions guy will have read in the past few years. Try to come up with topic that he hasn’t seen yet.
Before you start writing, you should quickly discuss your idea or ideas with your guidance counselor. If they think your topic idea is a poor choice, it will save you from spending a lot of time writing something you will only discard later.
Professional writers aren’t really paid to write, they are paid to rewrite. You will have to do the same.
You should write your first draft and then go do something else. Look at it again later and start rewriting it.
When you have something that you think is pretty good, show it to a teacher who you have a good relationship with. Take their recommendations and feedback and work on editing and re-writing.
This can be a long process, but the essay is really important. It’s one of the few factors you can control at this point.
Make each sentence count. Knock it out of the park.
Apply for Early Acceptance (If it Works for You)
If there is one school you really want to get into, you can apply for early acceptance. Your odds of getting accepted are much greater than waiting for the regular enrollment.
However, if you are accepted by that school early, you will be required to actually enroll there and pay whatever it costs. If this is your dream school and you have considered it carefully, then this isn’t usually a problem.
If you are in a financial situation where you need to compare the financial aid packages from different schools after they have accepted you, then early action may not be for you because you will not be able to do this.
Early acceptance sometimes works best for kids with either lots of money or no money at all. Students and parents who fall somewhere in the middle may get fewer grants and federal student aid so they may need to compare the offered aid packages from different schools in order to determine where they can afford to go to.
Social Media and Your Mom
Make sure that your Facebook and Twitter accounts show you in a good light. Take down any pictures of you breaking the law.
Schools know that you are young and interested in having fun. They get it. Most admissions employees are pretty young too. They know that life isn’t all about sitting in a classroom.
Your Facebook and Instagram accounts don’t have to be boring. Use them to show off your interests and passions and show you have a sense of humor too.
If you have questions about whether your account is okay or not, just think about what your Mom would think if she looked at it.
Help Your Teacher Write a Recommendation
Who are you going to ask to write you a letter? One of your teachers is an obvious answer.
Some schools like to see the writer to be a teacher of a core course, such as Math, English, Science or History.
Most teachers have some experience with writing letters of recommendation, but they may also be asked by several other students for letters as well as you. So be prepared to come up with a short list of potential letter writers in case your first choice is too busy.
Hopefully, the person you are approaching to write your letter knows you pretty well and, although no one really wants to take the time to sit down and write something, they like you enough to be willing do this.
If the teacher you are asking appears hesitant in any way (perhaps they say they will do it, but they are very busy), it may be an indication that they really don’t want to do it.
You will have to carefully read their response to you. If they are hesitant, it may indicate that they are not really ready to write you a good letter. If you sense this is the case, it would probably be better to diplomatically withdraw you request and approach the next person on your list.
And what makes you so remarkable that the teacher is going to write a glowing recommendation? What’s so special about you?
Make it easy for your writer. Give them all the paperwork and writing guidelines from the university that they need.
Also give them a little bulleted list summarizing your high school years that could include any accomplishments, activities, athletics or interests. Try to remind him or her about what you did either in the class or outside of the classroom that will help him or her to write something a little different about you. These teachers are around a lot of students and they need a little help keeping the details of each one separate.
Some of these teachers are asked to write a lot of letters. Make sure they have plenty of time to get yours done before the deadline.
Universities get a lot of recommendation letters. Many of them are pretty much the same.
Try to do something that will allow the teacher to write about you in a way that those words jump off the page and sets your recommendation apart from all the others.
These letters are confidential so you won’t know what the writer wrote. This makes the recommendation letter one of the areas you can’t control.
Enroll in AP Classes
Taking and passing an AP class is a way to show that you can take a college-equivalent class and successfully pass it. And even if you didn’t get the highest grade in it, simply taking it shows that you have desire and are willing to challenge yourself by taking a class that was harder than what you had to take.
And if you do really well on the AP exam for that class, you can usually earn college credit. This means you won’t have to take this class again in college. Nice.
Enroll in Honors Classes
An honors class can be similar to an AP class, but it doesn’t result in an AP exam or any college credit. It’s just a good way to show admissions people that you are willing to take and succeed in difficult classes.
Besides getting good grades, you need to show that you didn’t just take the easiest classes in high school.
Admission officers give a lot of weight to how challenging the courses you decided to take were. They want to see that you attempted and passed difficult classes.
They want to see math, science and foreign language classes on your transcripts. They’re not dumb. They will be able to tell if you took just the bare minimum of required courses and then just took easy classes after that.
Writing Your Resume
When you’re in high school, putting together a resume is hard. Usually, you won’t think you have anything to put on it. It’s just a big blank page.
In order to develop a nice resume, you will have to get started early.
During your high school years, you have to get decent grades, join clubs, participate in sports or other school programs, have a job and do other things that you will be able to put on your resume.
You can’t invent items for your resume when it’s time for your college application. Your resume is simply a place where you list the things you’ve already done.
Don’t Spend Every Summer at the Beach
Unless you’re working as a lifeguard, you shouldn’t spend all of your Summer days playing around at the beach.
You need to use these three Summer months to either work, volunteer, or gain some type of experience that you can’t do when school is in session.
You could take part in a foreign exchange program of some type, community service project, internship program, or you could even take a short class in an interesting subject.
The ultimate activity would be some type of internship that directly relates to what you want to pursue in college. For example, if you want to go into Journalism, try to intern at your local newspaper, TV or radio station. If you are considering a career in healthcare, perhaps you could intern at a local hospital.
This type of career-specific activity looks terrific on a college application as well as any job application you will fill out one day.
National Honor Society
One academic organization that is fairly easy to belong to and gets you a nice amount of college good will is the National Honor Society. College admissions guys think it shows commitment.
Academic Competitions and Teams
Taking part in an academic group or event can be a nice addition to your application. These groups or activities range from writing competitions to groups like Mathletes. Being involved with one proves that you have a certain level of interest and talent in that field.
Become a Key Figure in One or More School Organizations
Becoming involved in school organizations is important. However, it isn’t so much the quantity of organizations you join, it’s the quality of the activity you contribute.
You don’t want to end up being just another member of a bunch of groups. You want to be one of the leaders of a few groups.
In order to become one of the leaders, you will have to start as just one of the members and then work your way up to a leadership position. But assuming a leadership role should be your goal.
Not all opportunities are equal. Some of the better ones include student council, the debate team, yearbook (which may be a class at some schools), school newspaper, or maybe even working as an assistant with the school administration’s office.
Try to find one sport you can play reasonably well. If you can play one sport for all four years of school, that’s great.
Even it you won’t get awarded a sports scholarship, participating in team sports indicate you can be part of a team and individual sports show you can work towards something on your own. Either are nice additions to your application.
And be realistic about sports scholarships. If you’re banking on getting a big sports scholarship to pay for school and grease your application, you better be very realistic about your abilities and the level of your competition.
Genetics play a huge role in determining someone’s athletic ability. If both your parents were below average on the athletic scale, the chances of you becoming a professional athlete or being a star college athlete are pretty much non-existent.
Be realistic about your ability and your chances.
On the other hand, if you are a great athlete in a sport that universities need top athletes in, then you might be golden.
One aspect of sports scholarships, however, is that the specific school you want to get into may not award you the best scholarship. You may have to choose between a full ride at a school which you aren’t that interested in or a smaller scholarship from your top-choice school.
Once you’re accepted, you will have to keep your grades up, commit to many hours of practice, perform well for your team and, most importantly, remain healthy enough to stay on the team.
The majority of students accepted into college either played an instrument in the high school band or orchestra or sang in the choir.
It’s unclear as to the exact relationship here.
Do smart kids gravitate towards music classes? Do music classes help steer students down an academic path to success? Who knows.
But there is a connection here so you should take part in your music program, even if you don’t want to.
And if you can’t bring yourself to take up and commit to a string, woodwind or brass instrument, you could at least join the school band as a percussionist.
Get to Know Your Gate Keeper
If you are real serious about only a few schools, you could find out the name of the person who is an admission counselor for that school in your part of the country. It’s possible you could find and follow them on Facebook.
You could email them short questions to determine what they are looking for in an applicant or to find out more about attending an upcoming school information meeting. You’re just trying to start some kind of connection.
Why are you Interested in This School?
Many college applications ask this question. This is kind of a tough question to answer.
Schools really don’t want you to write about them, they want you write about why you are a good fit for their school.
Start working on this question early so you can try to come up with some good answers as to why you want to attend that school, and why they would want to accept you.
Volunteer at Least a Little Bit
When your application is finished, there has to be some sort of volunteering experience on it. Every other student’s application lists some volunteering work. You don’t want your application to make you look like a selfish prick.
And once you get started doing it, not only will you find out that it’s not so bad, but it might even make you feel kinda good.
You’re actually helping some people out a little bit. That’s kinda nice. And it may even give you something to write about on for one of your essays.
Finally, this can be a great way to meet different people and make some contacts that may come in handy later on. That person you meet through volunteering may end up writing you a letter of recommendation or help you with getting a job one day.
Admissions departments like to see community involvement, so start brain-storming about where you might be able to get started.
Hey, Get a Job
Many universities say that, on average, students who hold a part-time job get a higher GPA than students who don’t have a part-time job.
These same colleges like to see a certain amount of work experience on the applications they receive as well. The actual type of job isn’t the important factor. They just want to see some real-world, paid job experience.
Summer jobs or small part-time jobs while attending high school are what they are looking for. They don’t have to be great.
Most jobs involve learning different skills, so be sure to include those skills on your application. For example, being a lifeguard requires learning CPR, so there is something else to add to your resume.
Work allows you to earn some spending money too. Try to save some of it for when you get to college, because you’ll always need a little cash here and there.
Taking classes or learning skills outside of school indicates you have desire and initiative.
No, this training doesn’t have to be boring. It can be about subjects that you are actually interested in.
You could take classes in cooking, yoga, martial arts, Photoshop or a musical instrument. Make those admissions reps notice what an interesting and well-rounded young person you are.
Let’s Go to the Fair
Maybe there is a college fair in your area where admissions counselors from different colleges show up and talk about their schools with interested high school students.
If there is, you may have the opportunity to make your first connection with a counselor from a college you really like.
Colleges may also set up small informational get-togethers in some cities. This is also a chance to meet with an admissions officer and chat.
And although they meet a lot of kids and they may never remember you, try to make a good first impression and maybe even do or say something that they might remember later.
Pay That College a Visit
Register to attend a college preview day at the schools you are most interested in.
This will be a day where you can tour the university, talk to a few current students and get a sense of campus life. You want to be able to picture yourself attending this school.
These visits will help you make a better decision when choosing which college you want to attend. Plus, admissions officers may not consider you to be a serious candidate if they find out you didn’t take the time to actually visit their campus before applying to it.
Make sure you visit all of the schools you are seriously considering enrolling at before you actually enroll at one.
Getting into college is one thing, but enrolling in a college that doesn’t fit your personality will be a tremendous mistake. Don’t make a tremendous mistake.
Schedule your tour during the summer before your senior year. If possible, arrange to have a short meeting with an admissions counselor during your visit. You can discuss the application process and ask for a couple tips regarding what to concentrate on when you submit your application.
Win the Interview
If your college is one of the few that require an on-campus interview, make sure that you nail it.
Arrive for the interview dressed like you’re an adult with a professional job. Act friendly, but not creepy friendly.
Before the interview, review everything on your application and essay that you sent to this school. Be prepared to talk about any point of your application that the interviewer may bring up.
Learn about the university. Be able to show the interviewer you know some details about their school. Be sure you know how you will answer the question of “Why do you want to go to this school?”
Look back on your calendar to when you toured the university. Memorize the date so you can casually bring it up during the interview. By knowing the date you toured the college, you are showing that you are smart enough to remember dates and that you consider this school to be important enough to remember.
You want to leave the impression with the interviewer that you would be a solid candidate for their next enrollment. At the very least, you don’t want to do or say something in the interview that will allow the interviewer to make it easy to disqualify you.
And it’s always a good idea to send a thank you email or snail mail note right after the interview.
Leave the Country
You could take part in a student foreign exchange program. If you’re in a scholastic rut or having a problem at school, leaving the country for a little while might be just what you need to jump start your academics or get back in the groove.
Living and studying in another country also looks good on your application.
This is a major move and it will interfere with every aspect of your current daily life, so it is something to consider carefully.
Don’t Make it Easy for the College to Say No
Even if you can’t write the perfect essay and get top grades and test scores, at least don’t make it easy for the university to reject your application.
Make sure you application is complete. Give them everything they are asking for. Don’t leave anything out.
Be sure there are no typos and no mistakes. And don’t send them a bunch of stuff that they haven’t asked for. Just give them what they want.
Make sure that your application is the best it can be at this moment.
You probably shouldn’t.
You may have the urge to plagiarize one of your essays, but schools all subscribe to software services that will scan your essay and compare it to what it has seen on the Web, so unless you are plagiarizing something really, really obscure, you will get caught.
Will they check up on whether or not you attended every meeting of the club you said you joined? Probably not. Will they check and see if you were actually a member? Maybe.
Spend Daddy’s Money
If your parents are stupid rich and they really want their precious son or daughter to get into a famous university, well, you are in luck, my fortunate one.
Arrange to have your parents hire a college entrance consultant to work with you in developing a strong application and make sure you get in to your school of choice.
These guys can be really, really expensive. But many of them know their stuff.
They will give you their advice as well as help you with everything involved with getting accepted. Some of the most expensive ones will even guarantee that you will get in.
Now, they can’t do your homework or take your SAT for you. Much of what they will do is coach you and push you to do better.
Essentially, they are charging a lot of money for their advice and coaching you to get things done, but it can really have a positive effect and all you have to do is follow their advice (and of course do all the work).
It’s possible that all this pushing from your parents and your entrance consultant might piss you off so much that you decide to not attend college at all.
Oh well. Try to not let it get to you.
Sit Here and Wait
If you got on the school’s wait list, you still have a chance. You may still get offered a spot.
If you really want to get into this one school, make sure they know about it. You should write a perfect short letter to the school explaining your situation and how much you still wish to attend the school.
Being on the wait list isn’t the same thing as being denied admission. Schools do accept candidates who are on the wait list.
Keep in contact with the admissions office. Send them any recent grades that they don’t know about or any other news. Tell them that if they accept you, you would be happy to immediately accept.
I Didn’t Get In – Now What?
If you got a rejection letter, try to contact that school’s admission rep and see if they will give you any reason why they rejected you. They may not tell you.
But if they do, maybe it was something as simple as a missing essay or letter of recommendation or your high school’s grades never showed up. Maybe the reason you didn’t get in is correctable.
But if you don’t get accepted for your freshman year, you have two options.
You can enroll at the highest-ranked school on your list that accepted you and just be glad that you got into a good school. You could attend this school and just go on to a happy life.
The second option would be to enroll at some other four-year or community college, do a great job as a freshman, get super grades and then apply to transfer to your top school of choice.
You’re going to have to do really well in order to get accepted as a transfer student at a top school. You’re going to have to show that school that rejected you what they missed out on with you. It’s a gamble, because if you don’t do really well, you won’t get accepted as a transfer student.
The best approach is generally to go to the highest school on your list that will actually accept you.
Your life won’t end because your dream school said in a letter that they didn’t like you. Screw them.
The best school for you is the one you actually go to.
Get enrolled and don’t look back.
Think College is Too Expensive?
If your parents make a nice living and you don’t earn a scholarship, almost every four-year university is going to end up costing you and your parents quite a bit of cash.
If you’re in this situation, your parents will have to write some pretty big checks and you will probably have some decent-sized student loans when you graduate. Sorry.
But if you’re parents aren’t making a lot of money, and schools see you as a decent prospect, colleges will lower the financial bar for you.
And the total cost that they will lower your education bill by can be substantial. In many cases, we believe that if you can come up with about $6,000 a year in cash or student loans, the college will cover the rest and you can get yourself a university education. That’s not a bad deal.