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Top Ten College Admissions Tips
1. Be sure to take the most challenging high school courses you can handle. Don’t take the easy way out (as many students do, especially in their senior year). Strong academic preparation makes you a better candidate for admission and greatly improves your chances for success in college. Choosing an AP class in which you expect to earn no higher than a B- is a better choice than choosing an Honors class in which you expect to make an easy A. And taking a half credit “schedule-filler” - like an SAT Prep class in your junior year - will only draw negative attention by an admissions counselor.
2. Standardized tests can’t hurt you; they can only help. There are many schools of thought about the importance (or lack thereof) of taking these test: which ones, when, how often? Traditionally, students practice their test-taking skills by sitting for the PSAT/NMSQT in their sophomore year, take the PSAT/NMSQT in the fall of their junior year in order to be considered for a National Merit Scholarship, take both the ACT and SAT (often twice) in the spring of their junior year and again (once) in the fall of senior year.
3. Before making a list of colleges to consider, spend some time thinking of the criteria most important to you (location, size, academic programs, campus environment, co-curricular activities, etc.). You can do all of this online where your searches can be saved.
4. When you begin putting together your “colleges of interest” list, consider both your college choice criteria and the academic profiles of previously accepted students like GPAs and standardized test scores. Keep in mind that (good news) you do not have to be at the top of all the listed ranges, but (bad news) being at the top of every range is no guarantee of acceptance, particularly at the most selective institutions. Remember, colleges and universities post statistics that reflect their average student which means plenty of accepted applicants had higher grades/scores and plenty of them had lower grades/scores than the posted average.
5. Do not eliminate colleges from your “colleges of interest” list just because of their “sticker price,” as financial aid (available in many forms) may greatly reduce your actual cost of attendance. At the same time, you need to be realistic about what you can afford and the likelihood that you’ll receive enough aid, grant and scholarship funding to cover your bare minimum. Also keep in mind that it is rare for any student to graduate college these days without having some student debt. There are many options for financing college.
6. Do not rule out colleges whose names you do not recognize. Attend college fairs, meet with college representatives, read the literature you receive in the mail, and most importantly, visit each school's website.
7. The list of colleges you plan on applying to should include “safety” schools as well as some schools that are “likely” (but not guaranteed), a few schools that may be a “reach,” and a “dream” school (where you think you'll have absolutely no shot or no way of affording it should you be accepted). Your list should be compromised of a minimum of 12 schools. An ideal breakdown would look like this: 1-2 “dream” schools, 2-3 “reach” schools, 3-4 “likely” schools, 2-3 “safety” schools. Safety schools are a) those you are certain to be admitted to based on their on-paper requirements and the sense you've gotten from your contacts at the school; b) those you will be able to afford without hardship; c) colleges you really want to attend.
8. While visiting every college on your list isn't necessary (or practical), visiting as many college campuses as possible can only help you in the admissions process. Any time you have an opportunity to have a college rep associate your face with your name and application, you give yourself an advantage over other applicants who cannot do the same. Admissions counselors are not your only advocates. Equally important are college athletic coaches, department heads, financial aid counselors, even a student admissions guide can become your advocate. If your top choice of school is far from home, you may want to reserve your visit for AFTER you've been accepted. Revisit days can often be more insightful than an open house or pre-application tour and info session.
9. Once you know exactly which colleges you will be applying to, put together a list of application submission deadlines (take note of the different dates for EA, ED, Regular, Rolling), financial aid requirements, supplemental materials such as additional essays or portfolio review, audition dates, additional scholarship/grant information. Do not wait till the Common App is updated, usually in early August, to begin working on getting your resume in order, choosing who will write your letters of recommendation, and drafting your application essays. Homeschoolers should have their transcripts formatted, course descriptions written and a list of all texts and materials used in each class prepared prior to the start of senior year.
10. Hitting SEND on the Common App does not end your college admission adventure. It is important to stay in contact with any and all college representatives that you've come to know during the college search process. Monthly emails are a great way to do this without seeming overbearing. There are many advantages to staying in touch with a college rep. Should your application be deferred to a later acceptance deadline, you will have someone on the front-lines to direct you on what more you can do to better your chance of being accepted. Similarly, if you are wait-listed, you will have an admissions contact to whom you can send updates about your senior year academics and activities and about your summer plans.