Gaining college admission is harder than ever. Many top universities can fill their classes multiple times from a highly qualified applicant pool. What should a student do to gain admission and possibly receive merit college scholarships? A simple formula does not exist: most schools take a holistic approach. Here is what they consider:
College admission begins with the transcript. A good transcript “opens the door” to getting into college. Your transcript tells your academic story. If you are an engineering student, did you take high-level math courses? If you are a classics major, did you study Latin?
Colleges like to see good grades and growth – which means your grades are trending upward. They also consider the rigor of your chosen curriculum. Colleges want to see that you have taken advantage of the honors and Advanced Placement (AP) courses or IB program offered at your school.
I recommend that students challenge themselves, but there is no reason to be over-faced. Excellent schools are available on every level. Choose courses that make sense for you. If you love a subject, then challenge yourself. When you put together your college list, choose colleges that match your academic profile.
Standardized tests -- the ACT and SAT -- are considered by many but not all schools. Some schools require submission of SAT 2 subject-test scores. Check individual school websites to find out what each requires for college admission.
I recommend taking a practice test for both the SAT and ACT to see which one comes more easily to you. Begin preparation only after you decide which exam is a better match. Most students will take the tests 2-3 times, building confidence each time and improving their scores. It is also important to take a few timed practice tests -- start to finish -- before taking the actual exam.
Since selective colleges are receiving so many academically qualified applicants that they often can fill their incoming class several times over, extracurricular activities can make the difference.
When I initially meet students I say: “Tell me what you love to do. If nothing else mattered, how would you spend your time?” The answer may be as simple as “I like to cook.” Sounds ordinary, but if you take your passion in deep and varied directions, you will stand out. Take cooking courses in and out-of-school; create a blog about cooking; compete in culinary arts competitions; initiate a cooking column in your school newspaper; invent recipes; and organize a “chili cook off” to raise money for charity. Bring cooking into your academics by studying the cuisine of different nationalities, colonial Americans or ancient Greeks. Engross yourself in the chemistry of cooking and test your own hypotheses.
The application and main essay should help the admissions staff get to know you as a person and not just a set of numbers. Getting into college means distinguishing yourself. What makes you unique is what will make you compelling. Devote plenty of time and really think through your essay. The essay is personal and should be written in the first person. Use the application strategically to show as much of you as you can. Do not repeat your transcript; showcase your accomplishments.
Many colleges ask for teacher and guidance-counselor recommendations. Get to know your teachers and participate in class. Recommendations are much more interesting and valuable if the teacher can tell a story about you.
Some schools offer interview opportunities. If you have the chance, you should take advantage of college interviews. Check with individual schools to arrange an on-campus or alumni interview. The more that the admissions officers can learn about you, the better.
Your demonstrated interest in the school may also be a consideration. Colleges like to know that if they offer you admission, you will come. Visiting the campus, interviewing, asking questions of admissions officers and staff, are all helpful in showing that you are truly interested. Supplemental essays are also a place where you can show that the school is a fit for you and you are truly interested in coming.
Your demonstrated interest in a school may also be a consideration. Colleges like to know that if they offer you admission, you will come. Visiting the campus, interviewing, asking questions of admissions officers and staff, are all helpful in showing that you are truly interested. Supplemental essays are also a place where you can show that the school is a fit for you and you are truly interested in coming.
College admission takes planning and strategy. Attention to details will make the difference in your success.