You are almost guaranteed to get into college. After all, many schools are happy to take anyone willing to write a check. But you’re not here wondering how to get into just any college. You want to know how to get into the school of your dreams.
In this guide, we’ve covered the most important things you’ll need to consider to get your college application process off on the right foot. Gaining admission to schools that are an excellent fit for you will help ensure the best possible college experience, and getting an early start on every step of the process is best. Read on for our best tips.
Keep Your Grades Up
Your GPA isn’t the end all be all when it comes to college admissions, but it’s an important starting point. A grade point average in line with what the college expects is the ground beneath your feet, the foundation on which you’ll construct the unique towers of your unique college application. Do everything you can to keep that foundation strong.
Hone Your Study Skills
As you take more challenging classes, you’ll likely find that new study techniques are required to keep your grades up. Different subjects will require different approaches for optimal results. For advice on how to study effectively, click here.
Take AP Classes
You’ll want to take Advanced Placement classes in high school. They have the potential to boost your GPA; a B in an AP class is as valuable as an A in a standard high school course. They also count for college credit and may allow you to skip some basic classes as a college freshman, getting off to a head start as you begin your college years.
Advanced Placement classes also show colleges that you’re truly interested in and dedicated to your field of interest. If you already know (or at least have an inkling of) what you want to study in college, it’s best to choose AP classes in those subjects. If you’re not sure yet what you want to study, take the AP classes that you think you have the best chance of acing.
Spread Out Your Workload
Start taking AP classes as early as your school allows, and try to spread them out. Don’t cram more challenging courses into one year than you can realistically handle. AP classes won’t help you if you become so overwhelmed that your overall GPA takes a nosedive.
Keep your overall workload in mind when considering extracurriculars as well. You want to challenge yourself and make the most of your time, but don’t forget to prioritize your health. When planning out the coming year, be sure to leave adequate time for sleep, exercise, and anything else that’s vital to your physical and mental health.
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Engage With Your Community
More than anything, colleges are looking for applicants that will be valuable additions to their communities. They want academically proficient students, yes. But they also want students who work well with others, think creatively and show leadership potential.
There are an endless number of things that you can do to round out your college application (not to mention your high school experience). Here are some possibilities.
Join Teams and Clubs
Whether it’s varsity volleyball or the school’s debate team, colleges are looking for students who work well with others. Your school likely has something that you can get on board with. If not, you could always start your own group tailored to your interests. Leading – or at least being an active participant in – one group will often make a better impression than being a lackadaisical member of a dozen different clubs.
Volunteer work is highly regarded by colleges, and this is another area where depth often outweighs a long list. One day a year at the local soup kitchen is all well and good, but you’ll make a bigger impression if you spearhead your own unique community service project. These valuable life experiences will also provide valuable fodder for college essays.
Work with Teachers
School teams, clubs, and volunteer groups are all excellent opportunities to build good working relationships with your teachers. These bonds will be very valuable to you when it comes time to solicit glowing recommendations for college applications.
Sooner or later, you’re bound to come up against a stumbling block. When you do, there is no shame in asking for help. Let your parents in. Study with your classmates. Build a supportive community, helping them through hard times so that they can help you in turn.
Make Summers Count
You may find yourself short on time for extracurriculars during the school year, particularly if you’ve taken on a challenging academic load. Summers are the perfect time to beef up your college resume. Seek out meaningful volunteer work or internships in fields that interest you.
Here are some ways that you can really make your summers count:
- Take interesting courses at your local community college
- Participate in summer programs at target schools that interest you
- Delve deep into subjects that interest you
- Get a job (paid or otherwise) in your field of interest
- Complete free online courses from a school like Harvard
- Explore new interests, broadening your overall experiences
- Volunteer with a local nonprofit
- Travel abroad or find a virtual program to improve your foreign language skills
Take the SAT
Not all schools require SAT scores anymore, but many do. Even schools that don’t require them will often take scores into consideration. Your top choices may not require you to take the SAT exam, but you may need them for other excellent schools you discover down the line.
Take the SAT test as early as possible, giving yourself plenty of time to study and take the test again if your first attempt doesn’t result in a satisfactory score.
Keep Track of Important Dates
Staying organized is vitally important to a successful college admissions journey. We recommend having a dedicated calendar – either virtual or right up on your wall – to keep track of the many important dates that you’ll need to remember along the way.
Start with application deadlines and work your way backward from there. Include all important dates, including early application deadlines, testing dates, scholarship deadlines, and the first day that you can file your FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).
You can also check out OrganizeU where you can add your school list, and all the important deadlines will auto populate. OrganizeU is free to use and was created to solve the problem of keeping track of all of the unique college application deadlines.
Start Your Essays Early
Depending on how many colleges you plan to apply to, you may need to write ten to twenty supplemental essays by the time you’re through. If you leave this to the last minute, it can be an overwhelming prospect. These essays are far too important to be rushed, so start early. Many colleges release their essay prompts each summer.
Write the Best Possible Essays
Essays are your chance to distinguish yourself from a stack of similar candidates.
Writing outstanding college essays starts long before you put pen to paper or pull out your laptop. It starts with rich life experiences, with struggle and perseverance that give you something worth writing about. This is one reason that extracurriculars are so vital.
Get organized by making a list of the schools you intend to apply to, and the essay prompts for each. You’ll want to note down the due dates as well. It’s good to give yourself plenty of time to consider potential essay topics, take notes, and brainstorm when you feel energized and inspired.
Most essay prompts don’t require a great deal of research – it’s your own life you’re writing about, after all. But many schools ask applicants to include an essay on why they’ve chosen that particular institution. You don’t want to phone it in here. Take your time considering the question, and tailor your answer carefully.
Do your research on each school. You may want to mention unique programs, classes, or even professors. Take the time to consider why this school appeals to you, how it can serve your life goals, and what you feel you have to offer the campus community.
Apply to the Right Schools
Your list of potential colleges and universities should include reach, target, and safety schools. Researching the admittance statistics for each school that you’re interested in will give you an idea of where you stand relative to students who have been admitted in recent years. But when it comes to college applications, there’s so much more to consider than just statistics.
Research Each School
There’s so much to consider when creating your list of potential colleges. Rankings and location are decent starting places, but you’ll need to dive deeper.
What majors and career paths are you interested in exploring? Which colleges are best for those unique choices? You may find that a great university has a mediocre program in the field that interests you, while an otherwise middling school may have one of the best programs in the country in that same field. These details matter.
Once you’ve put together a long list of schools that are a good fit academically, you can begin to research campus life. Consider whether you might prefer a small school or a university that’s essentially its own town. Do you want a school with a beautiful natural setting or one located in a major city? Take time to consider how you want to spend your time outside of classes and studying, and this will help you further refine your list of potential schools.
Visit In Person
When possible, visit each of the schools that you’re considering before you apply. College websites, statistics, and reviews can only tell you so much. Even videos and virtual tours can’t compare to walking the campus and feeling it out for yourself.
You’ll be spending years of your life at this school, so don’t leave it all to statistics or a prestigious name. Visit the schools on your list to figure out which one is best for you. If you can, make time to explore the surrounding area as well. Sit in on a few lectures. Eat in the dining hall. Experience as many aspects of campus life as possible before making your final decision.
Pare Down Your List
Applying to two dozen universities is expensive and overwhelming. It’s better to pare down your list to a select few, maybe six to ten, while still being sure to include a range of schools and not solely ‘reach’ choices. Keep your list manageable to give yourself a better chance of admittance to the schools you truly care about.
Conclusion: How To Get Into College
There are a great number of important things to consider when applying to college. Taken all at once, the process can feel overwhelming. If you start early and stay organized, you can avoid the feeling of being overwhelmed. Make the most of your high school years, research potential colleges carefully, and you’re sure to find your place at a school that’s a good fit for you.
We wish you the best of luck – and if you need guidance, leave us a question in the comment.