If you considered yourself a genius (and maybe you do!), where would you apply to go to college? Each year, around 35,000 of the smartest high school students in the world apply to Harvard. Of those applications, 5-6% get accepted.
Getting into your top school can be difficult, extremely competitive, time-consuming, and stressful. But by making smart decisions when applying to your dream college, you can increase your chances of getting in. Here are ten tips to help you get accepted to your dream school.
#1. Start Early
Filling out college applications is not something you can do at the last minute. The earlier you start, the better prepared you’ll be. Deadlines come up fast, and if you need to add new experiences, retake tests, or rewrite your essay, starting early will give you extra time to do so.
If you haven’t already started, take time this summer to research schools online, put together a list of dream schools and safety schools (schools you will consider if you don’t get accepted by your top choice), and schedule some visits if possible. Get this out of the way now so you can enjoy your senior year of high school.
#2. Write the essay of your life
Your essay, also known as a personal statement, can sway an admissions department in one direction or the other. According to Jeff Collins, After School’s Vice President and an advisor for college applicants, an essay should “convey how your passions, goals, and values set you apart from other candidates and will help you make a positive impact on the university and the wider world.”
When writing your essay, make sure to follow the guidelines closely, write clear sentences with no spelling or grammar mistakes, and tell a story that explains something unique about you and conveys to the admissions officer that you’re worth having at their school. Don’t be afraid to admit you’ve faced struggles in high school and explain how you’ve overcome them. They don’t expect you to be perfect, so don’t try to present perfection, just be yourself in a memorable way.
Also Read: Crafting an Unforgettable College Essay
#3. Show your connection to the school
Why do you want to go to this school? Is your grandma an alumnus? Did you grow up idolizing their football team and dream of going there? Do you admire a certain professor or want to take part in a unique program the school has for entrepreneurs? Do you have friends who attend the school and love it? If you have any connection to the school, make sure to showcase this in your application.
#4. Do something no one else has
Colleges love to show off their students. If you’ve done something unique, show it off. This could be an invention or business you’ve created, a successful senior project, or something else that you doubt other applicants have done. If you’ve done something special, the admissions office is likely to remember you.
Volunteering shows that you are willing to spend your time to help others and contribute to your community. This shows that you care for people other than yourself and that you’ll bring that trait to the campus community. Make sure to include volunteering experience in your essays. It will show how you will make your new college community a better place.
#6. Take, and retake, and retake ACT and SAT
Your test scores are important and need to come close to a school’s average in order to be considered. There is no shame in taking these tests multiple times. You can take the ACT 12 times and the SAT has no maximum, so make sure you’re happy with your score before applying for your school of choice. So if you really care about getting into your dream school, keep studying and practicing for the tests, and retake them until you have a strong score.
Before you submit any of your scores to colleges (which you can do as early as the day of the test), make sure you know each college’s rules around “superscoring.” Here’s more information on “superscoring” and the other scoring methods schools use.
#7. Be sincere
A school’s office of admission spends its time sorting through applications and speaking with thousands of applicants. They can spot when someone is just trying to say things that they think the admissions office wants to hear. You have to be authentic and accurately describe what you want out of college, why you want to go to that school, and what you will bring if and when you are accepted.
#8. Get the right recommendations
Anyone can get a recommendation. The ones that matter are those from someone who knows you well and can speak to your strengths (explain what you’re good at). “An effective letter of recommendation comes from a person who has come to know a candidate very well over a significant period of time, and can convey with specific examples why and how the student stands above his or her peers,” says Collins.
Pick who you want to write college recommendations for you carefully. If you know someone well who is an alumnus of the school you’re applying for, go for it! A recommendation coming from alumni will be taken seriously since this person understands the school and knows how you would fit in.
#9. Get involved in extracurricular activities
Just getting good grades in your classes isn’t enough to get into a great school. You need to be involved in things outside of the classroom. Participating in a number of different activities — not just all sports, all music, or all tech — shows that you are well-rounded. So select activities that both interest you and that show off your varied interests.
University culture is in many ways defined by non-academic activities and clubs — from political groups, to investment clubs, to athletic teams, to a capella groups. Colleges understand and respect participation in high school clubs. Your involvement in high school will show admissions officers that you’re likely to take part in these mini-communities once accepted to their school.
If there isn’t a club you want to join at your high school, start one! This shows leadership and a desire to make your school better.
#10. Get a counselor or advisor
If college is important to you, then you want to make sure you pick the right one and maximize your chances of getting accepted. Although most high schools have counselors who give you basic information, some students (and their families) are turning to private college admissions counselors for more personalized advice.
Private counselors can be costly and are not right for everyone. But the right one can boost your chances of getting into your dream school. “A good private counselor will help a student build a strong resume, put together a list of colleges that are right for them, and tell a compelling story to admissions officers,” says Collins.
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