Applying to college involves a lot more than just filling in a form. Aspiring college students need to think about grades, tests, extracurricular activities, application essays, letters of recommendation, and more. In addition, schools have different focuses and admission requirements. So, it is no wonder that many students feel overwhelmed by the college application process. Here are some tips that may help.
Do Your Research
Ideally, you should start to research colleges a year or two before you graduate from high school. This will give you time to build up a profile that admissions officers will find appealing. If you already have a college in mind, look it up on an edu data site to learn more about tuition fees, acceptance rates, and the expected range of SAT or ACT scores. If not, compile a list of potential schools based on their available programs, tuition costs, financial aid, location, and extracurricular activities.
Try to join on-campus tours or virtual college fairs to find out more about each college and meet their faculty and students. This will help you to narrow down the shortlist of colleges. As some schools may have more stringent acceptance requirements, it pays to have some backup choices. At the end of your research, you should have about three to five colleges that you will apply to. Take note of the application deadlines and requirements for each school as they can vary.
Get Good Grades and Ace Your Tests
Most colleges will examine your academic performance throughout your high school years. Generally, the better your high school grade point average (GPA), the more likely you are to receive a favorable response to your college application. In addition, students with high GPAs are often offered more substantial financial assistance. Some colleges may place less emphasis on GPAs but it is better to be safe than sorry.
Aside from getting good grades in high school, you should pay attention to your class choices. Admissions officers take note when you choose challenging classes as opposed to basic ones. If available, take advanced placement (AP) classes that will earn you college credits and help you to develop the academic skills that are needed for college. If AP classes are not available, take honors classes to get used to independent study.
Although a good ACT or SAT score does not guarantee acceptance—especially when it comes to highly-competitive colleges—it does increase your chances significantly. Aim to prepare well in advance for your ACT or SATs. There are several online and in-person ACT and SAT preparation courses that you can take. If you are having trouble with a certain segment of the tests, consider hiring a tutor.
Colleges are looking for well-rounded individuals. Demonstrate your understanding of the world outside your classroom by getting involved in extracurricular activities, volunteer organizations, sports clubs, and community events. If you are busy during the semester, use the summer vacation to enrich your life experience. Choose activities that are relevant to your core interests and career goals. Try to develop proactive thinking, problem-solving, and leadership skills as you participate in these activities.
Write Application Essays
Most colleges require applicants to submit essays or personal statements as part of the application process. Application essay prompts are typically open-ended, so you can write about what you feel is most important. Your application essay is an opportunity to highlight your positive traits and convey your unique character, perspectives, interests, experiences, and aspirations. You can also write about the challenges you have faced and how they helped you to grow.
Many students begin working on their personal essays during their senior year but you can start even earlier. Think about what colleges would like to know about you. Stick to the recommended word count and only include relevant information. Your essay will need to go through several revisions and edits before it is ready. Be sure to use a spelling and grammar checker to correct any mistakes. Ask a family member, mentor, or professional editor to help you proofread and refine your essay.
Request Letters of Recommendation
Colleges will usually ask for two or three letters of recommendation. Make your letters of recommendation requests at least two months in advance and provide a copy of your resume to remind recommenders of your achievements. Ensure that you choose someone who has had extensive personal experience with you as they need to write you a letter that demonstrates your character, qualities, and capabilities.
Good candidates for recommenders include teachers, school counselors, sports coaches, faith leaders, workplace supervisors, or volunteer group leaders. Some prospective students may struggle to find recommenders. This is another strong reason for you to pursue extracurricular activities and get involved in the local groups. Recommendations may receive more weight when they are from leaders outside of your academic institution.
Your college application journey begins in high school. By doing your research and ticking all the boxes that make you a well-rounded young adult, you can breeze through the college application process and secure a place in the college of your choice.