Applying and gaining acceptance to a college is an intimidating journey that requires hard work, determination, and usually the help of loved ones and school professionals. The list of requirements is endless. On top of earning good grades and taking standardized tests, students need to write creative personal statements, tons of supplemental essays, participate in extracurricular activities, and gather letters of recommendation.
However, it’s also because the process is thought, only deserving students can get in. Getting into a school that matches your educational goals doesn’t have to be an uphill battle. And as Alexander Graham Bell once said, “Before anything else, preparation is the key to success”. This article compiles some of the best tips to help you increase your admission chances as you work through your college applications.
1. Focus on Academics
Believe it or not, good grades are necessary to enter your dream college. Most of the time, the GPA you achieve in high school will be the basis of the courses you can take in college. A good high school GPA, especially combined with a challenging curriculum, is one of the most important admission factors at any institution of higher education. With that in mind, you must strive to earn the best GPA you can in high school because it shows your credibility as a student.
For students who are following the international program and have the chance to choose your course, such as the Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) program, choose to take as many challenging courses as you can. Not only can these kinds of courses help you earn college credits, but getting good test scores on AP tests can dramatically improve your chances of acceptance. Whether you choose to take advanced courses or not, your top priority throughout all four years of high school should be to earn the best grades you possibly can.
2. Prep for and Take the SAT/ACT
Followed by your GPA and the strength of your high school curriculum, your standardized test scores arguably matter the most for admission. Although dozens of U.S. schools have started to make these tests optional, our Senior College Counselors at College Compass still recommend students sitting the exam, especially if you are an international student and want to apply to competitive colleges, as this is a concrete data point to compare you among thousands of applicants, and is what makes your application stand out more.
Prior to and during your junior year of high school, you should spend sufficient time preparing for standardized tests by enrolling in prep courses, hiring a tutor, working through study guides, and taking practice tests.
3. Apply to a Diverse Selection of Colleges
When applying to colleges, be sure you apply for a number of schools, including “safety,” “match,” and “reach” schools. At some point early in your junior year, work with your high school counselor to put together a list of schools where you meet all the necessary criteria for admission. These will be your “match” or “safety” schools — schools whose admissions criteria you meet or exceed.
Once you apply to these schools, you can also apply to “reach” schools or colleges that are less likely to admit you due to their competitive applicant pool. Applying to schools in this sequence assures you that, even if you don’t get admitted to your dream school, you have a high likelihood of being admitted to at least one college.
If you’re dedicated to attending a specific college or university, sending in an early application around November is possibly one of the best ways to increase your admission chances. This is because colleges generally admit a much higher percentage of students in their early decision and early action rounds.
Early decision is a system in which high school seniors apply before traditional deadlines. You can only apply to one school with an early decision. The decision is also binding, and if accepted, the student is required to attend that college or university. Early action works similarly, though the student is not bound to attend the school. So if you really love the school, feel good about your grades and test scores, and have your application together by mid-fall, it’s absolutely worth applying through early decision or early action.
To learn more about early action vs. early decision, check out our interview with Johnny – an Everest alumnus learning at Northwestern University. In this interview, Johnny shares his secret on building a college list and gives great advice on early action/ early decision options.
Applying early can also give the college staff time to assess your application properly. When you send the application at the same time as many other students, your application may be overlooked because of the numerous applications that need checking.
5. Demonstrate Interest
Harvard University in Cambridge, USA
Colleges want to improve the percentage of admitted students who actually enroll, and one way they achieve this is by tracking demonstrated interest from applicants. If you are genuinely interested in attending a specific university or a few that you would enroll in if accepted, indicate your interest by visiting the campus, going on a campus tour, scheduling optional interviews, and personally reaching out to the appropriate admission representative.
Other ways you can show your interest include reaching out to professors in relevant majors, applying early decisions, following the school on social media channels, and participating in the school’s online seminars for prospective students.
6. Spend Time Developing Your College Essays
College essays are an extremely important part of the application process because they provide one of the best opportunities for you to sell yourself and convey who you are outside of grades and test scores. This is why you should spend plenty of time developing a unique essay that stands out from the rest of the crowd.
Before you begin writing, read the prompt and reflect on past experiences that are unique to your personal journey. Your goal should be to tell a personal, engaging story about something meaningful to you that also aligns with the essay prompt. Once you have an idea, begin writing with the intention of revising it into something more succinct later on. As you write and revise, get feedback on your essays from teachers and other trusted peers, then continue to edit and rewrite until you get it into a place you’re comfortable with.
Letters of recommendation are important to admission officers because they reveal things about your character that grades and test scores cannot. This is why when you ask for recommendations; you want to ask people who can describe your skills, accomplishments, and personality with positivity and enthusiasm.
Consider school counselors, teachers, and/or employers that you have a close relationship with. Also, try to ask one of your teachers from a junior year or a current teacher, as colleges often want a current academic perspective on you. If the teacher says yes, provide them with a list of achievements they can reference in the letter. Make sure to give your references at least one month before the deadline to complete and send letters. The earlier you ask, the better.
8. Carry Out Research And Visits
Researching and visiting colleges help you to narrow down your choices. On the research side, you can gather information about academics at the school, their curriculums and what courses they offer. To get a feel for the ambiance and vibe of the whole school, visit some special purpose rooms for both studies and other activities.
You can visit a college anytime as your schedule permits, but one of the best times to visit a school is when they are holding their college fair. This showcases the unique features of the school, and most faculty are on hand during the said event. Some colleges give credits to applicants visiting the campus because it shows determination and willingness to learn and adapt to the campus atmosphere.
In case you do not have a chance to make school visits, make sure to learn about the school as much as you can. A college’s website, Facebook page and Twitter feed can tell you all about campus living. Look for information on on-campus clubs and organizations, cultural events, student government, sports, and more. Talking with alumni is also a great way to dig into the school and learn invaluable information that does not appear on the internet.
>>> Check out our Chuyện Du Học podcast series – a podcast show that aims to help students and parents explore the world of international education and get inspired by stories from fascinating guests. Chuyện Du Học will unveil many interesting facts about top colleges in the U.S. – told by our College Compass students who have the experience themselves getting into and learning at these schools.
The college application process can be confusing and complicated, and it’s not a process you should take on by yourself. While you research colleges, develop a college list, prep for standardized tests, and finalize your applications, and make sure to get ongoing assistance from people familiar with the admission processes, such as counselors and teachers. You should also consult parents, teachers, school counselors, and experienced consultants that could help you answer questions related to college applications and admissions.
In College Compass, we do not only focus on showing families HOW to get into colleges, we also try to help them realize WHY it is important. Our Senior Lead Counselors and Extracurricular Activities Specialists always try their best to help students understand themselves, find the college that best fits their personality, and get on the right track.
College Compass is a college admission consulting program by Everest Education. We offer strategic solutions to help aspiring high school students (Grade 9-12) and gap year students get into the best universities and colleges in the world.
Our program is led by experienced admissions counselors/coaches who graduated from top US universities (Harvard, Stanford, MIT, UPenn…) and thoroughly understand the US education system. Our students have been accepted to many top universities globally, including Harvard, Stanford, Cornell, Duke, Williams, Amherst…
We offer a personalized pathway and strategies for you, including school selection, standardized testing, extracurricular activity guidance, essay writing, scholarship applications, etc. No matter which phase you are in, we offer a tailored package to your age, preferences and study goals to help you achieve your dreams.