Shelley D. (’10) – Strive for the best recommendations. Teacher evaluation can be a really important factor in admissions. Make an effort to get to know teachers who will give you high ratings. Take a look at the Common App teacher evaluation form to see the general criteria. The most helpful recommendations are often written by junior year teachers who know you as both a student and a person.
Miguel F. (’09) – Make sure you have good raw material for your application essays. Check out some application essay prompts for colleges that interest you, along with the Common App. Example: Write a concise narrative (500 words) describing a meaningful event, experience or accomplishment in your life and how it will affect your college experience or your contribution to the college community. If you don’t have good stuff to write about, think about finding a new activity, project, community service, or job that you can write about.
Amy L. (’08) – Beef up your resume. Almost all applications ask for your extracurriculars, volunteer activities, community service work, employment, special talents and awards. Unless you are already very active and successful, think about finding some new activities that interest you and get involved. Colleges are especially interested in leadership. It really helps if you have some sort of attractive “hook” that sets you apart from other applicants.
Danny R. (’09) – Get a Job. Colleges seem to like ambitious students with demonstrated discipline. I worked as a waiter starting at 16 and was an assistant manager when I applied to college. The college interviewers seemed more impressed with my job experience than my A average.
Becky W. (’10) – Prep for the SAT, ACT and Subject Tests. At my high school it was pretty easy to get good grades, even in the hardest classes. But, the kids who got into the best colleges were the ones who did well on the entrance exams. Unless you have something amazing to offer the college, the SAT and ACT seem to be an acid test at a lot of schools. If you get started early enough, and take your studying seriously, you can really raise your scores.
Nancy S. (’10) – Shoot for honors and awards. At the beginning of junior year, I asked my school guidance counselor about the honors, awards and scholarships that recent graduates had received. Wow. I had no idea there were so many opportunities besides National Honor Society. I entered writing contests & the science fair, applied for local book club awards, and tried for best student honors in some of my classes. I batted well below 50%, but filled every line in the honors and awards section of my college applications.
Andrew C. (’11) – Read Challenging Articles. My parents hired a college consultant who suggested I read articles from the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and Economist. I didn’t take it seriously at first, but looking back on things, it was the best advice. My reading scores went up from the 75th percentile to the 95th, and I’ve learned about so many new areas that interested me. For the first time I was exposed to business and economics, which I am pursuing as a dual major in college.
Jennifer R. (’09) – Sign up for the SAT and ACT. When my parents were young, high school kids applying to colleges in the northeast hardly ever took the ACT. Most of those colleges didn’t accept it. That’s not the case anymore. The ACT has become extremely popular at my school. It’s more of an achievement test and less tricky than the SAT. Some kids do much better (in percentile terms) on one test vs. the other. I think my high ACT scores helped me stand out.
Erica M. (’10) – Research & Visit Colleges. After you check out some schools, in person or on-line (Unigo.com is really good), you’ll start to develop your own preferences. The earlier you figure out what’s important to you, the more time you’ll have to get to know colleges that could be a good fit. During a family vacation in New England (sophomore year) we toured a few colleges nearby where we were staying. I hardly expected to fall in love with one of the schools and be living here a few years later!
Joey B. (’11) – Get up to Speed on Scholarships. I was a solid student looking to attend a private university without incurring a lot of debt. My counselor told me about merit scholarship opportunities. I focused on schools known to be generous with merit money, where I would be considered a desirable candidate . The Common Data Set was really helpful along with information in the Scholarship Room at my high school. It took some effort, but it was well worthwhile. I had a number of excellent choices to pick from. Now that I am interested in graduate school, I am especially happy to be going to college almost debt free.
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