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How to Get Into Your Dream School: A Guide to College Admissions (Part One)

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How to Get into Your Dream School: A Guide to College Admissions (Part One)

Whether your dream is to go to an Ivy League school or go to an in-state school, there’s no doubt that the college application process is one of the most stressful times of high school. Many seniors have no idea where to start with their applications, which schools they should apply to, or what to write their essay about. Underclassmen may be curious as to how they can start preparing now for college admissions. If you have any questions about the college application process, hopefully this guide will be able to offer you a bit more direction. A quick disclaimer – following the advice in this article won’t guarantee you admission to your dream schools. However, it will hopefully be able to give you a much better chance at accomplishing your goals and make the college application process easier for you. Part one will focus more on the application process as well as grades and test scores, and part two will focus on extracurriculars, essays, and teacher recommendations.

 

How To Start Prepping For College Admissions As An Underclassman

Are you an underclassman wondering how you can start preparing for college applications right now? My biggest piece of advice for you is to get involved in activities you enjoy and find something that you are passionate about. Pursue the activities you enjoy doing and drop the activities you dislike. Don’t try to get involved in activities simply because you think it will look good on a college application. There’s a common belief that for college admissions you should try to be well rounded and play a sport or instrument simply because colleges will like it on your resume. In actuality, it’s better to pursue a few activities that you love and demonstrate your passion for those areas. If you’re genuinely passionate about sports or an instrument, pursue it. But don’t just do it for your college application.

 

In addition, throughout freshman, sophomore, and junior year, try to work hard to keep your grades up as best you can. Your GPA will thank you later. However, if you have a few lower grades, don’t panic just yet. Colleges like seeing upwards trends in grades as well. So if you have lower grades freshman year but slowly begin to take harder classes and improve your grades, colleges will be impressed by your growth as a student.

 

Advice for Seniors Starting College Applications

Everyone I’ve spoken to that has already been through the college application has emphasized the benefits of starting your college applications as early as possible. If you haven’t already started your college applications, try to start now so that you don’t stress about writing your essays a few hours before the deadline. Below I will go more in depth about specific parts of the application.

 

Safety, Match, & Reach schools

When deciding on which schools you should apply to and how many to apply to, you should always keep in mind having safety, match, and reach schools. The caliber of these schools differs from person to person, but typically a safety school is a school that you are practically guaranteed admission to due to a high acceptance rate. In addition, if your scores are well above the average score range for that school, you can reasonably assume that you will have a good chance of getting accepted. It’s good to apply to a couple safety schools just in case you don’t get accepted anywhere else that you apply. You should also apply to a few match schools. Match schools are schools that have a bit of a lower acceptance rate, but you still have a decent chance at getting accepted because your scores fall within their average range. Reach schools are schools that most likely have an acceptance rate of less than 20%, and it is hard to predict whether or not you will be able to be accepted simply because of how selective these schools are. For example, even people with perfect scores on the ACT and SAT get rejected from Ivy League schools.

 

Grades and GPA

Your grades and GPA are important for colleges to determine what you are like as a student and if you could handle the rigor of the curriculum at their school. Many large public schools rely mostly on your grades, GPA, and test scores to determine if you will be accepted to their school, so it is important to make sure you keep your grades up throughout high school. More selective schools typically want to see that students are challenging themselves and taking a rigorous course load while also thriving in those classes. However, if you plan to apply to some more selective schools, don’t be dissuaded from applying because you have a few Bs, or even Cs. While the profile of many top 20 school students is high achieving, all As, 4.0 unweighted GPA, 1600 SAT, this isn’t true for every student on campus. You don’t have to be perfect to get into college. Admissions officers recognize that we’re just teenagers and we’re human. And admissions officers are people too.

 

Also, let’s be honest – Senioritis is a real disease. It plagues the senior class every year and is extremely infectious. It’s important to not let your grades drop too much though during senior year. Even after you’ve already received acceptances from colleges, it’s possible that colleges could rescind their acceptances if they feel you haven’t performed up to their standards when they receive your final transcript. Make sure you enjoy senior year, but don’t underestimate the importance of keeping your grades up.


Test Scores

For selective colleges, the best way to explain the role of test scores in your application is that they are more important than you want them to be but less important than you think they are. Essentially, having good test scores is necessary to determine if you will be able to handle the rigor of the college, but your scores alone will not get you accepted into a school. Of course, the higher your scores the better, but you shouldn’t stress too much about the difference between getting a 32 or 33 on the ACT or the difference between a 1500 and 1550 on the SAT. I would recommend aiming for your score to be in the range of average scores for your target school, and once you reach that target, focus more on other parts of your application that are more important. You should also make sure to verify which test scores different colleges require you to submit. Some schools such as NYU require you to submit either the ACT, SAT, 3 SAT subject tests, or 3 AP exam results to fulfill their testing requirement. And now, more and more schools are becoming more lenient with test scores. This year, University of Chicago has become the first top research university to make submitting test scores optional in the admissions process. Instead of using test scores as a basis to accept students, they will use GPA, extracurriculars, and essays to decide if they will accept or reject students. On the contrary, there are some colleges that have a lot of testing requirements. Some schools require the ACT or SAT with writing, and some also highly recommend or require taking SAT subject tests. If you are applying to an engineering school, typically colleges require a math and/or science subject test. In addition, some schools such as Stanford University require you to submit every standardized testing score that you’ve taken, and others also use superscoring when considering your test scores. This means that these schools will take your highest score from each section to determine your highest possible standardized testing score. Essentially, pay attention to the test score requirements for the schools you want to apply to but don’t over-stress yourself over test scores.

 

I hope the information in this guide will provide helpful information to help direct you through the college application process! Stay tuned for part two which will focus on extracurriculars, essays, and teacher recommendations.

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