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

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This is the second edition of the college guide that will hopefully help give you some advice that will aid you through the college admissions process. I will discuss teacher recommendations, extracurriculars, and essays in this part of the guide. In part one I discussed test scores and grades. I hope that the information discussed here helps to give you a perspective of the holistic admissions process that admissions officers use in the application process.

 

Teacher Recommendations

I think one of the most underrated parts of the college application process is teacher recommendations. I actually sat in on a college information panel once where the Harvard University admissions representative said that his favorite part of reading applications was the teacher recommendations because it’s the one aspect of an application that the student does not have a lot of control over. As a result, it is important to ask teachers who know you really well and can attest to specific examples of your character that can make your recommendation stand out as being unique. Over the course of your high school career, it is important to form relationships with your teachers and participate actively in class. Even if you struggled in a class, don’t disregard asking that teacher for a recommendation. If you often asked the teacher for help both in and out of the classroom, and they noticed how hard you worked to try to do well in that class, those teachers can have a lot to say about your hard work ethic and perseverance. A good teacher recommendation will hopefully be able to mention specific examples of your character rather than simply recounting your resume. It’s also important to keep in mind that in addition to your letter of recommendation, teachers are also required to rate each student in terms of qualities such as academic achievement, productive class discussion, motivation, and reaction to setbacks. However, don’t worry too much if you’re a bit introverted.

it is important to ask teachers who know you really well and can attest to specific examples of your character that can make your recommendation stand out as being unique. ”

For the most part, teachers won’t write you a bad recommendation, and teachers typically feel honored when you ask them to write you a recommendation. Teacher recommendations are important and can definitely help boost your application, but schools look at your application holistically so admissions officers will also consider other parts of your application to get a feel for what kind of person you are. On your applications, it is also helpful to waive your rights to read your recommendation letters. Some teachers may not write a recommendation for you if you don’t waive your rights, and if you do waive your rights it assures colleges that your letters of recommendation are genuine.

 

Extracurriculars

I believe that extracurriculars and essays are some of the most important aspects of the college application process. Although grades and test scores are important to verify your capabilities as a student, extracurriculars and essays speak more to who you are as a person and the activities that you are passionate about. Keep in mind- many schools are looking for a well-rounded class, not necessarily a well-rounded student. As a result, you don’t need to feel pressured to participate in activities you aren’t really interested in. It’s more important to be deeply involved in the activities that you love and invest your time wisely. In addition, make sure that you list your activities on the Common Application in order of how important or meaningful the activities are to you. Also, it isn’t necessary to use complete sentences in your explanations of each activity. Because of the limit on how much you can write for each activity, the most important part of your explanation should be getting your point across and highlighting the importance of each activity. You also do not need to fill out all 10 slots on the Common Application for your activities if you don’t have 10 meaningful activities. For the hours per week of each activity, try to estimate as best you can. It’s okay to exaggerate a little bit, but not to the extent that it’s unreasonable. When you’re done filling out your activities, add up the number of hours you claimed you spent per week doing all of your activities, and also account for the average amount of time you spend sleeping, doing schoolwork, eating, and having free time. If the number you get is more than the number of hours there are in a week, you may want to consider lowering the amount of hours you put for each activity so that admissions officers don’t become suspicious about the integrity of your application.

 

Essays and Short Answer Questions

If your personal statement was thrown on the ground and mixed up among many other personal statements, would you still be able to tell which one was yours? Would a friend or relative be able to pick out which one was yours? This scenario sums up the importance of your personal statement. Your personal statement should embody who you are as a person both in subject matter and in voice. Don’t try to write your personal statement based off of what you think schools want to hear. It’s more important to make sure that you are honest about who you are in your application and really allow your unique personality to shine through. Even if you haven’t gone through some huge, traumatic experience, don’t immediately panic because you don’t think you have anything to write about.

If your personal statement was thrown on the ground and mixed up among many other personal statements, would you still be able to tell which one was yours?”

Some of the best essays can simply be about your everyday life or a simple moment that you’ve experienced that can showcase who you are. One way that you can begin brainstorming ideas is by writing a list of all of the personality traits that you want admissions officers to know about you. Once you have some ideas, just start writing! It’s okay if your first draft isn’t perfect – first drafts rarely are. Plus, you can always write multiple essays and then go back and pick the best one. Admissions officers are usually able to differentiate between students who aren’t being genuine and students that are, so making sure you are authentic is the most important aspect.

 

As a result, supplemental essays are a good way for admissions officers to see more sides of who you are as a person. Princeton University asks short questions such as your favorite movie, favorite book, favorite word, and favorite recording, for example. Stanford University has a “Dear Roommate” essay that asks you to write a letter to your future roommate to see another side of your personality. Wake Forest University asks for you to give your “Top Ten List.” This list can be on whatever top ten you would like, and is a unique prompt that can help to portray what is important to you based upon what your rankings are as well as what theme you choose to make your list about.  Many schools also have a “Why [insert college here] essay” where they want to know more about why you want to go to their school specifically. Colleges want to make sure they are accepting students who will want to attend and take the most advantage of what their school has to offer. It’s often helpful to specifically explain certain programs at that school that you are interested in and even insert classes you would want to take or professors whose research you are intrigued by. You could even mention certain school traditions you would want to participate in or unique aspects of that school that make it stand out to you among other colleges. Ultimately, when writing colleges essays it’s most important to be genuine. Don’t be afraid to be creative and take a few risks when writing your essays as well. Admissions officers are people too, and many of them may be interested in some of the same bands or TV shows that you are.

 

After writing your essays, it’s helpful to show them to a few teachers or friends to see what they think about it. Make sure to take their edits into consideration but still retain your personal voice in the essay.

 

I hope that you have found this advice helpful and are able to get a better sense of what college admissions officers are looking for in your application. College applications are stressful, and it can be heartbreaking if you don’t get into the schools that you love. Sometimes it may simply be that a school doesn’t feel that you would be a good fit with the atmosphere of the campus and student body. But remember that in the end everything will work out, and you will still be able to make the most out of your college experience no matter where you decide to attend (even if it doesn’t feel that way right now). Good luck!

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