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How to Get Into College

It’s never too early, or too late, to think about how to get into college. Today’s colleges have plenty of applicants to choose from, so it’s important to differentiate yourself in as many ways as possible. We’ll help you figure out what’s important to many colleges and how you can impress them.

It’s also important to compare colleges, including cost, education programs, size and social aspects, so that you can find the right college. Somewhere out there is a college that is the perfect fit for you.

50 Tips to Get Into College

Grades

  1. There’s just no getting around it, good grades are a top factor in getting into a good college.
  2. Getting A’s in the easiest classes will not in itself be sufficient for prospective colleges to take notice. If you want to get into a competitive college, make sure you take Honors, Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) classes and score well there.
  3. If you have certain colleges in mind, be sure you check their average GPA for incoming freshman so that you have a goal to shoot for. Aim for achieving at least the average.
  4. Don't pass up opportunities to increase your grades. This may come in the form of bonus assignments, after-school study groups or tutoring opportunities from your teachers.
  5. Taking Advanced Placement tests shows colleges that you are learning at a high level, and you may also earn college credits (depending on the college’s requirements).
  6. If you have an idea of what majors you might be interested in, take the most advanced classes that your high school offers related to your future career path. Example: Engineer – Calculus; Doctor – Biology, Chemistry

Extracurricular Activities

  1. Prospective colleges want students who are engaged in their community, participate in school activities and show school spirit. Find an activity that you enjoy, and join in! Examples: Math Club, English/Literary Club, Student Council, Golf Club, Chess Club, Debate Team, Marching Band, Drama, etc.
  2. Getting involved in your local community can help you get into the college of your choice. Colleges want students who are out there making a difference by volunteering their time and helping others. Examples: Neighborhood Watch, Senior Homes, Tutoring, Helping the Homeless, Cleaning up Parks, etc.
  3. Stay the course--the longer your commitment to an activity, the better. A college application review committee may question why you only participated in activities the semester before college applications. But more importantly, give yourself a chance to see the results of your efforts over time. Getting involved in worthy causes may be a reward in itself.
  4. Consider invitations to join a special academic group or club. These opportunities may enhance your college application and your resume. Be sure you weigh the club’s fees and required commitment before you accept the invitation.

Sports

  1. Schools value the hard work and team commitment necessary to play high school sports. Make sure you list each year and each team that you played for on your college application, including private teams not affiliated with your high school.
  2. Many students wonder how to get into college when they have little or no money available to pay for tuition and college costs. Excelling at a sport is one way to get into college without paying. If you are being recruited by colleges to play a sport, you might receive an athletic scholarship. Remember that not all recruits make it onto a college team or receive a full scholarship, so have a Plan B and continue preparing and submitting applications.

Leadership

  1. Run for a position of leadership for an academic or extracurricular club. If you are elected, make sure you list your dates of service and your duties in your college application.
  2. Leadership retreats or trips for high school students augment your skill sets. Don’t forget to include these experiences can help you get into college, so make sure you include them in your college application.

Part-Time Work

  1. Part-time or summer jobs help show colleges that you are responsible and mature. Make sure you list all of your work experience in your college applications.
  2. If you have extenuating financial circumstances that require you to work, and it limits your ability to participate in other extracurricular activities, be sure to provide an explanation in your college application.

College Testing

  1. Your SAT and ACT scores are an important part of college acceptance, especially at competitive schools. Prepare for it by taking a test prep class or obtain study materials so you can do your best and score well.
  2. Most colleges will take either SAT or ACT scores, so choose the test that best exhibits your personal strengths. Be sure to check first with your potential colleges to see which test scores they accept.
  3. Remember, you can take the SAT and ACT multiple times to improve your score. Don’t submit your test scores to colleges until you have obtained the score you desire.
  4. The SAT allows you to combine your scores from different sections on various test dates and submit them to your prospective colleges. Example: Combine your Reading score from your first test date and your Math score from another test date. The ACT requires that you report your entire score for each specific test date.

Recommendations

  1. You will likely need to obtain 3 references for your college applications. Carefully select references that will show different sides of your personal and academic life. Example: Teacher, Minister, Boss, Volunteer Director, Coach
  2. Most high school teachers have to write dozens of references, so it’s polite to give them several months notice prior to when you need the letter.
  3. The relationships you forge will determine the quality of the reference that someone provides for you. The reference will only be as good as what you have put out, whether in school or at work.
  4. Many teachers prefer not to give the student a copy of a reference letter. You may want to provide them with a form or addressed envelope where the letter can be mailed to each college. It would also be considerate to pay for postage costs.
  5. Check if your high school has a College & Career center where applications can be turned in, so that reference letters can be matched up before the application leaves for each college.
  6. If a member of your family or an important member of the community that you know is an alumni at your prospective school, it’s a good idea to have him/her write you a letter of recommendation. Remember, just because your parent is an alumni, doesn’t mean you will automatically get into college. In today’s competitive environment, you have to be accepted on your own merit.

College Interest

  1. Colleges want to accept the students who are most likely to pick their school, and will want to participate in college life. Make sure you show as much enthusiasm as possible in your college application and essay.
  2. Each college carefully tracks your interest, based on your college visits, tours and meetings with admissions counselors. If you are interested in a school, make sure you participate in as many ways as possible.
  3. If your family has a long-standing college tradition, there is generally a place in the application to list alumni relatives.
  4. If you have your heart set on going to a particular college, let them know! Look into applying for an Early Decision, talk to an admissions counselor at the college and express your feelings in the college essay section.

Choosing a College Major

  1. It’s important to show a college that you are coming prepared to learn and that you have given some thought to your future career options. Before you complete college applications, you need to research possible future career paths that you might be interested in studying. Get more information on career planning.
  2. It is usually inadvisable to select “Undecided” for your college major when completing a college application. While you can always change your college major once you have been accepted and enrolled, you only have one chance on your college application to show a college that you have thought about your future path. In addition, colleges have limited capacity for each program (i.e. there isn’t room for 10,000 business majors), and you may be able to influence their decision by selecting a major that you think you would be interested in pursuing.
  3. During your college selection process, you need to make sure that your prospective colleges offer your intended college major. You should consider selecting colleges that offer the best educational programs for your chosen major.
  4. Once you have decided on a college major, you can take a tour at your prospective college(s) to see the professors and facilities available for your major.
  5. If you plan on attending graduate school, you should carefully select an established and reputable school for your undergraduate major.

Comparing Colleges

  1. If you have a good high school record and some idea of your future career path, you can look into 4-year Public and Private colleges.
  2. If you need to spend some more time in class, either improving your grades or deciding what you want to do, you can look into 2-year Community Colleges. Community colleges may also be a good idea if college finances are tight.
  3. If you prefer to learn remotely, or you are currently working full-time, you might want to consider an Online College.
  4. You will need to compare colleges based on factors such as size, cost, educational programs offered, distance to your permanent home, social scene, quality of facilities, etc. Get more information on how to compare colleges.
  5. Part of getting into college is finding a school that is the right fit for you, especially based on the level of academic challenge. If you apply to schools that are all very competitive and your grades are average, you may not get accepted. It’s important to review each school’s acceptance criteria and find schools that fit your academic record.

College Applications

  1. It’s important to apply to multiple schools in today’s competitive college environment, so that you can make sure you get accepted into 1 or more schools.
  2. Carefully check the application deadlines at each of your prospective colleges. Is the application due at the college by the deadline, or does the application need to be postmarked by the deadline?
  3. You may want to prioritize your time by completing the applications from your favorite school(s) first, or work the applications in the order that they are due.
  4. Don’t rush through your college applications! Take your time completing each section and double check for misspellings, punctuation errors or missing information.

College Essays

  1. Choose the topic or life experience for your college essay carefully.
  2. Spend time outlining every paragraph of your essay. You will want to demonstrate that you can write in an organized and professional manner.
  3. Adhere to the essay requirements. If it says a 500 word essay is required, you need to come as close as possible without exceeding the word limit.
  4. Don't focus on using concepts from your English or Writing class, like quotations or metaphors, to demonstrate your writing skill.
  5. Have a teacher, counselor, or unbiased adult review your essay. It may sound good to you, but even the best writers use editors to make their work better.
  6. Don’t be afraid to hear criticism; it will likely only improve your essay before the admissions office scrutinizes it.

We hope that you’ll use our article How to Get Into College to help you with your college planning and preparation. Remember, each college has a unique admissions process and criteria, which may differ from the general information we have provided. Use resources available at your high school and prospective college to help you with the college application process. Good luck!