How to get into college: 6 tips from a college admissions expert


How To Get Into the College of Your Dreams

When applying to colleges, most places you’ll be looking at are four-year universities, so you should expect to spend about that much time getting ready to get in. It’s a good idea to put together a four-year calendar with everything you need to do. Yes, that means thinking about what’s after high school practically before you’ve even started high school.

Find a strategy for your classes right away. Think about what you’re going to take and how you will make it to higher-level classes that top colleges look for, like calculus, chemistry and any Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) classes.

You don’t have to decide on a school right away, but keep your eyes and ears open for information about colleges and universities so that by your junior year, you can really get into some heavy research. Be sure you’re also keeping track of when to apply for FAFSA (financial aid) and scholarships, as they are going to be a key part of your path to graduation.

Along the way, use your school guidance counselor and teachers as resources. Don’t hesitate to ask questions—you’re never going to ask something dumber than what they’ve heard before, and they’ll appreciate how you’re taking the college search seriously. They can assist you with the overwhelming process, and keep you aligned with when college applications are due. Plus, they’ll probably just be glad you’re not asking for a pass to the bathroom.

How do colleges evaluate applicants?

The college application evaluation process is reliant on many factors. First, know that you are not evaluated in a vacuum. You are compared to your peers. For example, your GPA matters much less than your GPA compared to the rest of your class. The admission officers are not only looking at what you offer, but also why you deserve the spot over someone else.

  1. The sequence of courses that you’ve taken. Are you continuing to challenge yourself? Is there a logical path toward a potential major/career decision?
  2. Academic rigor. Do the courses you’re taking (Honors, AP, IB) and your SAT or ACT score indicate that you can comfortably handle the workload in college?
  3. Extracurricular activities. Do you demonstrate initiative, or show a deep dedication or passion for a particular interest, or are you just trying to pad your resume?
  4. Character. This is all about how you present yourself? For example, while your extracurriculars paint the picture of what you like to do, your essay will be how you convey who you are.

Something that a lot of students overlook is the counselor evaluation. Your Guidance Counselor will play a large role in vouching for your efforts and your ability to successfully complete high level courses.

Now you may be wondering what level of course you should be taking. The answer to this is dependent on what field you want to pursue. A career in biomedicine, for example, should be complemented with courses such as AP biology.

“Depending upon the level of school you’re looking at, making sure that, for instance, if you’re applying for any competitive stem program (Computer Science, Engineering, Math, Biology) basically that you’ve had your sciences all the way through the AP level.”

Remember, because most Guidance Counselors are overworked and have to oversee too many students, don’t expect them to go out of their way to get to know you. Take the initiative to create a relationship with your counselor so that they can write a genuinely positive letter of recommendation for you when the time comes.

Never Give Up

Make ‘Never Give Up’ your college application process mantra. You’re going to encounter roadblocks and stress, no doubt about it. But it’s important to remember that hard work makes you stronger and your dedication will pay off. If you didn’t get in to the school of your choice, look at all the benefits of your second- and third-choice schools. And in the meantime…:

  1. Try to get on the waitlist. Okay, so you didn’t get in, but there’s another possibility: a college may put you on a waiting list. This isn’t a bad thing. If a spot becomes available later on, you may be offered a place. And if you are wait-listed, be proactive. Contact the admissions office how the list is ranked (priority list?), and in the meantime, write a letter to the admissions office to help your case and continue to study hard and stay involved.
  2. Contact an admissions representative to get feedback on your application. Sometimes an admissions representative can tell you why you didn’t get it. Test scores, your essay, missing documentation, typos—it’s important to know what prevented your acceptance and how to avoid application mistakes in the future. If it’s your test score, take it again and reapply if possible.
  3. Apply for a transfer if you didn’t get in. A rejection letter isn’t the end all be all. In fact, you can still get in by applying for a transfer after attending another school for a year. This is an opportunity to really show your dream college what you’re made of by getting top grades and taking part in extra-curricular activities.
  4. Review your list of colleges carefully. Take some time to really scrutinize your list of schools to ensure your goals align with theirs. Remember, the best college for you is the one that fits you best. If your application was rejected, perhaps the school didn’t offer exactly what you really needed.
  5. Remember, never give up! Your future depends on your perseverance. A college education leads to greater opportunity, and ultimately, an improved quality of life. Just have a look at the numbers below:


Getting into your dream college will take effort and a lot of hard work on your part. But the hard work will ultimately pay off by following the steps we outlined above. And the earlier you start preparing yourself for the college admissions process, the better your chances will be of getting into the school at the top of your list. In fact, you can start as early as your freshman year by joining clubs, sports teams, and of course, by studying hard and getting good grades! You’ll be happy you did when your letter of acceptance arrives in the mail.


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