Getting Into College: The Secret Formula

Unfortunately, there’s no combination of high school courses and ACT or SAT score that will guarantee your admission to your dream college or university, BUT there are some steps that you can take to increase your odds.

  • Secret #1 – Take Challenging Courses

If possible, take the most challenging courses your high school offers (college prep, honors, AP, etc.) IF you can perform well in them. An A- in AP calculus will look better than an A+ in pre-calculus. However, you must know your limits!

If you have all AP classes, but you’re struggling, then it’s time to re-think your schedule. You shouldn’t enroll in classes in which you’re not able to thrive. Instead of stressing yourself out, focus on improving your reading and writing skills; also, consider studying a foreign language for 4 years.

  • Secret #2 – Have a Back-up Plan

Just because you meet a school’s basic admission requirements, don’t assume that you’ll get admitted. This is especially important for students who plan to apply to really selective colleges. Keep in mind that selective colleges always have more qualified applicants than they can possibly admit, so be sure to have a couple safety schools on your list just in case you don’t make the cut!

  • Secret #3 – Get Involved

Your involvement in extracurricular activities illustrates your motivation and time-management skills. If you’re successfully juggling all honors courses, a part-time job, and you’re captain of the volleyball team, make sure to include this information on your college application. Remember, the admissions committee only knows what you tell them; they can’t give you bonus points for what they don’t know.

However, extracurricular activities usually play a relatively small role in the admissions process, when compared to grades and standardized test scores. For example, if you’re the captain of the football team, president of student council, and have a full-time job…but you only have mediocre ACT or SAT scores and average grades, then the admissions committee (of a competitive school, in particular) likely won’t overlook your grades and test scores.

  • Secret #4 – High GPA & Standardized Test Scores

This part of the college admissions process can be a little tricky. Let me explain. Standardized test scores play a role in the college admissions process, but they’re not as important as your GPA.

For the most part, if you’re an A or B student, having average standardized test scores won’t put you out of the running. At the same time, high test scores will not make up for a terrible GPA. College admissions officers value consistent high performance in the classroom. A good GPA is more impressive than any test score, but test scores are taken into consideration.

  • Secret #5 – Start Early

You have to hit the ground running freshman year. You can’t goof-off for the first 2 years of high school, and then all of a sudden decide during the first semester of your junior year that you want to go to a competitive college.

Building your academic profile starts the moment you sit down in your first class freshman year of high school. By the time you start the college application process, most of your accomplishments have been achieved and your GPA is pretty much set.

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Lauren Anderson is a certified school counselor who's passionate about helping students all over the world successfully transition from high school to college! After spending 6 years as a business professional, she obtained her Master’s degree in School Counseling and now spends her spare time helping students.

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