How do I get into a good college?
Yikes! It's time to start putting together those applications. No pressure or anything.. they just have a fair chance of determining the course of the rest of your life. Yeah I know, you're not old enough to vote yet but you're expected to make such a huge decision? Anyone else about to have a panic attack?
Okay, okay, calm down. The truth? It's not that much of a big deal. If you don't get into your top school (or any school), the world still spins. You still have every chance to be successful and wealthy (more on that some other time)! Still, college gives you an experience boost in two important skills - learning and communication. So, of course you want to shoot for the stars. But I'll be here to catch you, just in case you fall :)
Here's what you need for best college application experience and chance of acceptance:
Know what they are looking for
Good grades and test scores are just a part of the picture. Grades predict your ability to follow through and manage a (presumably) heavy academic workload. What they don't predict is how 'intelligent' you are. They don't even predict what kind of a person you are, or what you can contribute to society. Colleges want emotionally mature students who have the drive to achieve great things. What is it that makes you stand out? How can you explore your passions further?
Know what you are looking for
Take a good hard think about what you want to get out of college, besides a degree. To experience different cultures? To schmooze with the well-connected? To pick the minds of top-notch researchers? Somewhere geographically convenient? Big on sports? Big on community? Vibrant social scene? Artist-friendly? Logic-friendly? Do you learn better by yourself and so prefer large classes or do you learn better in groups and so prefer small ones? How easy will it be to stay healthy? These questions and any others you can consider narrow down your choices.
Apply to several schools
You've heard it. Don't put all your eggs in one basket. Do apply everywhere you think you'll have a great experience. Forget about the concept of 'safety' and 'reach.' These words set up expectations that aren't useful for selecting the best school for YOU. Choose schools you'll have a good chance of getting into, but don't rule anything out if you want it. Settle for 'good enough' only if it's necessary!
Write an authentic essay
People read these essays, and people love to be entertained. Your essay has to make them pay attention to you. The best stories are honest ones. School's have other things to look at when it comes to academic achievements. What is it that drives you? Why are you who you are? What about the world fascinates you and begs you to learn more about it? You want your story to flow like a narrative, like a window into your thought process. Show, don't tell.
Score riveting recommendations
Pro-tip: English teachers are usually pretty good writers. Make sure you're on their good side! If you have any other influential adults in your life, get their recommendation too. The more personal they make it, the better for you. Recommendations should speak to who you are as a student, and how you attack your goals. They should be about your general potential for greatness. If you're not 'close' enough to any teachers, now is the time to make connections. The advisor of that club you're in is a good start!
Lead your peers
Offer your skills to the crowd. Go for officer positions in clubs. The work load isn't always a lot and you will always have a teacher to guide you if your're lost. You gain valuable experience when you have to make decisions. You don't have to be the president, but any level of involvement above 'member' shows you have what it takes. Leadership requires a mastery of confidence and communication that is vital for future success. What better time to practice than now?
Serve your community
Get involved! Community service connects you with people you might not have met otherwise. Find opportunities through your religious or community center, or any clubs that you are in. Spend time giving back in any way that sounds fun to you. Clean up the environment. Visit pre-schools or senior centers. Plan a fundraiser. And rope in others to come with you!
Inflate your grades
Now's the time to make sure you keep your grades high. Use those spare moments on the bus or in waiting rooms to study on your phone. Create study groups with your friends. Take advantage of any extra credit or come up with your own extra credit assignments. Ask your teacher if it can count towards your grade. They won't mind you taking initiative at all, trust me.
Hack the exams
Getting a good score on the SAT or ACT and its variants comes down to one rule: Practice ruthlessly. Even if you have a private tutor or go to a class. You need to practice on your own time. Review the explanations to the answers with a fine toothed comb. Take notes on what mistakes you keep making and practice those kinds of questions. Write your own questions. Read books and articles with interesting vocabulary. Learn new words and write practice essays with them. The more you do, the more prepared you will be to ace it.
Many scholarships are as easy to enter as writing an essay. Others need a little more creativity. But all need some effort! If getting some extra fluff is a big deal for you, I encourage you to commit to utilizing your options. Scholarship application committees are just as picky, if not pickier than college admissions committees. You need to stand out. Check the college's website for a scholarship list, or contact the admissions department. Google everything you can do, everything you are, and everything you want to be, followed by the word 'scholarship.'