9 Tips for Raising Your College Admission Chances
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- Most colleges consider grades and class rigor top factors in the admissions process.
- High SAT/ACT scores can impress admissions committees, even at test-optional schools.
- Students can demonstrate interest by applying early decision and visiting the campus.
The college application process is unlike any other. It requires hard work, determination, and often the help of family and school administrators. On top of earning good grades and strong SAT or ACT scores, you must write a compelling essay and secure letters of recommendation.
But getting into a good school doesn't have to be an uphill battle. Below, we introduce our top nine tips to help you increase your chances of getting accepted to your dream college.
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1. Earn Good Grades in Challenging Courses
A high GPA, combined with a challenging curriculum, is by far one of the most important admission factors for colleges.
According to a 2019 report by the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), around 3 in 4 colleges surveyed considered grades in courses considerably important when making admission decisions.
"A good GPA gets you through the first round," said Christina Skeldon, college consultant and executive functioning coach at JBG Educational Group. "After that, I like to see something that makes the student stand out. What did they do outside the classroom? Who are they other than a student?"
Over 80% of schools also considered rigor of curriculum at least moderately important, so try to take as many challenging courses as you can, especially during your junior and senior years. AP, honors, and IB courses are all solid options.
"[Colleges] like to see that students challenged themselves and took higher-level courses in areas that they are strong in," explained Skeldon.
2. Get a High SAT/ACT Score
While more schools have started to adopt test-optional policies in recent years — especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic — SAT/ACT scores remain valuable indicators of college admission chances. In the NACAC survey, over 4 in 5 colleges considered standardized test scores moderately or considerably important.
Even if a college you're applying to doesn't require SAT/ACT scores, it's usually best to submit them. Many students take the SAT or ACT their junior year, giving them time to decide whether they want to retake it the fall of their senior year.
The best way to prepare for either exam is to use official practice questions and tests, many of which are free. You can also buy an SAT or ACT prep book, enroll in SAT or ACT prep classes, and/or hire a tutor.
3. Write a Compelling Personal Statement
The personal statement plays a critical role in college admissions, especially as more schools drop their SAT/ACT requirements. Over half of the colleges surveyed by NACAC considered the essay or writing sample at least moderately important.
The essay provides one of the best opportunities to sell yourself. According to Skeldon, "A stand-out essay shows the admissions team who the student is outside a GPA or test score."
Be sure to spend time developing a unique perspective and choosing the right prompt for you. Your goal should be to tell an intimate, engaging story.
4. Demonstrate Interest
The 2019 NACAC study found that 40% of colleges considered students' demonstrated interest an important factor during the admissions process.
If you genuinely want to attend a specific university, you can indicate interest by visiting the campus, going on a campus tour, participating in optional interviews, and contacting admissions representatives.
"An official tour is so important," said Skeldon. "Some schools are still doing interviews, and I think it looks great for a student to reach out to the admissions office to ask for one."
Other ways to demonstrate interest include getting in touch with professors in your prospective major, applying early decision (if available), following the school's social media channels, and participating in the school's online seminars for prospective students.
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5. Secure Strong Letters of Recommendation
Letters of recommendation hold a lot of significance because they reveal aspects of your character that your grades and test scores can't. This is why you should aim to ask people who can describe your skills, accomplishments, and attitude with positivity and enthusiasm.
Most colleges require 1-3 recommendation letters, typically from teachers and a high school guidance counselor.
Be polite when making the request. In addition, be sure to ask at least a month before your college application deadlines. You want your recommender to have ample time to compose a strong letter on your behalf.
6. Apply to a Diverse Selection of Colleges
Students should apply to a variety of schools, including safety, match, and reach schools. Your high school guidance counselor can help you put together a list of potential schools for which you meet or exceed all necessary criteria for admission. These will be your matches and safeties, meaning you have a solid chance of acceptance.
Once you've done that, you can start thinking about reach schools, or institutions you're less likely to get into. Note that some colleges are reach schools for all students, including the Ivy League and top-tier private universities like Stanford.
Applying to a variety of colleges ensures that even if you get rejected from your dream school, you still have a high likelihood of gaining admission to at least one college on your list.
7. Opt for an Early Admission Plan
If you're committed to attending a specific college, research shows that applying early can raise your admission chances. That's because colleges generally admit a higher percentage of students during their early decision and early action rounds.
"Early action is beneficial for so many reasons, and I always push my students to apply this way if the school offers it," said Skeldon.
Both plans require you to apply early, usually sometime in November. You can expect to receive an admission decision earlier as well, typically in December. Whereas early decision is a binding agreement — meaning you are committing to attend that institution should you get admitted — early action does not bind you to a single school.
8. Manage Your Online Reputation
Admissions officers are increasingly checking applicants' social media presence to learn more about them and to look for red flags that might deter them from extending an acceptance. Make sure your Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, and LinkedIn accounts are free of content you wouldn't want colleges to see while you're applying.
"It is important to have an appropriate email address, and social media accounts should be [set to] private," advised Skeldon. You should also search your name on Google to ensure there's nothing floating around online that could reflect negatively on you.
9. Get Help When You Need It
The college application process can be confusing and isn't something to take on alone. As you prepare and finalize your applications, make sure you seek assistance from people familiar with the admissions process, such as your guidance counselor and teachers.
You should also consult parents, friends, older siblings, and relatives who can answer questions about the admissions process and campus life.
Finally, don't forget to have someone look over and proofread your entire application. "Always, always, always have someone else look through it," stressed Skeldon. "Grammar, spelling, punctuation — all of these little things go a long way."
With Advice From:
Christina Skeldon earned her bachelor's in psychology from Quinnipiac University and her master's in school counseling from New York University. After graduating, she worked in college admissions at a university in Boston. She then decided to combine her passion for helping youth in a social and emotional capacity with her love for college admissions by becoming a guidance counselor at a local high school. Skeldon currently works for JBG Educational Group as a college consultant and executive functioning coach, pulling from both her experience and education to create and implement an individualized plan for each of her clients.
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