What does it take to get into college?
Well, the answer depends on quite a few factors. The type of major, high school course selection and grades, standardized test scores, types of test scores, teacher recommendations, personal statements, interview, extra-curricular activities, leadership skills…the list goes on and on.
That’s why, as I’ve said many times before, it’s best to start thinking about college early. How early? In my opinion, it is truly never too early.
Below are some factors in which college admission offices take into consideration. As always, be sure to check in with each college and be mindful of their requirements. Every college is different, and there really is no cookie-cutter approach to applying for college. Strategy and preparation is essential.
The high school transcript. The transcript is a huge deciding factor for most colleges. Factors such as types of courses taken, the level of rigor, and grades earned all come into play when looking at your son or daughter’s high school transcript. Starting 9th grade on a strong path will better your child’s chances at getting into a more competitive college.
Do not have your child take the bare minimum requirements needed to graduate high school, especially if they are college bound. Ensure that they are taking core classes (math, social sciences, lab sciences, foreign language, English, etc). Also, make sure that they are taking these courses at a level that is appropriate to their skill. High schools all around the country have different grading criteria. College preparation classes are typically sufficient, but if your son or daughter can challenge themselves in honors or AP (Advanced Placement), then have them take that route.
The truth is, there are thousands of students who are just as qualified as your son or daughter. Taking a competitive, solid course load through the end of senior year is key. Colleges look at the student’s reported rank, often expressed in the form of a number (i.e., 15/200) or a decile (i.e., 2nd decile). There are other sneaky ways colleges can determine a class rank, even if your school does not supposedly report one.
Speaking of the transcript, colleges also look at a student’s high school profile, often packaged along with the transcript. The high school profile is a snapshot of the high school. It gives college admission offices the tools to learn more about the high school. As a former college admission officer, I show my clients firsthand hand the way this document factors into an admissions decision, especially as it pertains to their specific child.
Senior Slide-Don't Do It
Do not allow senior year to be a slack-off year. Very often, colleges consider a student’s most recent achievement as an indication as to how they will fair in college. In my college admission days, I was personally involved in the revocation of admission decisions due to students' downward trend. It is never a good conversation to have. Colleges expect the same level of achievement to be earned after their admit decision is mailed. They will review all final transcripts upon high school graduation.
Standardized Test Scores
Though not a favorite of many, standardized test scores may be used by some colleges when determining candidacy for a particular program or general admission. Often, students will be required to take the SAT or the ACT. Does your child struggle with test taking? See about signing them up for a test-prep course in your local community. Is cost a factor? See about getting them involved with small group study sessions as opposed to private tutoring. See what’s out there, talk to other parents and get recommendations. Also, check in with the colleges on your teenager's application list. Some colleges require the standardized test and some state that they are “test-optional”.
These are a key aspect when evaluating candidacy. I used to review approximately 1,200 college applications per year when I worked as the Assistant Director of Admissions at a large research-based university. Recommendations are an important and insightful way for admission committees to learn more about a student from an experienced academic professional. Ensure that the recommendations are coming from people who have direct experience working with your son or daughter. Make sure your child sits down with the recommender and discusses their options. It’s a lot of work to write a recommendation, so it’s always helpful (and nice!) for a student to provide insight and gratitude to the person vouching on their behalf. There are key features that we like to see shine through on a recommendation.
The personal statement is an opportunity for your son or daughter to present themselves from a personal and character-based level. It is important to stand out. Many essays tend to be about the same topic. In my professional experience, I can probably pick out a handful of essay topics that stuck out during each review season. They were different, they were creative, and they left me feeling inspired and encouraged to have that particular student be a part of our campus community. Some colleges require many essays and some require just one. Be sure to have your son or daughter do their homework to ensure they are submitting the necessary requirements. And as always, proofread! A second or third set of eyes is always a good idea.
Extracurriculars and Activities
How your son or daughter is involved in high school is an excellent indicator as to how they will be involved in college. Campus communities want involvement. They want to see that your child is engaged, informed, and part of creating a positive and inclusive learning environment. Volunteer work, part-time jobs, internships, mission trips, tutoring, and clubs demonstrate how a student engages with others. Colleges want to produce the world’s next leaders. Extracurricular activities are helpful, especially when colleges do not allow or require in-person interviews. Leadership, team building, and communication skills are all factors that play into evaluating one’s character and future contributions. With colleges becoming increasingly competitive, it's important that your child differentiates themselves from the crowd.
The above items are the primary factors used when considering candidacy for a particular college. As I mentioned earlier, it’s best to map out exactly what each college requires. Some colleges consider their institutions as “need-blind” regarding financial aid, whereas other colleges consider their institutions as “need-sensitive.” Every school is subjective.
Confirm deadlines. Colleges have Early Decision, Early Action, Restrictive Early Action, Regular Decision, and Rolling Admissions. Each is very different from one another. Likewise, financial aid applications (known as the FAFSA-www.fafsa.org) often have different deadlines, depending on the college.
When I work with my clients, we develop a comprehensive and strategic plan of action for each to present an impressive application package. Time management is essential when applying for colleges. College is an emotional decision and one that takes dedicated time and effort.