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7 Things You Need to Know About College Admissions

The competition to get into a good college nowadays is second to none—and not knowing what to expect can be a bit unnerving. So, we’ve decided to break down the barriers surrounding the college admissions process a bit. After all, knowledge is power, right?

Read on to learn seven things you should be doing and considering as you venture into the world of college admissions.

  1. When to start planning.

    Experts advise that students start planning their application strategy during their junior year of high school. A good place to start is by creating a comprehensive task list to keep yourself organized. This helps you keep things in perspective, and manage pesky anxiety.

    Factor in plenty of prep time for long-range items, such as visiting potential colleges, preparing for placement exams, writing application essays, and gathering letters of recommendation.

  2. Get involved.

    There is truth to the idea that colleges are looking for well-rounded students to bring on-campus. However, a demonstrated focus on one or two clubs or teams over several years will serve you far better than a smattering of memberships in random school groups.

    Join a few organizations that interest you, and if possible, take on a leadership role. Find ways to create positive change in whatever capacity you can, and embrace opportunities that will stretch you or push you out of your comfort zone. Those are the experiences that refine your skills and character, which is what college admissions committees want to know about.

  3. Explore your options.

    Do you already have a short list of the schools you want to apply to? If not, spring and summer breaks during and after your junior year are a good time to start visiting potential campuses.

    If COVID-19 prevents an actual on-campus visit, look for college fairs, information sessions, or virtual events to help you get a feel for each option. Communicating with admissions reps via email can help you make a personal connection, and college websites are chock-full of information about the types of educational and extracurricular activities schools have to offer. Collect all of the data you need to make an informed decision, then gather the required application materials for each college.

  4. When to apply.

    Plan to begin filling out college applications around the end of your junior year. Leave yourself enough time to ask teachers or role models who know you well to write letters of recommendation focused on both your academic performance and character.

    Make sure that you check the deadline for submission of each of your applications, as well as the rules and deadlines for financial aid. Give yourself more time than you think you’ll need to get your applications prepared—just in case.

  5. Application tips.

    Grades and test scores are not the only barometer for college admissions committees. They want to know what you will bring to their school—what you can contribute. Be focused and organized as you fill out applications and craft each essay. The process can seem tedious, but this is your chance to show the admissions officers who you really are, so be genuine and heartfelt. Other tips:

    • Don’t be afraid to reveal your personality—to be passionate but sincere.
    • Express your enthusiasm for the school you wish to attend, and what clubs, classes or cultural elements of the campus excite you.
    • Include details about any jobs, internships, or volunteer work. These demonstrate your ability to be financially responsible and take initiative.
    • Using your transcript, highlight areas in which you’ve improved throughout school.
    • Discuss activities or events that have contributed to your personal growth, and flesh out your goals for future transformation.
    • Take time to reflect on the experiences and strengths that would best showcase who you are, and incorporate how those qualities make you an ideal candidate for your desired college. Making a list beforehand can help.
  6. Investigate financial aid options.

    Talk with your school advisor and parents about your options for paying for college. Make sure that you understand the financial aid application rules and requirements for each school you’re applying to. The deadlines and required forms may be different from college to college, so check criteria with the financial aid offices or on their websites to ensure you get your aid figured out early.

  7. Your public persona matters.

    Don't make the mistake of thinking that your application materials are the only criteria application officers use to make their decisions. In a technologically-driven world, there’s no question that your online presence can impact people’s perception of you. Admissions counselors are no exception. Some schools may fill in the gaps in your application with a quick review of your social media accounts. Googling prospective students is not unheard of.

    So, make sure that your online presence is above board, and reflects the type of character that you’d want your future college to see. And, if you’re considering posting an inappropriate photo or stirring up controversy… be prepared to answer for those public actions down the road.

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