by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D.
As part of the celebration of Quintessential Careers’s 15th anniversary, we’re presenting lists of 15 tips on some of the most essential topics in college, job search, and career.
More and more, attending college is a necessity to living the life you seek. Yet as you work yourself through your 9th or 10th consecutive year of education, attending at least four more years of college may be a hard concept to get excited about — but you should! Having made it through your primary education and middle-school years, it’s time to look to high school and beyond. How can you improve your chances for getting accepted into your top-choice colleges and universities? Check out our expert tips.
Here’s our list of the 15 best how-to tips for getting accepted into college.
- Start early. The best time to start thinking about college is in middle school, but don’t fret if you are in high school and just thinking about attending college. Starting early allows you to develop a plan for carving out the best courses for college prep, maintaining or increasing your grades and class standing, joining and assisting in leadership of a high-school club/organization/sports team, and preparing for taking one or more standardized college admissions tests.
- Know yourself. You can’t successfully tell colleges and universities how great you are unless you know exactly who you are, what your goals and ambitions are, how you are distinctive (and better) from other applicants, and why you want to attend college. In examining yourself, focus on your strengths (and areas in which you can improve) — and use these strengths as the core of your application. Creating a resume showcasing your accomplishments, activities, and experience is a great way starting point.
- Gain the support of your parents and family. Having the support of your family goes a long way in this somewhat grueling process. Seek their input and recommendations on types of colleges best for you. Regardless of your family’s financial situation, don’t let finances stop you from applying to college; multiple sources of financial aid are available for attending college.
- Meet with your guidance counselor and key teachers. You may or may not love your high-school guidance counselor, but s/he can provide you with good information about course selection, standardized tests, college fairs, and the like. It’s also a good idea to talk with your favorite teachers about possible majors and college choices — and remember to request that they write college recommendation letters for you to help bolster your applications.
- Focus on key elements of courses, grades, standardized tests. You want to have a mix of college-prep courses — including some that challenge you. Grades and class standing also play a role, so if your grades are not where they should be, increase your studying, enhance your study skills, and/or find a tutor. Finally, you will ideally nail your PSATs and SATs (or ACT) exams the first time around, but if not, consider studying or taking a prep course so that you can improve your scores.
- Join a small number of clubs or organizations. Colleges and universities are looking for certain profiles from prospective students — looking at applicants for campus leadership potential. If you have not done so already, find a couple of student organizations (including sports teams) in which you can not only participate, but eventually help lead as well.
- Research colleges and universities. Conducting research on colleges and universities is important for many reasons. First, you’ll want to narrow down the list of potential schools from thousands to a number more reasonable. Second, the more you know about a potential school, the better you can demonstrate to admissions counselors that you are an excellent fit.
- Attend college fairs. While you can research and compile a list of potential colleges and universities from any number of Websites and books, nothing beats going to a college fair — where you can meet with admissions counselors and get unique insights, as well as make good first impressions.
- Reduce your list of colleges and universities. Once you’ve discussed colleges and universities with your teachers, guidance counselor, and family; completed your research; and attended at least one college fair — the last step is compiling a list of your final choices. There are any number of ways and criteria to help narrow your list — from choice of majors to size to location.
- Visit (virtually or in person) final list of colleges and universities. Whenever possible, you should physically visit each campus — even stay overnight. The college you choose to attend is going to be your “home” for the next four years, and it’s important that the campus gives you the right vibe. An added plus of visiting is a chance to meet with an admission counselor — perhaps even wowing him/her if you decide to partake in an official interview.
- Get organized. As you begin the application process, you’ll want to have some sort of organization scheme — to keep track of application deadlines, transcript requests, standardized test score orders, teacher recommendations, and all the information you have on each college and university. A simple spreadsheet might help you keep track of all your applications.
- Apply early. Many students wait too long to get started on applications — and then rush to complete them in December of their senior year. Consider starting as early as possible — and if you have a clear favorite, consider applying for early decision (which usually has a deadline in November).
- Write killer application essays. Every school uses the application essays differently in the decision process ‘ from being a major factor to a minor one — but regardless, just about all schools (certainly all using the common application) require at least one personal essay. The essays are your chance to shine — to open a window into your personality and showcase your fit with each school. It’s important that your essays tell an engaging story while also being well-written. Write, edit, write, revise, proofread — and solicit critiques from a favorite teacher and from a family member. Learn more in our article, Writing the Successful College Application Essay: Tips for Success.
- Send right amount of materials with applications. Admissions professionals tell sad stories of applicants who send way too many materials with their applications (most of which never gets reviewed) and those who do not send enough. It’s probably more critical to not short-change yourself. Remember that your application is literally selling your fit with the school — and if you don’t show that fit, the admissions staff may not see it.
- Use social media and Web to your advantage. Follow the colleges and universities of your choice on Facebook and Twitter. Hone your Facebook profile to match your application persona and remove digital dirt, as more and more schools are using social media to snoop on applicants. You can also friend current students at the schools to learn more realistic views of life on campus. Follow faculty members on Twitter. Record and publish a short video about yourself on YouTube. Read (and respond to when appropriate) blogs written by faculty/staff of your top colleges and universities.
Final Thoughts on College Admission Success
Getting accepted into the college of your dreams is the result of a number of factors, ranging from your academic performance and fit with the school to your diligence in making the strongest case for yourself in your application.
Here’s another benefit of starting the college-choice process early. If you decide upon a top- choice college, consider attending a summer enrichment program offered there — doing so will help you get to know the college better, and, ideally, help you get known by the folks at the college as well.
Finally, if you are completely lost and overwhelmed, college coaches are available to help you with this entire process — for a hefty fee.
Not sure if a college education is worth it? Check out this artcle: What Good is a College Education Anyway? The Value of a College Education.
Find tons of great tools, articles, and resources in this section of Quintessential Careers: Go to College — College Planning Resources.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
Dr. Randall S. Hansen is founder of Quintessential Careers, one of the oldest and most comprehensive career development sites on the Web, as well CEO of EmpoweringSites.com. He is also founder of MyCollegeSuccessStory.com and EnhanceMyVocabulary.com. He is publisher of Quintessential Careers Press, including the Quintessential Careers electronic newsletter, QuintZine. Dr. Hansen is also a published author, with several books, chapters in books, and hundreds of articles. He’s often quoted in the media and conducts empowering workshops around the country. Finally, Dr. Hansen is also an educator, having taught at the college level for more than 15 years. Visit his personal Website or reach him by email at randall(at)quintcareers.com. Check out Dr. Hansen on GooglePlus.