How to Get Into College

Four Parts:Taking Academics SeriouslyBuilding Your Case Outside the ClassroomIdentifying the Right School(s)Acing Your Application

Getting into college may seem like a daunting process, but by approaching it in a thoughtful manner, you can find and get into a school that’s the right fit for you. In order to get into college, it helps to start preparing early and to take an inventory of what sorts of things are important to you as you search for the right school. Getting into college might not be a simple process, but It can be a manageable one if you stay on top of things and keep yourself organized.

Part 1
Taking Academics Seriously

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    Choose challenging course work. While most colleges still place a large emphasis on your grade point average, many schools see the strength of your curriculum as the second most important part of your high school transcripts. This means choosing classes that challenge you, instead of ones that are simply easy to pass.[1]
    • Take courses that are difficult, but manageable for you. It’s important to maintain a healthy balance of academics, extra-curricular activities, and your social life.
    • Take college prep or AP courses when you can, as these reflect well on your transcripts.
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    Focus on your grades. Colleges often place a large emphasis on the quality of your grades when making their determination about whether or not you would be a good fit for their institution. While it is important that you choose courses that challenge you, it’s just as important that you demonstrate your ability to maintain good grades during that challenging coursework.[2]
    • Strive to maintain the highest Grade Point Average (GPA) that you can in order to maximize your chances at getting into college.
    • Remember that you can recover from a few less than stellar grades through extra-curricular activities and submitting an exceptional application and essay, but getting good grades is still in your best interest.
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    Get recommendation letters from teachers. Even if your grades aren’t great, a good recommendation letter from one of your teachers can go a long way in convincing an admissions counselor that you should be accepted into their college or university. Recommendation letters can explain things about you that are hard to quantify with grades.[3]
    • Ask teachers you get along with to provide you with a recommendation letter you can include when applying to college.
    • If you participate in school sanctioned extra-curricular activities, you may want to ask your coach or club advisor to write you a recommendation letter.
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    Take the SAT or ACT test. While many colleges accept test scores from either the SAT or ACT tests, you should check with any schools you might already have in mind before choosing to take one or the other. You may want to take practice tests from each, and choose the one that you perform better on.[4]

Part 2
Building Your Case Outside the Classroom

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    Participate in extra-curricular activities. Many colleges place a lot of emphasis on extra-curricular activities. What you choose to do with your free time can tell admissions counselors a lot about you and let them know what kind of a culture fit you would be at their college or university.[5]
    • Joining a sports team can show admissions counselors that you work well on a team and are both dedicated and committed to working outside of school.
    • Being a part of a club can show counselors that you collaborate well and have strong social skills.
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    Volunteer for worthy causes. In recent years, college admissions officials have begun placing an increased emphasis on volunteer work and community service when considering applications to their institutions. Colleges and universities see volunteer work in a similar light to extra-curricular activities, but some also feel as though being involved with a cause the student is passionate about can demonstrate their awareness and empathy for the world around them, which reflects well on your application.[6]
    • Look on websites like to find volunteer causes in your area that are tailored for teens and students.
    • You can also look in local newspapers or contact non-profit organizations you care about in order to find volunteer opportunities.
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    Hold a part time job. Much like extra-curricular activities, holding a part time job during the school year or summer months can demonstrate some of your great personal qualities to college admissions officials. Holding a part time job demonstrates your willingness to work and learn in a professional environment as well as your level of maturity and responsibility. You may have extenuating financial circumstances that require you to work on top of your academic curriculum. This may limit your ability to participate in extra-curricular activities, but a job can be just as beneficial to your application.[7]
    • Include part time jobs on your college application just as you would other extra-curricular activities.
    • You may want to pull from your work experience in your application essay. This can explain a lack of formal extra-curricular activities and highlight the beneficial experience you gained.
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    Show evidence of leadership and creativity. Some of the most important elements of letting the admissions officials get to know you in an application is to demonstrate the levels of leadership you are capable of exercising and how creative you can be. These elements are extremely important to being successful in college, and as such, many college admissions officials look for elements indicating each in your application. Colleges are not just looking for new students; they’re looking quality individuals to represent the institution after they graduate. Leadership and creativity can demonstrate that you’re just such a person.[8]
    • Holding leadership positions in your club, team, volunteer organization or part time job are great ways to demonstrate your ability to lead.[9]
    • Demonstrate your creativity by highlighting your passions in your college application essay. Your creative endeavors don’t have to be artistic; it could even be the creative solutions you have found for problems you have faced.[10]
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    Complete the FAFSA financial aid application. If you are going to apply for financial aid or student loans when you go to college, you will need to complete the FAFSA application. The FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It can qualify you for Federal student aid, and is often a requirement to receive student aid from colleges and universities as well.[11]
    • You will need to provide your parents’ tax information when completing your FAFSA application so you may want to ask them for help.
    • You can complete the FAFSA online here:

Part 3
Identifying the Right School(s)

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    Start your search early. Begin thinking about what colleges you may want to apply to in your sophomore year of high school. By your junior year, you should start seriously considering which schools you may want to apply to. By thinking about your prospects early, you can help to ensure you are meeting the criteria required by the schools you have in mind.[12]
    • Check to see if the schools you are considering require you to take the SAT or ACT exams, then take the one you need for the schools you like.
    • You don’t need to make any solid decisions early, but you should actively consider different college options.
    • Make a list of schools you’d like to apply to so you can keep track of which ones you liked and which you didn’t.
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    Look for a good academic fit. Schools have varying academic requirements, and you may not fit the bill for every college or university out there. There is nothing wrong with applying to schools with high academic requirements, even if you don’t quite meet them, but you should also look for schools that are a good fit for you based on your previous school experiences.[13]
    • Create a list of schools, some that are a bit of a reach academically and some that you meet or exceed the requirements for.
    • Evaluate the schools on that list compared to other criteria as you search to determine which ones are best for you.
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    Take geography into account. There are lots of colleges and universities to choose from, so one way you can use to narrow your search is to take where you want to live into account. You may want to stick close to home so you can commute and live with your parents, or you may want to experience a different climate than the one you’ve gotten accustomed to. These preferences can help determine which schools to apply to.[14]
    • Ask yourself where you’d like to live during the school year. Is it close to home? Is it near the beach or the city?
    • Take your preferences and use them to narrow the region you search for schools in.
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    Look at the size and setting of colleges. Many people have different preferences about the size and environment of a school they would like to attend. Think about what type of environment you would prefer: larger campuses with more people, or smaller schools with more personal experiences. The environment is also important, as some schools are located in more populated urban areas and others can be found in more rural settings.[15]
    • Smaller schools often have fewer students per professor, so you may receive more individualized attention.
    • Larger schools offer more people to interact with and a large student community to participate in.
    • You may want to choose an environment that is similar to one you are familiar with, or you may choose to pursue new experiences in a place with more or fewer people than you’re used to.
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    Determine what type of school you want to attend. There are a number of different options available to you when choosing a type of school. You should consider your ultimate goals when determining which type of schools to investigate.[16]
    • Community colleges are a great place to begin your college journey. They offer lower costs and their credits often transfer to larger, state schools.
    • You may want to consider schools with two-year technical programs depending on what your career goals are.
    • Private colleges and universities may cost more than public ones.
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    Look for schools with the right majors. If you have an idea of what you want to major in, you should take that into account when researching colleges. You don’t have to make a decision about your major before you start attending college, but if you have one in mind you should make sure the schools you apply to offer it.[17]
    • If you aren’t sure what you may want to choose for a major, you may want to consider which subjects in school you enjoy. That may inform your decision.
    • You will have plenty of time to choose a major once you begin college if you don’t have one in mind already.
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    Visit schools you are considering. If you are able to visit the campus of schools you may want to apply to, it can help you determine if you think you would be a good fit for the atmosphere of the school. Contact the school ahead of time to schedule a tour of the campus to get a feel for the environment.[18]
    • Ask if you can sit in on a class to get a feel for what the classroom environment might be like.
    • Speak to some students on campus to ask their opinion of the school and what it’s like to go there.

Part 4
Acing Your Application

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    Fill out the application. Most colleges and universities allow you to complete their admissions application online. Make sure to fill out the application completely and look it over a few times before submitting it. Each college will have different application requirements, so it may take some time to complete it all.[19]
    • Make sure to complete each section carefully. Your admissions application is how the admissions officials will determine if you are a good fit for their school.
    • You will likely need to complete an essay as a part of your application.
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    Complete your application essay. Your college application essay gives you an opportunity to highlight your written communications ability and can also help you address any issues with your application. If your grades are not as high as you would have hoped, for instance, you can address that issue with your essay in a way that justifies your grades. Write about something that highlights you and makes you seem like a good pick for any school.[20]
    • Create an outline of what you want to include in your essay before you begin to ensure you are well organized.
    • Ask a teacher or parent to proofread your essay and then make revisions as necessary.
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    Keep track of deadlines. Every college has application deadlines that you’ll need to be aware of when completing their application. Make sure you give yourself ample time to complete the application and essay, and to provide necessary documents like letters of recommendation so you can be sure to have everything in prior to the deadline.[21]
    • Try establishing your own deadlines one week before the actual deadlines provided by the schools you want to apply to, that way you can be sure there’s time for them to receive it.
    • Waiting until the last minute can limit your ability to put your best foot forward. Give yourself an opportunity to take your time on the application and essay.
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    Conduct an admissions interview. Some schools may require that you attend an admissions interview. These interviews serve as a supplement to your college application and can help admissions officials determine how good a fit you may be for their school. It can be difficult to discern an applicant’s personality through an application and essay, so an interview can shed some light on who you are as a person and as a student.[22]
    • Do some research about the school before your interview. You should know things like if it’s a public or private school and if it offers a major you are interested in before you attend the interview.
    • Be prepared to answer questions about your high school academics and extracurricular activities, as well as what you hope to attain from your college experience.
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    Choose between schools you were accepted to. After submitting your applications, wait to receive acceptance letters back from each of the schools you applied to. Once you receive a few, you can decide which school is the best decision for you to attend. If you were not accepted to any of the schools you applied to, you may want to apply to other schools or attend community college while you bring your grades up.[23]
    • If you applied for financial aid through the schools, compare aid award letters to determine which school is most financially viable.
    • If you have not visited the campus yet, try to visit each campus you are trying to choose between before making your decision.

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Categories: Applying for Tertiary Education