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This week's question from Kim Emory, New Canaan, CT asks:

What can high school seniors do to enhance their chances of admission?

Enhance admissions by treating essay writing like a separate class.

Ralph Becker | Owner & Director
Seniors need to treat essay writing (for applications or merit-based aid) as if it were a class requiring at least one hour a night of study and refinement. Many seniors have devoted hours and thousands of dollars to attaining high standardized test scores. Yet, when it comes to essays, these same students procrastinate, often drafting them right before deadlines. This is unfortunate since seniors can exert complete control over the writing of their essays, and essays can differentiate applicants from thousands of others equally qualified. Write essays with care and allocate the necessary time to them: they are admission enhancers.

10 Things to Do to Get Into College

Marjorie Shaevitz | Author & Founder
1 Figure out what you want and find colleges that fit you 2 Visit colleges, talk with students and admissions reps 3 Before starting apps, gather the info you need 4 Keep a copy of the different sign-ins and passwords in a desktop file 5 Complete applications with the most accurate, detailed information available 6 Pay attention to essay directions and word counts 7 Have other people review essays and applications. 8 Focus on who you are, not what you think admissions wants 9 Choose recommenders who really know and like you. 10 Focus first on where you are applying and NOT on where you will end up

Admission Tips for High School Seniors

Michael Goran | Director & Educational Consultant
There’s still time to enhance your profile, even as you begin senior year. You may wish to take the SAT, Subject Tests and/or ACT again, in order to increase your test scores. You will also, if you haven’t already asked, want to make sure that you give your teachers adequate time to write their letters of recommendation. You want to ask them by the beginning of October if you’re applying early to any college. Spend a great deal of time working on your essays and take them through multiple drafts to refine their quality and truly make them stand out.

Be The Best That You Can Be – In & Out of Class

Anne Richardson | Director of College Counseling, International & ESL Programs
Your senior year is when it all comes together – when you show the rest of the world that you are ready for college. Be on time, do all your homework, earn the best grades that you can, be the best student you can be – and this should pay off in excellent teacher recommendations and a great set of fall senior grades. Plus, the more you study and prepare, the better your test scores should be. Outside of class, be involved in your community – whether through sports, service, clubs or leadership roles. Again, show the world that you are ready to move on.

Convince the admissions personnel that you will be an asset

Joanne Levy-Prewitt | Creator & Founder
Many colleges ask students to write supplemental essays explaining their reasons for applying, and a well-researched, well-written supplemental essay will not only impress college admissions personnel, it will also help students determine if the college meets their needs. Seniors should read college websites and learn about majors, programs, social organizations, academic or graduation requirements, housing and more. The supplemental essays are a great opportunity for students to convey their enthusiasm for the college while also convincing colleges that they will contribute actively to the community. And that’s exactly what an admissions officer wants to know.

Do Your Homework

Amy Greenwald Foley | Sr Associate Director of Undergraduate Admissions
There is no magic trick to gaining admission. To increase your chances, do your homework… both in the classroom and out. Turn in assignments on time, keep working hard, and stave off a killer case of senioritis. We consider the senior year to be one of the most important. Do the research when seeking colleges to which you’ll apply. Find their application deadlines, and meet them. Find their freshman profiles, and see if you align statistically. And visit, to show that your interest is sincere and to be sure that we’re all that you hoped we’d be.

Don't under-estimate the importance of your senior schedule

Stacey Kostell | Director of Undergraduate Admissions
Colleges and universities want to see that you are an excellent student as well as an involved citizen. Be sure to keep a strong senior schedule with challenging courses, and continue to be involved in a variety of activities – extracurriculars, jobs or internships, community service. Additionally, write engaging essays. Universities want to get to know you and your interests, and thoughtful, well-written essays are the best way to do that. Finally, research the schools you are applying to so you know what makes them unique and how you could positively contribute to the campus community.

Don’t back off your curriculum, get good grades

Moira O'Riordan | College Counselor
Continue to challenge yourself senior year. Too often students who have worked hard for three years decide their senior year courses don’t matter. They opt out of a fourth year of language or decide not to take the AP or Honors course because they “want to enjoy senior year.” Research has shown that students who work just as hard their senior year as they did previously handle the academic challenges of their first year in college much better than those who don’t. Another misconception among twelfth graders is that grades don’t matter. Not true. Grades can pull you in, get you deferred or get you denied.

Don’t let your many responsibilities distract you from your application

Craig Meister | President
Far too many seniors overlook the importance of the actual college application to their chances of admission. Seniors are so focused on requesting transcripts and recommendations, making sure their scores are sent, visiting colleges, and finalizing their lists, that often the application gets short shrift. Spend as much time on your applications – your resume, essays, and short answer responses – as humanely possible! There is no room for careless errors on your applications. In today’s competitive admissions environment, most applicants will have the grades and scores to compete. Make sure you have what it takes to get in: a winning application.

Get credit for visiting a campus!

Vanessa Roth | Founder & Director
Colleges keep track of students who have “demonstrated an interest” in their school and many use this as a “tipping factor” in admissions. So even if you are going to have friends show you around when you visit, it’s a good idea to check in at the admissions office. Call ahead to see if you can make an appointment to meet with an admissions officer. Ask admissions officers for their business cards so that you can contact them with questions as you are going through the process. Remember, they want to help you and make you fall in love with their school. They are as excited about the process as you are!

Get great grades, visit colleges, have the best application possible

Patti Demoff | Co-Founder
There is still much that you can do to make yourself an attractive candidate. Get the best grades possible. Colleges will be looking at them! Visit colleges and/or demonstrate your interest by attending local information sessions when offered. Step up your involvement or take a leadership role in an already established activity. Spend the time making your applications the best they can be. Personal statements, short answers, lists of activities and supporting materials should reflect your intellectual interests, what is important to you, talents and the depth of your involvement in activities, as well as challenges that you have faced.

It’s not too late to show your best side

Wynne Curry | College Advisor
By the time a student reaches his senior year, much of the die for college admissions has been cast. The cumulative G.P.A., the SAT scores, the extracurricular activities have pretty well been established. However, assuming a student is realistic in his choices and not aiming for stratospheric long shots, he ought to show sincere interest in those places where he plans to apply and where he has a realistic chance of being admitted. He can earn the best grades to date for the transcript throughout the senior year (Why the entire senior year? Because March waitlists want to see all semester and quarter grades the student has earned up to that point.) He can be meticulous and thoughtful on his application, paying particular attention to the essays. I tell my students to not try to be someone they’re not, and to not allow others to write the essay. Students need to show they can think, that they care, that they have gained some degree of insight and understanding from something in their life. Be realistic and above all, be modest.

Keep up your schoolwork and apply wisely

Nola Lynch | Owner
Since the vast majority of U.S. colleges admit most of their applicants, be sure your college list includes schools that appear likely to admit you, based on your GPA, test scores, and class rank. Your applications are your chance to present yourself to colleges, so treat them with care: spend extra time on essays, and be sure to have someone else proofread everything for you. Retake tests by December if you have put in the effort to improve scores. Take senior year seriously--keep your grades up and continue with your outside activities, especially if you can obtain leadership positions.

Leave no stone unturned: Complete powerful college applications

Rebecca Joseph | Executive Director & Founder
By senior year, so much of a college applicants’ record is already complete, yet one thing seniors have absolute control over is completing amazing college applications. Seniors, you should make master lists and schedules. You can make sure each part of the application reveals your core qualities, leadership, and initiative. You can make write amazing essays that reveal unique stories and key evidence of why you belong at a college. You should choose teachers who can write powerful recommendations and spend time on brag sheets, resumes, and interviews. A powerful college application is a final way to showcase yourself to colleges you hope to attend.

Read and follow each college’s application instructions!

Carolyn Lawrence | Founder
Read each college’s application instructions! This may sound obvious, but I’m surprised at how few students actually take the time to do this. Follow the instructions to the letter and make sure you have everything requested in well before the deadline. After the deadline passes, double-check with the college that your file is complete – including that they’ve received your application fee. If you’ve chosen a realistic list of colleges, these simple steps will help you have a happy outcome. Try not to worry too much, keep your grades up, and enjoy the rest of senior year!

Remain calm, stay organized, and keep up the good work!

Katherine Cohen | Founder & CEO
Senior year can be a stressful time for students who must manage the complex college admissions process, while handling an academically rigorous course load—remain calm! Work with your high school guidance counselor to create a balanced list of reach, target and likely schools that are all academic, social and financial fits. If you have a balanced college list, you will get into a school where you will be successful and happy. Create an application strategy and decide to which schools, if any, you are prepared to apply early. Keep track of key deadlines with an application checklist. Become an expert on the schools to which you are applying and tailor each application accordingly. If your standardized test scores aren’t where they need to be for your target or reach schools, do some more practice and consider retesting this fall. Maintain focus and commitment inside and outside of the classroom—now is not the time to slack off!

Senior year grades DO count!

Susan Reznick | Independent Educational Consultant
Except for early decision applications, (ED, EA or Rolling) the majority of schools will wait until February, after receiving the mid-year report, to make a final decision. A strong upward trend in senior year performance can still make a big impact on the likelihood of admittance for many students. A student’s choice of teacher for his recommendations can also be critical; ask teachers who can speak enthusiastically about your personal qualities, not just teachers whose classes you did well in. Finally, write a well-crafted personal statement that might resonate strongly with admissions; this essay should not serve as a list of your accomplishments, but rather should reveal a strong sense of who you are.

Seniors Can Still Make the Grade

Jolyn Brand | Founder & Director
Some may think that senior year of high school does not matter much to colleges. But there are many things that seniors can do to improve their chances of acceptance: Keep up those grades! Don't become a victim of senoritis. Volunteer your time. Participate in student clubs and organizations. Prep and re-take the SAT and ACT if needed. Research and visit prospective colleges. Work on time managment; you'll need it next year!

Seniors, take note!

Michele Hernandez | President & Founder
The last thing college admissions officers see when you apply in the early round is your fall grades – any decline in grades is grounds for rejection or deferral. Your top priority should be gunning for super high grades in the fall (winter too if you are apply regular decision). The second most important area is test scores – if you have any subpar test scores, use September and October (November and December for regular) to retake any tests – both ACT and SAT are offered in the fall – take advantage of these test dates. Finally, be sure to let colleges know of any recent leadership or awards. Oftentimes some of students’ major awards occur senior fall, so update your application to reflect any new accomplishments or leadership positions.

Show a personal interest in the school so they know you care

Francine Block | President
Letting a school know you have done your research and that you feel they are a good fit for you is important. If at all possible visit the campus for an interview and have a tour. Try to meet your regional rep, if that does not happen when you are on campus, email them directly of your interest and tell them what you specifically like about the school. If they visit your school or do a hotel program in your area, attend it so they again get to know you better.

Students, Take Control

Nancy McDuff | Associate Vice President for Admissions & Enrollment Management
You have done your preparation and now it is time to apply for admission. Seniors need to own this process. Allowing parents to complete your application, contact the Admissions Office or tell the high school counselor what to do does not show your ability. This is your college selection process. If you have a question or need assistance, it is often best for you to contact the Office of Admissions, Financial Aid Office or your high school counselor. While we are glad to answer questions from parents, we really like to see a student who has the maturity to seek assistance when needed.

Tell Them Who You Are

Gail Grand | President
As admissions officers begin crafting their next freshman class, they need to have a clear picture of who you are and the role you might play in their campus community. At this point in time there is little that a high school senior can do to bolster her past academic and personal record, but you can let schools know just what it is that you can bring to that college. This message should be heard through your essays, activity list, interviews, and recommendations. Tell them who you are. If you do your job well and let colleges see that you're truly interested in attending, it's more likely that they'll be truly interested in you.

This is the Fourth Quarter; There's Still Time on the Clock!

Carol Morris | Regional Director of Admissions
Don't let up! Everyone says junior year is most important, but the truth is that senior year counts even more. Try to visit or connect with the schools to which you are applying in some way; if the representative visits your school or offers a program nearby, try to attend if you can. Letting the school know you are both interested and trying to be well-informed about them is always a plus. If you have time, sit for one more SAT or ACT if your current scores are a bit modest for the schools to which you aspire.

Two Ways to Increase Your Odds

John Carpenter | Founder
This question is so broad that it's a bit of a challenge to answer, yet at the same time, there are dozens of things you can do to create a more compelling application no matter where you apply. My best advice, though, comes in two parts: one is to be intentional about your application as a whole, and two is to know the institution to which you are applying as well as you can. By being intentional, I mean that instead of just jumping into the app and the essay, you plan what kind of image you want to convey to admissions officers and then you use the application to present that image. By knowing the institution thoroughly, I mean dig deep to discover the kinds of students the school is looking for and then present yourself in such a way that your strengths match that profile. Of course, in some cases that's very difficult, but if you're able to understand who the kids are that the colleges are seeking, then your chances of matching that go way up.

Variety is the Spice of Life When it Comes to College Admissions

Yolanda Watson Spiva | Executive Director
High school seniors can increase their chances of college admissions by demonstrating the diversity of their high school experiences within their applications. It is a misconception that colleges simply want to enroll straight 'A' students. Instead, colleges are actually interested in students who are themselves, interesting, and will contribute to the diversity and vivacity of the campus community. As a result, colleges actually seek students whom they believe will be active, involved, and successful on their campuses--academically, socially, civically, athletically, and politically. So while your transcript and SAT scores will certainly be considered, be sure to include other interesting things about you that will create a more holistic picture of why you'd be a fit for the institution.

What is Demonstrated Interest?

Estelle Meskin | Certified Educational Planner
Making personal contacts by visiting colleges, attending college nights and meeting admissions reps enhances your acceptance to highly selective colleges. This morning I attended a counselors' breakfast hosted by admissions reps from 3 highly selective colleges, one public and two private. Each acknowledged that coming to campus and interviewing or attending a college night and personally meeting with the representative from the college markedly increased a student's chances to gain admissions. Because of the current competitive nature of admissions, students who take that extra step to connect are definitely considered better candidates than those who don't. "Demonstrated interest" describes the contacts students make during the admissions process which might promote their acceptances.

Work hard in your classes, visit, and pay attention to deadlines

Ken Huus | Dean of Admissions
Most colleges pay careful attention to senior-year grades, so it's important to work hard as a senior to maintain or improve academic performance. It can also be beneficial to visit campuses of interest and have an interview with an admission representative. Taking the opportunity to talk with someone who is going to read your application for admission can allow to highlight particular things about your application and interest in attending in that college/university, and to be more than a name/number to the Admissions Office. Finally, pay attention to deadlines; some colleges will be unforgiving if you miss an application deadline.

You Snooze . . . You Lose

Mary Ann Willis | College Counselor
Meet deadlines–from your counselor, the testing companies and your college choices. Follow procedures–all of them. If you need specific tests, take them. Don’t wait to write essays, and make sure the work produced is your work. When you have an opportunity to connect with a college, take it (visiting a rep at your school, going to a college fair or evening program in your area and/or visiting a college). Do your homework–concentrate on places that will be good matches for you. There are thousands of choices. The real trick is ferreting out good matches for you . . . and, by the way, nearly seven out of ten applications get a yes answer.


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