Guide to being a successful college applicant

College Applicant

By Marilyn G. S. Emerson, College Planning Services, Inc.

When thinking about which colleges to apply to you need to realize that fitting the profile of a given school is necessary but not sufficient for being admitted. The fact that you “deserve” to get in to a school will be irrelevant if you do not approach the admissions process thoughtfully. Here are some things to think about:

• A successful candidate challenges himself and makes the most of opportunities.  Thought and consideration should be given to the high school courses you take.  If you are capable of more advanced coursework, “coasting” in easier classes may raise your GPA, but it will not impress college admissions officers.  Good grades in less challenging courses often lead to unrealistic expectations on the part of students and families.

• A successful applicant prepares for standardized tests.  You should decide which SAT, ACT and, if needed, which SAT Subject Tests you will take .  Once you have developed a testing timeline, think about whether you want to prepare for the exams by using study guides, taking exams and focusing on what you do not know, or by engaging appropriate tutors.  Students may place themselves at a disadvantage if they are not tutored and the majority of students in their geographic area are tutored.

• A successful applicant is a doer.  Admissions officers use your list of activities to see how you chose to use your time.  Do what you enjoy doing; college admissions officers can usually tell when your interests are genuine.  Don’t do something because you think, or because someone told you, that it will look good on a college application, because it sounds glamorous or because “Johnny” did it and was admitted to a particular college.

• A successful applicant is proactive.  You should make the most of your time off from school.  There are many programs where you can explore academic interests, enhance extracurricular interests, try something new or get involved in your community.  Having a job or internship in an area of interest may allow you to explore a possible major and/or career.

• A successful applicant is a leader.  There are many ways to show your leadership skills without having the title of president or captain.  These include taking on new projects, initiating new ideas and following through on them, and helping an existing group to grow.

• A successful applicant visits college campuses. You should plan to visit the colleges and universities you are considering. This will help you to decide if the school is a good fit. Visiting will provide you with firsthand information that will likely help you when completing applications. Some colleges consider campus visits as expressions of interest when evaluating students.  Other commitments including team sports, music or theater involvement, family obligations, vacation plans, etc. are not viable excuses for not visiting.  If there are compelling reasons for not being able to visit, such as financial hardship or personal or family illness, you should let the college know.

• A successful applicant talks to college representatives. Often college representatives will travel to meet with students locally.  You should take advantage of these and all opportunities to speak with admission representatives.  If possible, this should be in addition to, and not instead of, a campus visit.

• A successful applicant interviews. You should plan to interview at all the colleges you are applying to that offer interviews.  Prepare for the interview.  You should know a bit about the college. Often the interview will touch on what you like to do with your free time, current events, books you have read and why you think Extraordinary College is perfect for you.  You should be prepared to ask the interviewer a few questions. Appointments for interviews should be made well in advance, as timeslots book up quickly. When colleges state that interviews are recommended, think of this as a requirement unless it is a financial hardship.  Sometimes colleges offer regional and/or alumni interviews.  These are great opportunities, however, if possible, they should not replace on campus interviews.

The college admissions process is subjective and contains an element of chance.  Even if you have great grades, super test scores and carefully follow all my suggestions there is no guarantee that you will be admitted to a particular school, but you will likely have several good options.