Going to college is a crucial milestone in a person’s life; it signifies the first step toward adulthood and oftentimes is the beginning of one’s independence. Thus, it’s important to find not only a college with great academics, but also one where you will be happy, comfortable, and thrive
My name is Shreya and I am the Head College Counselor at The Brain Domain. I have helped 48 juniors
and seniors navigate the college admissions process and gain admission to their dream schools. Unfortunately, figuring out which schools to apply to is not an easy feat. However, if you start early, it will be a much mo
re blissful process. Although senior year is primarily when applying occurs, preparing your college application begins right from the start of freshman year of high school
First, it’s important to know what colleges look for in a student. Of course, all colleges wan
well-rounded students, but, honestly, the most important parts of your application are your SAT/ACT scores and your GPA. While extracurricular activities play a role in the admission process, they minimally affect your chances if your scores are not up to par. Therefore, when researching schools, the first step is to look at each school’s GPA and test score averages. If you fall near the average (above or below), then there is a possibility for admission, which is a great sign. From there you want to make sure that the school has the major(s) you’re interested in. If you’re undecided (which is completely fine going into college!), then you want to be sure that the school has the areas of study that have intrigued you thus far. Next, look at the cost of the school and the financial aid statistics. College is not cheap! However, some schools may have great financial aid packages, or a variety of scholarships that you can apply to. Last, but definitely not least, look at the school’s overall character. This includes where it is located, if it is public or private, how big it is, what sports and organizations it has, how diverse it is, and even how pretty it is—whatever is important to you!
Now that you know what schools desire and what you should look for in a school, it’s time for you to know how to get accepted! As I said earlier, preparation for college admission should start your very first year of high school.
- Take pre-AP courses and work hard to get excellent grades
- Join a few organizations that you like. Organizations with a volunteer component are ideal. (Just try to keep track of your hours!)
- Again, take pre-AP courses and maintain excellent grades
- You can now begin to take AP courses that are available to you (e.g. AP World History)
- Start focusing on two or three organizations from freshman year in which you would enjoy a leadership position
- If you want to get ahead, start studying for the SAT/ACT during the second semester
- If you haven’t already, start studying for the SAT/ACT over the summer before junior year because once classes start, your free time will be limited. If you start studying in the summer, you can learn about the test and strategies early on, leaving plenty of time to master the material. Take the test in January of junior year at the latest, and then take it again in April as there is always room for improvement! It’s important to continue to study between your first and second test, otherwise there will not be much, if any, improvement. (Simply taking one test and then another does nothing to improve your score.)
- Continue taking challenging courses and maintain a high GPA
- Assume leadership positions in your selected organizations
- Develop relationships with the teachers in your AP classes and organizations (letters of recommendations are necessary for most good schools. I would suggest getting at least one from an AP teacher from either junior or senior year, and the other from a teacher who sponsored an organization that you were very involved in.)
- Start researching colleges the summer before senior year. The actual application process is time-consuming, so you want to know what colleges you are applying to by mid-September at the latest. I recommend selecting at least two safety schools, two target schools, and two “reach” schools.
- Once you have chosen which schools you want to apply to, you can determine what each application requires. It is best to make a checklist for each school with deadlines. For any schools that require a LOR, ask your teachers at the beginning of October because soon they will be overwhelmed with LOR requests.
- Start your essays early! Once you know what each topic is, you should immediately begin drafting your essays to ensure there is plenty of time to edit and solidify them. Your essays are a chance to show the admission officers who you are beyond the numbers, so take advantage of it!
- Many applications are due in December and January, but since some are rolling admissions, submit your applications by the end of October! Many programs close early due to limitations in how many students they can accept.
- Once your applications are submitted, start working on scholarship applications. This will be an ongoing process until graduation. There are plenty of scholarships out there, you just have to put in the work to find them and complete the applications! (If you want help from one of our scholarship experts, visit our Scholarship Advising page.)
- You should also submit your FAFSA (financial aid) application by mid-March to secure the greatest amount of money that you qualify for. More money is given earlier on, just like there are more seats available at schools earlier on. (Noticing a pattern?)
This probably seems like an overwhelming and scary process, but it is doable! I promise it is not bad if you stay organized and resist the temptation to procrastinate. Also, remember you are not alone in this. Ask your parents, teachers, and older relatives for help. This is just the beginning of your career, so no matter where you end up, work hard to do well and success will follow!
If you would like for someone to guide you in this process, any of the college counselors at The Brain Domain, including me, would be happy to help! We have helped numerous students attain their SAT/ACT score goals and gain admission to their dream schools. Want to be our next success story? Visit our College Counseling page or request an initial consultation.