- Don’t worry, you’ve got this!
This is the time of year when many high school juniors start to turn their attention to college admissions. Regardless of when you feel ready to begin your college application journey, don’t worry—you’ve got this!
Just like any other project, put a plan in place and check-off steps along the way to assure that you cross the finish line feeling triumphant. While the detail in your college application may be unique to you, there are common elements that make up every admissions file. These include:
- A high school transcript
- One guidance recommendation
- Two teacher recommendations
- SAT or ACT Standardized test scores (often optional)
- CommonApp, Coalition App or school-specific application
Your high school transcript is the record of the classes you have taken and the grades you have earned in high school. Your high school will send this electronically to the universities you select on your target list. Continue to work hard to achieve the best grades possible for you.
College admissions representatives aren’t going to immediately rule you out if you show a failing grade on one test, but they are going to look at the overall story a transcript tells. Did you take classes that were appropriately challenging for you? If you struggled early in a class, did you improve your grades by the end of the academic year? Rest assured, college admissions officials are acutely aware that many high school students, and their grades, were impacted by the pandemic.
Every college application also includes a recommendation from your guidance counselor, which is also sent directly to the target schools on your list. If your guidance counselor does not know you well, now is the time to make a one-on-one appointment so your counselor can get to know you and your college aspirations better.
Many guidance counselors will offer you an opportunity to complete a questionnaire or profile, which they may use when drafting their recommendation about you. Therefore, it makes sense to thoughtfully complete this, and use personal examples or anecdotes to paint a picture of a characteristic or quality you want to highlight.
Each college application includes two teacher recommendations. Most high schools expect you to take the initiative and connect with the teachers of your choice and request these recommendations before the end of junior year. Be forewarned: some teachers receive many requests to write recommendations, and your high school may limit the number that any one teacher is required to write in a given year.
Select a teacher who knows you as a student. If your college academic interests or intended major is in engineering, math or science, make sure that one of your recommendations is from a high school teacher in an analytical subject.
Standardized tests provide the admissions office with a way to consider your aptitude relative to your peers nationwide. Plan ahead so you can take the SAT or the ACT on a day that does not add unnecessary stress to your busy schedule.
Many students find they improve their score the second time they take the test. This offers an opportunity to ‘super score,’ that is, use an Evidence-Based Reading and Writing score from one test, and a Math score from another test sitting, to maximize your score.
Standardized test-taking not your strength? No worries. More than 1,800 U.S. universities are now test-optional, and additional higher education institutions temporarily eliminated the standardized testing requirement during the pandemic. If you are not sure about the standardized testing requirements for a target college, simply check the specific school’s admissions website pages or the CommonApp for testing requirements.
The application itself, whether it is the CommonApp, the Coalition application or a college-specific application, typically includes sections that are ‘common,’ in that they are provided to all the schools you are applying to.
These include Profile and Family sections that largely require form-fill responses, an Education section where you list your current classes and five academic honors, a section for short descriptions for 10 extracurricular Activities, and finally a Writing section where you provide a 650-word personal statement or essay.
A second aspect of the application is specific to the individual schools you are applying to, and includes questions and supplemental essays tailored to each college, though some schools do not require any additional writing.
At Admit Fit, we suggest students create a free CommonApp account so they become familiar with the elements of the application early in the college admissions journey. Knowing the specifications deescalates anxiety and provides a guide to complete the project, from start to finish.
- College Visits: Tips Before You Go
Now that COVID-19 restrictions are easing, many colleges have resumed offering admissions visits, which typically include two elements: information sessions and campus tours. But before you go, here are a few tips for making the most out of your college visits.
If you are just getting started on the admissions process, consider visiting colleges close to home first to help you narrow the type of school you want to target. For example, if you live near a major metro area, you may be able to visit a large university with 20,000 or more students, and a small liberal arts college with 2,500 or fewer students. Which size is a fit for you?
In addition, you may be able to visit colleges within an easy drive that are city schools, embedded in the urban hubbub of a major city, or suburban campuses, in the outskirts of a metro area, or still other universities in a rural setting surrounded by nature. This can help you better understand whether a college in an urban, suburban, or rural environment is right for you.
Next, consider the reasons for visiting a college campus: to confirm that a school is a fit for you, and to confirm that you are a fit for the school. Before you go, make sure you have registered with the admissions office for the information session and tour. These events can be “sold out”. While it is ideal to visit during the school year when classes are in session, summer visits are still valuable and worth taking advantage of.
Try to limit the number of schools you visit to two per day. Transit between college campuses, even those that are close together, takes time and you don’t want to feel rushed. If you are visiting several schools in succession on a road trip, make sure to take notes, even if these are informal memos on your phone. Colleges can easily blur together in your mind weeks or months later when you are deep in the application process. Many schools may ask you to complete a supplemental essay such as, “Why do you want to attend SCHOOL NAME?” if you have taken personal notes, you will have ready content at hand.
So, what should you look for? First, can you imagine yourself on this campus? While the typical college tour will include a walk through the main quad of the campus, pass by academic buildings, the arts and athletic centers, as well as a dorm, don’t be afraid to supplement your tour with your own walkabout.
If you have a specific academic interest, try to visit the buildings where the classes for that major are held. Do the students you see seem like ‘your people’? Have lunch or a snack in a dining hall to confirm that a college is a culinary fit with your tastes, and observe students in their ‘natural setting,’ relaxing and sharing a meal.
Check out campus bulletin boards or even pick up the college’s newspaper to glean a bit more detail on what students care deeply about, as well as what kind of extracurricular activities are available.
To address the question of whether you are a fit for the college, note that larger universities and those that receive a large number of applications typically do not heavily weight or even consider ‘demonstrated interest’ when evaluating a candidate for admission. When in doubt, you can always email the college admission office and ask (which in itself is a way of demonstrating interest).
Furthermore, there are many ways to show interest beyond visiting a college in-person. You can attend a zoom information session, or contact the college’s admissions representative assigned to your high school to discuss your interest. And while your inbox may be inundated with spam from a myriad of universities, it is worth opening the emails from the colleges that particularly appeal to you, since most schools track these interactions.
Last and maybe most importantly, relax and enjoy yourself. To memorialize the trip, take silly selfies on each campus, or purchase a t-shirt, a key chain, or other memento from the student bookstore at each college you visit.
And try to be patient with your mom or dad, who may seem especially over-earnest. For parents, taking their teenager on college visits is a bit like watching their fledgling baby bird fly for the first time. Soon enough, you will be leaving their nest.