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Over 90% of Manual students will be college bound right after completing High School, but it can still be a stressful process to find the right school and know what to do to get in. There are some pieces of advice that admissions officers are continuously giving at information sessions across the nation to help prospective students. There are things you can do starting as early as Freshman year and right up to the application date to assure you a spot in the college or university of your choice.
Challenge yourself. Almost every college admissions officer agrees that they would rather see a student get a B in a more challenging class than an A in an easier one (though a Vanderbilt admissions representative once jokingly said that what they would most like to see is an A in the more challenging class.) Taking harder classes shows to universities that you are passionate about learning and are willing to work hard to understand more complex subjects. Taking advanced and AP courses, and doing well in them, proves that you are mature and college ready.
Try new things. Colleges want diversity in their students. This doesn’t just mean racial diversity or socio-economic diversity, though those are important factors for some schools as well. A student who’s only personality trait is seen on their straight A report card does nothing to add interest to class discussion. Admissions officers will be looking for students with varying viewpoints, and with interesting stories to share. To be able to share interesting things, students in high school must make it a priority to try new things outside of the classroom. These experiences will translate into more interesting essay topics, as well as a wider array of specialties on your resume.
Tell a story. When you go on your way to have your out of class experiences, think carefully about what activities you want to get involved in. Freshman year is a great time to experiment with all types of different clubs and programs. Find out what you like and what you don’t. After that, though, try to join activities which really display who you are as a person. Joining a million clubs which you aren’t necessarily interested in will create a cluttered image of you who you are, and colleges won’t know whether they will want you on their campus or not. While you should certainly try new things while in high school, your classes and extracurriculars should really convey a story of who you are and what you enjoy by the end of your high school career.
Don’t stress over testing. This is absolutely not to say that testing is not important, because it absolutely is. However, it seems that more and more colleges are interested in a more “wholistic” view of students. How hard they work in class, their personalities as seen through their essays, and their recommendations from teachers all factor in just as much as test scores. Some incredibly qualified, hard working students simply aren’t good at standardized tests, and many colleges recognize this fact. Some students with perfect test scores are not accepted into top tier universities, while others with less than perfect scores but more interesting extracurriculars and stories are.
Sell yourself. An admissions rep from Tufts University put it best when she said “The college essay is the time for you to say ‘me! me! me! If you’re the kind of person who annoys your friends by talking about yourself all the time, this is the perfect format for you.’” If you don’t tell colleges about the great things you’ve done, there is no way for them to know about it. Definitely don’t be shy about any of your accomplishments, as sometimes even the smallest achievement can be a tie-breaker between you and a similar student. Make sure you sell yourself by putting yourself in the best light possible.
Research your college! Many colleges will ask for supplements to the general application materials. A common essay question that they love to ask is “Why did you decide to apply to ________________ college?” This question can be deadly. Many students will write a generic essay that doesn’t really answer the question, and send it to multiple colleges with different names substituted in. Firstly, with this method you run the risk of making the same mistake as my father’s college roommate and sending the essays to the wrong colleges (awkward). Secondly, admissions officers can absolutely tell when you’ve done this, and it makes you a much less appealing candidate. For each college you visit and or apply to, make sure you are a little bit familiar with what the school has to offer. Writing about why you are interested in a particular major the school has to offer, or about a particular professor you’ve heard amazing things about, will make you much more likely to be accepted.
Admissions officers are there to advocate for passionate, intelligent, and hard-working students in order to include them in their colleges. Portraying those qualities in an application is the best thing a student can do to help themselves.