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Laurie Gardner     Laurie Gardner
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Setting the Record Straight
The Truth About Applying to Colleges

Setting the Record Straight - The Truth About Applying to Colleges

It's that time of year again. That special time when the media puts fear and doubt into the hearts of high school students and families everywhere by reporting the admission rates for our nation's top universities. After reviewing articles in U.S. News & World Report and The Princeton Review, this year's figures seem more alarming than ever!

Harvard and Yale reportedly rejected over 89% of applicants this year, while Princeton and Columbia denied 87%. MIT, Brown, and Dartmouth weren't far behind, slamming the door on at least 81% of applicants. On the West Coast, it wasn't much better. Stanford reportedly sent skinny envelopes to 87% of its applicants, while even top state schools, UCLA and Berkeley, said no way to 77% and 75% of applicants, respectively.

And while the data reported by these publications does seem pretty gruesome on paper, we here at YOU Magazine wanted to know if getting into a quality college really is as impossible as the media makes it seem. To find out, we contacted the Admission Departments for some of the top public and private schools in the nation. When responding "on the record", the advice we received was pretty much the same for each school: earn a high GPA while pursuing a challenging course load and do well on the SAT. "Off the record", however, we received some great advice which high school-aged students can use to give themselves an edge against the competition and avoid becoming just another scary statistic in future reports.

Here are a few basic tips to create an effective student profile that sets you apart from other applicants.

It's never too early to begin planning for college. In fact, top schools expect that you've already decided that you're attending college and are beginning to take your first steps towards becoming a "well-rounded" individual. This means that not only should you maintain a high GPA, you should also be developing non-academic interests as well. These would include sports, student government, clubs and activities, community service, etc. If you find that you're not drawn to any particular clubs or activities, start your own school-sponsored club for something that does interest you. This demonstrates initiative and leadership and will also make for a more compelling essay on your college applications. Other steps you should take include:

  • Get to know your school's guidance counselor. Ask whether he or she could suggest course options that might help your GPA, such as Honors classes or Advance Placement coursework.
  • Sign-up for and take the PSAT exam whenever it's offered.

Remember, you don't have to be the greatest student of all time to go to a top college. You do, however, need to be a competitor. Buckle down. Take challenging classes and do your best. Also, this is time when you should narrow down your extracurricular activities and focus on something you're passionate about. Colleges are looking for depth more than breadth and want to see if you can make and keep a commitment.

Start thinking about what you might major in and take classes in that field. Try to participate in activities that are related to that field. For example, if you want to become a writer, join the school paper; volunteer at a local paper; enter writing contests. These are great ways to develop and demonstrate the kind of focus and dedication the most selective schools are seeking. Here are some additional suggestions:

  • Take SAT prep classes and read study guides for the exam.
  • Start thinking about which schools you want to apply to and visit their websites.
  • Write to admissions offices and ask for information. Sign-up for their mailing lists.

Even though you've scored well on the SAT, and your high school days are quickly coming to a close, don't relax just yet. Continue to maintain your high level of achievement throughout the whole year. By now, your schedule might be a little hectic, but continue to focus on activities that are aimed towards your desired field. By far, the most consistent and compelling piece of advice YOU Magazine received from admission officers revolved around the importance of extracurricular activities and the roles they play in both a student's academic career and personal life. These activities are also going to play a key role in your college application essay.

According to the experts we spoke with, the more selective the college, the more value their admissions team places upon the student's essay. Admissions experts use the essay to create a more realistic profile of competitive students, something which is simply not revealed through GPAs and standardized test scores. The essay demonstrates a student's command of the English language, how concepts are organized and communicated, and the importance placed on the overall composition.

College courses of every major require a student to write clearly and effectively, and this first essay is considered by admissions experts as a significant indicator of a student's potential to succeed at the college level. It's also the one area in which the applicant gets to add a personal touch, to highlight a passion and purpose for attending the university in question. Use the essay as an opportunity to show your uniqueness, your creativity, and your determination. The admission experts suggest also using the essay as a forum for detailing the positive effects of a concentrated area of extracurriculars that has driven you in high school and will continue to drive your interest and zest for learning at the college level. Also, keep in mind these pointers:

  • Don't wait until the last minute to write your essay. Find out the topic and write several drafts in advance. Show them to your English teacher, guidance counselor, and parents, and ask for their tips on how to improve your work.
  • Research and follow all application deadlines. When mailing items, obtain proof of receipt certificates for each submission. Also, be sure to print out all online communications for your records.

When choosing which schools you're going to apply to, be sure to take a balanced approach. Select a range of schools, including your ideal colleges, practical colleges, and safe schools. This offers you the best chance of being admitted.

According to the College Board of New York, about nine out of ten students are accepted to their first or second choice college, so do not be frightened by the gloomy reports that say otherwise. These horrifying numbers could simply be the result of more overall applications rather than more total applicants, greater competition, or a greater number of rejections.

If, however, you are rejected from your top school or schools, it's not the end of the world. You still have several options available to you. First, you could always enroll in one of the colleges that did accept you and try to transfer into your dream college after a year or two of hard work. Contact the school and find out if transfers are allowed and then follow their rules and guidelines throughout the transfer process. In the meantime, you need to make the best of this time to demonstrate why your school of choice made a mistake by rejecting you in the first place.

Another option is to attend a community college and transfer in to your school of choice. This option will not only save you or your parents a lot of money, admission experts from some schools will actually recommend this route for some rejected students who they feel were very close to being accepted. Be sure to write to the schools that rejected you and find out the reason behind their decision. You just might discover that you will be accepted once you prove yourself at the college level. In fact, city colleges often have specific transfer programs established with 4-year universities in the area.

Either way, whether you transfer or not, you'll still earn a college degree which will benefit you the rest of your life!

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