As you look towards next year, you can practically see the future -- heading off to school, attending the college of your dreams, and graduating into an awesome life.
But where do you start your quest to get into that awesome college? And how do you do it? Should you focus on test scores, sharpen your writing, volunteer for community service, join some clubs, or what?
In reality, the answer to that is "yes" -- you need all of those things at one point or another, but don't get overwhelmed. Take things one step at a time and you'll be on your way to college sooner than you think.
Know you application deadlines
The college search and application process takes a while -- usually longer than you think. You face a lot of steps, too: Researching schools, taking the SATs or ACTs, figuring out financial aid, and, finally applying.
To track of all the steps you’ll need to go through to find, apply to, and pay for the perfect college, try keeping everything simple.
Start a college search notebook or, if you're more of a digital student, create a basic spreadsheet. Set up a calendar of things to do as well.
Start with the deadlines for your federal financial aid paperwork (known as the FAFSA), then add the admissions deadlines for the schools that interest you the most, along with the deadlines for the ACT and SAT tests.
(To make things even easier, you can also download our free timeline for the college search process. There's a link for it at the end of the article.)
Improve your SAT score
It goes without saying that one of the best ways to improve your ability to get into college is to focus on getting your grades up and improving your SAT score. This is where most of your focus should go.
The SAT has four sections: math, reading, writing, and the essay. Here are the best links around for improving your performance on each section:
- How to Improve SAT Math Scores: 9 Strategies
- How to Improve Your SAT Reading Score: 8 Strategies
- How to Improve Your SAT Writing Score: 8 Key Strategies
- SAT Essay Tips: 15 Ways to Improve Your Score
Skip paying college application fees
Generally, the more colleges you apply to, the better. But every college application has a fee that could be anywhere between $25 to $100 or more. Those add up fast—and some high school students and their parents simply can’t afford it.
Luckily, colleges know this, so they created ways to get your college application fees waived.
For example, you may qualify for a fee waiver through the Common App, an online application system used by schools around the country. Your family has to show financial need to qualify.
Check with your guidance counselor for other ways as well. They work with all kinds of schools, so they know which ones offer reduced-cost or free application opportunities.
These two give you a start, but you can get even more tips in this appropriately-named article on our blog: How to Get Your College Application Fees Waived
Create a strong college application
So you’re getting ready to apply and want to knock it out of the park? It's all about showing who you are and what you bring to a school.
Start by finding ways to set yourself apart from everybody else. Instead of focusing on just one area, create an application that reflects the different facets of your world. Show the diversity of your experience.
Your involvement in extracurricular activities like clubs, sports, and organizations tells the Admissions team that you're well-rounded. Bonus points if you held leadership positions that gave you extra responsibility.
This approach also helps you put a better frame around your less-than-awesome experiences. Let's take your grades, for example. Strong grades indicate a high performing student, but a trend that shows how you improved your grades over time means a lot to the admissions team as well.
Write a killer application essay
Your college may not ask you to write a personal essay (for examle, we don't require one), but if a school does want one, then your essay response could become a tiebreaker if you’re up against an equally-matched candidate.
Creating a strong application essay is easier than you think. If you focus on the basics, like answering the question asked, using specific examples, and showing some of your personality, your essay might carry you through.
Organize yourself with our free guide
Getting into the school of your dreams takes time and effort, but it starts with knowing what you need to do and when. To help you with that, we created the Ultimate College Decision Timeline. Click below to download your copy today!