Pick realistic classes. Colleges would rather see that a student is trying in one or two harder classes than barely staying afloat in multiple hard classes. Think about what interests you and what you may want to do as a career, and plan accordingly. Students should also look to take a challenging, well-rounded high school course schedule. This does not mean that all students should take Honors, Advanced Placement (AP), or International Baccalaureate (IB) courses if they are not completely ready for the material and the work load.
Students who are looking to get involved should do so early during their high school career. This leads to not only the opportunity for leadership positions later on, but multiple years of involvement shows dedication and a long-range work ethic. Colleges (and employers) may look at what kind of extra-curricular and community service activities students have been involved in—it tells them a lot about who the student is and how well they’ll fit in.
A student should determine their strengths and weaknesses and plan accordingly. Their parents might both be MIT grads urging them to carry on the family tradition, but that C they got in Pre-Calculus isn’t helping their chances. And just because their parents liked that atmosphere does not mean they will feel the same. Students should find the college that fits them best. Look at the programs and try to match them up with your own interests. Take a good hard look at who you are, what you are good at, and what you want.
If students have a particular college in mind and know that they want to apply there, they should begin planning classes early. Some schools, especially those that are out of state, may have different admissions requirements than those that are close to home. Additionally, certain programs may have different admissions policies than the school itself, such as a higher grade point average, additional classes in math or science, or a higher score on standardized tests.
Look outside of what everyone else is doing. You may be set on going to an in-state school but there’s no harm in finding other options. If you have a particular interest, look into which colleges specialize in it. For creatively types students, Columbia College in Chicago is a little-known institute that provides an intensive course of study for artists. Though it may not be well known, its list of famous alumni is already longer than some state schools. Look for colleges that may fly under the radar. Often they offer a better education for a lower tuition.
According to the ACT’s website, the average high school student has taken the ACT twice during their high school career, once during their junior year and once during their senior year. Every high school student has the opportunity to take the ACT, the most widely-accepted college admissions exam, up to twelve times during his or her high school year. So, stay calm and relax. There are classes to prepare you and improve your scores such as GetSmarter Prep.
Getting accepted into the right college isn’t the only factor determining where a student can go. While they may get in to their dream school, private schools such as Harvard University and Yale can cost upwards of $50,000 a year. For those looking towards further education after college, public schools provide a cheaper alternative, allowing them to save money that would otherwise be spent on a more selective school. Scholarships for Ivy leagues and other private schools often do not provide enough, causing the student to choose between taking on massive debt and turning down the school of their dreams. For those needing larger scholarships, some colleges offer full tuition waivers to those who have received awards based on standardized tests such as National Merit and Presidential Scholars programs.
It is never too early to start visiting. Not only do colleges keep records of who has made the extra effort to visit, but it also helps students realize what they are looking for in a college. Looking at going to school in the South? Visit in one of the warmer months to see if you can stand the heat. Do the pictures on the school’s websites show a beautiful campus? Visit to make sure they aren’t photoshopped. Some colleges could put up pictures featuring the only two nice spots on campus, while in reality much of the school may look run down and dingy. Visiting allows the student to get a feel for the community and atmosphere, as well as the look of the campus, all of which are extremely crucial to the decision process.
This isn’t a choice to make the day before applications are due. Give yourself time. Think carefully over why you are choosing a college and what draws you to it. Try to narrow down your options too. Just because you got a letter in the mail does not mean its the right choice for you. Apply to four or five schools you would love to attend. After seeing where you’re accepted, the decision is up to you. College is what you make it but it sure helps to know you’ve made the right choice for the next four years of your life. Make sure you think it over carefully.