Top 10 Ways to Shine in College Applications

Are you applying to college? You’ve got company: millions of high school students want to get into great schools, so it’s important to stand out from the crowd. Thankfully, there are some simple ways to make sure that your college applications are in great shape.

1. Get Recommendations While not every college will require them, a great way to distinguish yourself is to include letters of recommendation from professors and staff at your high school. If you have one or two authority figures who know you well and can speak to your strengths, you may want to consider asking for a letter of recommendation.

2. Choose Your Extracurricular Activities Colleges like to see that potential students are engaged in their schools and communities. Most college applications leave space for activities like community service, team participation, and other clubs and groups. Think about the image that you want to create for yourself: the student athlete, the caring worker, the mentor for younger students. Then write about the activities you’ve been involved in that can best describe your activism in those areas.

3. Get your Grades in Good Shape An integral part of your college application will be your high school transcript. If you’re unsatisfied with your performance in some academic areas, now is the time to do your best to bring up your grades. Keep in mind that most colleges pay more attention to steady improvement than to a sharp spike during senior year, so don’t worry if you don’t have a perfect GPA: concentrate on getting better in all your academic areas.

4. Write Your College Essay! Colleges want to get to know the person behind the grades. Creating a stellar college essay is the best way to show a different side of yourself to admissions officers, so put in personal anecdotes and details to make your essay feel real. It can also help to have your English teacher look it over, or perhaps your college counselor. Take their comments into stride and write draft after draft until you find something you love. If you’re having difficulty writing an essay, consider looking into application support to get some expert assistance in crafting your essay.

5. Think about Your Supplements Many colleges will require you to write a few extra short essays in addition to your longer college essay. These essays will need to be specific to each school, as colleges use them to test whether a prospective student really is committed to attending their school over another one. That means that you can’t just use a generic response for each question; try to tweak your answers to reflect a characteristic that you appreciate about each school.

6. Your SAT/ACT Scores Nearly all colleges will require you to submit scores from either the ACT or the SAT. If you don’t feel great about the scores you achieved, you still have time to retake them before applications are due. In the meantime, get a test prep book and do practice problems, take a group study class, or look into private tutoring in order to get prepared for your next test.

7. Choose Your SAT II Scores In addition to requiring scores from the ACT or SAT, schools may also ask you to submit scores from two SAT II subject tests. As the subject tests can be taken in anything ranging from math and biology to French and Japanese, you should be able to find a handful of tests that can highlight your skills. It may be a good idea to sign up to take three subject tests, and then to send your highest two scores to colleges. Most importantly, choose the tests that showcase your strengths and academic interests.

8. Put It All Together Now that you’ve written your essays, taken your tests, gotten recommendations, and achieved the best grades you can, it’s time to actually create your application! Whether you’re filling out the Common Application used by most colleges or applying separately to your schools, make sure that you fill out your forms months or weeks ahead of their deadlines.

9. Proofread and Spellcheck Everything By the time you get your application ready for submission, the last thing you’ll want to do it read it again. However, it’s crucial that you look through EVERYTHING that you’ve written (you may want to recruit a friend to help, too) so that you don’t have unfortunate typos. You want your colleges to get a sense of you as a student, not to remember you as that kid who spelled incorrectly.

10. Submit and Forget After months of filling out forms and writing essays, you’ll finally submit all your applications. The most important thing to do now is to relax. Once you’ve sent in your forms, there’s nothing you can do other than wait for decisions to be released. Try to put college out of your mind, and do your best to enjoy your last semester of high school!