10 Secrets That Will Land You A Spot At Your Dream College

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College application season is just around the corner! While looking forward to the next stage of your life is so exciting, it can also feel like a struggle trying to balance it all. Between visiting campuses, narrowing down which schools you’re applying to, crafting a winning personal statement and figuring out financial aid, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed all before you’ve even sent in your first app.

That’s why we recently teamed up with McDonald’s to bring you College Confessionals, an educational workshop packed with tips and tricks for getting into your dream school and making the admissions process a little less nerve-wracking. Thanks to incredible advice from speakers like Her Campus Co-Founder, Stephanie Kaplan Lewis, Senior Assistant Director of Admissions at Boston University, Geena Tortorella, and a smart panel of successful collegiettes, we feel extra ready to triumph at all things college readiness. Want to get in on these sweet tips? Read below for 10 surefire ways to get into the school of your dreams!

1. Become an expert at the application process.

Did you know that most students on average submit 20 college applications? That’s a lot to keep track of! To earn a spot at your top choice school, you’ll need to be a master of organization when it comes to application timelines.

While some colleges share application portals like the Common App, many will have their own unique application portal, and each application will often have a different set of requirements. For instance, one school might simply require a personal statement and transcript, while another might require a personal statement, portfolio and a letter of recommendation.

Our best tip for success is to stay organized and efficient! Keep a running checklist of to-do list items and their date, and create a master calendar to keep track of deadlines. If you submit all your paperwork in a timely manner then you’ve conquered the most crucial step of applying for college.

2. Take above standard level courses during high school.  

Colleges want to see where you challenged yourself within what you were offered in high school, so don’t simply coast through the basic curriculum. If you have the chance to take AP classes, unique advanced courses or even a class at your local community college, that’s going to look super impressive to college admissions. Also, sometimes getting a B in an AP class looks better than getting an A in a basic course, because it shows you have initiative and want to grow yourself.

Colleges want to admit students who will go above and beyond academically, and you can prove you’re a perfect candidate by finding ways to test yourself throughout high school.

3. Think critically about what activities you choose to share on your application.

It’s a good idea to be strategic and plan your resume to be relevant for each college and major you’re applying for. Look holistically at everything you did during high school, and if you have enough material then be choosy about what activities and extracurriculars you share with the admissions teams.

For example, if you’re applying to major in theater, it may be wise to include woodshop club on your resume instead of that marketing conference, because that would show you could do well in stagecraft if the college admitted you to that major. Take the time to tailor your resume so it hits on the main points the college or major requires, and make sure it highlights the diversity of your interest and talent. Your dream school will immediately see how promising a student you are!

4. Take the SAT or ACT multiple times if necessary.

It doesn't look bad if you take the SAT or ACT multiple times. If anything, it shows your diligence and dedication to self-improvement! Since each test has a different structure, this is a great place for you to talk to admission representatives and figure out which test the college prefers to see and the minimum scores they require.

For the SAT, most institutions will let you keep the highest scores from each segment, while the ACT doesn't superscore. It’s different for every person, but we recommend taking the test until you receive a score you’re satisfied with. Whether it’s on your first try or your fifth, there’s no harm in repeating here!

5. Write an institution specific personal statement or cover letter.

When applying for college, it’s a bad idea to write just one general personal statement and send it to each school without any personalization. In your essay, specify why that school, and even further why that major at that school. Write a different essay for each college, and carefully convey your personality, goals and why you belong at that college above anywhere else.  

6. Make an impact on the community outside the classroom.

To land a spot at your dream school it’s important to demonstrate who you are as a person outside the classroom. Colleges want to see that you’re promising not just academically, but that you’ll be influential in the campus community too. Whenever possible during high school, throw yourself into activities surrounding community service and entrepreneurship that benefit your hometown and grow you as a person. Whether you’re volunteering at a women’s shelter or contributing at a local startup, how you use your free time will make a huge impact on the admissions team’s decision.

7. Display your work ethic through a part time job.

Your dream school wants to see if you can juggle multiple responsibilities, so it’s a benefit to have a part-time job during high school if you’re able. Think of it as a precursor to college where you’ll likely be working on campus or having a local internship. Testing out a part-time job early will teach you valuable skills for balancing homework and work at the college level later.

The employer of choice for many high school students is definitely McDonald’s! It’s the perfect place for first-time job experience, and will act as a springboard to a great career later in life. Starting here positions you for success at your dream school.

8. Be timely about financial aid.

The immediate sticker price of college can seem daunting, which is why many student pursue financial aid through federal loans, work study and scholarships. Most financial aid is dependent on the time you send it in, and you’ll miss out on money if you apply too late. If you’re timely about searching out financial aid, it brings you one step closer to your dream school since you’ll actually have the means to attend. In this case, too long is too long, so don’t be tardy here!

9. Avoid senioritis.

Grades still count your senior year, so avoid sinking into a seniorities slump, or your dream school will be sure notice. In fact, your senior year is actually the perfect time to take opportunities in stride and plan for your future, instead of checking mentally checking out. Find time to network and make new connections, whether it’s with people at prospective colleges, a career field you’re interested in or even with alumni from your high school.

Senior year is also a great time to get a jump on practical skills you’ll need during college, like managing a debit and credit card, cooking for yourself and generally learning how to adult. Prove to your dream school that even though it’s senior year, you’re still going strong!

10. Look at how the school will help you reach your dreams and goals after college.

Our last tip for getting into your dream school? Make sure it’s actually perfect for you. When applying for college it’s easy to get caught up in the competitive nature of schools instead of looking at which is actually best for you. Will the institution support your personal growth? Does it have all the clubs you’d like to be part of? Do you like the class offerings for your intended major? All of these are important questions to be asking to help you determine if that campus is really the place you want to end up.

The school you attend will shape your life dramatically after college too, so take into account if it will help you reach your dreams and goals post-undergrad. If the answer is yes, then you’ve found your new home!

Want more insider tips? McDonald’s hosts education workshops across the country! Check out their workshop schedule to see if they’re coming to a city near you! Good luck future collegiettes, we can’t wait to see where you end up!

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About The Author

Gina is the Associate Editor of Her Campus. She graduated from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in 2017, where she studied English and Theater. As an undergrad with Her Campus, Gina was a national contributing writer, first ever national viral editor, editorial intern, and editor-in-chief of her chapter at Cal Poly. In her spare time, Gina enjoys cuddling her friends and family, petting other peoples' dogs, and eating donuts. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @ginasescandon.