As an aspiring collegiette, getting admitted into the college of your dreams is probably one of the highest priorities (if not the highest) in your life right now. To ensure your best chances at getting into your dream school, you should start early to make your application really stand out.
We’ve reached out to experts and students on college campuses that experienced and conquered the stressful college app season to give you eight easy tips to get you thinking about your dream college. In junior year you don’t have to start applying yet, but you definitely need to be preparing your academic and extracurricular portfolio.
1. Learn about the college
Figure out why your dream school is your dream school. Even if you think you already know, write it down and validate it with your words. Is it because it’s got an amazing program that’s exactly what you want to do? Or maybe you’re obsessed with the football team? If you understand why you want to go there, you can pinpoint whether it’s really the school for you. Don’t focus on just your dream college, though –– broaden your interests so you have a wide variety of schools to choose from. That way, you can understand whether your dream school is really unique for you or not.
Judi Robinovitz, certified educational planner and founder of Score At The Top Learning Centers & Schools, encourages pre-collegiettes to start thinking early. “Whatever her dream college is, whether it’s Ivy League or highly selective or moderately competitive, she will need to have already started her academic path and be willing to challenge herself at the appropriate level for that college,” Robinovitz says. “If, at junior year, she says she wants to go to Dartmouth, or Duke, or Georgetown, or Vanderbilt, and hasn’t already laid the foundation academically and extracurricularly, then she needs to dream elsewhere. Junior year is too late. Ninth and tenth grade matter significantly.”
If you’ve only just now decided to try for an Ivy League school as a junior and haven’t been pursuing the rigorous coursework required, it might be wise to look at other options. If you’ve been aiming for your dream college throughout your high school career, you have a much better shot at acceptance. Keep that in mind as you learn about your college.
2. Visit the campus
The best way to experience the atmosphere of a campus is to go there. If it’s far, bug your parents for a summer trip, and if it’s close, visit often to get a feel of what it’s really like. College visits give you a glimpse of both academic and student life, and you don’t want to miss the opportunity to see if your dream college is for you.
Robinovitz notes that colleges take visits into consideration during the admissions process. “You really need to visit to show demonstrated interest,” she says. “Many colleges say how visits play a positive role in admissions.”
Perry, a sophomore at the University of Florida, agrees. “Visiting the campus is definitely a good way to show desire to go to that college, and later in interviews, you can cite your experience when they ask why you want to go there,” Perry says. See? It’s a win-win.
3. Connect with current students
It’s hard to know what living on a college campus is like if you’ve never done it before. Contact people who attend your dream school and ask them some questions. If you don’t know anyone who attends, ask around your family and friends if they know anyone you can get in touch with. Even lurking around on Facebook can get you results ––message a friend of a friend of a friend who goes to your college and see if they’ll respond. Most people won’t mind if you express that you genuinely want their advice.
If still no luck, search around on your college’s home page and you’re sure to find some email addresses to contact. Most students would be more than happy to give you advice.
4. Find out the school’s specific admissions requirements
As you’re liking the college more, it’s time to start thinking about applying. While as a junior, you don’t have to start writing your applications just yet, it’s important to understand what GPA and standardized test scores will increase your chances of admission to your dream school. Look online and you can find the score range that makes up the majority of the students your school admits. Here’s a helpful site with SAT score ranges for 360 different colleges.
Start studying for the SAT and ACT and continue to do well in your classes, so you can be comfortably in the score range for your school.
5. Build your resume
Apart from academics, extracurricular activities and work experiences can really beef up your resume ––especially if you’re a little shy of the score range that your school prefers. While you don’t have to join every club at your high school, choose a few extracurricular activities that you can shine in and definitely pick up some leadership positions along the way.
Robinovitz emphasizes that pre-collegiettes really need to hone in on a few extracurricular activities. “She needs to be seeking leadership roles in one or two extracurricular activities, and she needs to be consistent with her commitment in those activities ––not be all over the place and suddenly join sixteen clubs,” Robinovitz says. “She needs to be focused on just a few extracurriculars where she feels she can have an impact on either the organization or the people affected by the organization. She also needs to be able to take initiative so that she can show that she is a collaborator.”
Look for work or internship experiences that you can snag as well. If you’re not sure where to start, ask your teachers.
6. Look for high school programs that your dream school offers
Many colleges offer programs for high school students that allow them to obtain college credit by taking a few classes on their campus, whether over the school year or the summer. It’s a great opportunity to get a feel of what studying on your dream school’s campus is like. If you’re interested, look online to see if your dream college offers a program like that. However, these programs can often be costly, and it’s up to you to decide if it’s really worth it.
Robinovitz notes that it can be beneficial, but not for the reason most people think. “Going to Duke for the summer is not going to help you get into Duke, and going to Stanford’s pre-college program is not going to help you get into Stanford,” she says. “What I will say is that students need to have very productive summers, where they can demonstrate learning from that experience. It’s the idea of keeping your brain engaged, perhaps by checking out a potential major. It doesn’t help you get into either of those universities, but definitely helps you decide that you want or don’t want to major in something. It improves your chances at college admission, but not necessarily at that particular college.”
Don’t expect to have a better chance at admission to your dream school because you paid thousands of dollars to attend their summer program. However, it will beef up your resume in terms of productivity over the summer. Choose whatever you think will help your application the most.
7. Consider early decision
It’s a huge decision to completely commit to one school. However, if it’s really the school of your dreams, then follow it, girl! In case you didn’t know, early decision is different from regular decision in two ways: you need to apply earlier, and if you get in, you are required to attend the college.
The applicant pool is significantly smaller and the college knows that only the most dedicated of students are applying, so you definitely have a higher chance of admission when going for early decision. It’s a difficult choice, so weigh all your options before jumping the gun.
Robinovitz agrees that it provides a huge advantage to students committed to the school. “If I looked at the statistics this year from early decision at the highly selective schools, many of them admitted close to or more than half of their class already from early action and early decision,” she says. “If you don’t apply early, you definitely lessen your chances.” Think it through and decide what’s right for you.
8. But remember: It’s okay if you don’t get in
Just a friendly warning ––don’t go overboard with all this “dream college” stuff. If you don’t get in, no sweat. No matter where you go to college, you can still get a great education and have tons of opportunities to stand out. In fact, attending a less competitive school can even make you stand out more in your classes in the long run. Big fish in a little pond, right?
Iesha, a sophomore at the University of Florida, agrees. “I had the University of Florida as my dream school, but I didn’t think I’d get in,” Iesha says. “In the end, your college fate is in your own hands and it’s important not to measure your self-worth by which colleges accept you or not. If you worked hard, you are already exceptional. Make the most of wherever you go because in the end it’s you who will contribute to your future and college can only facilitate that success.” Great advice! Don’t let yourself get down over what a college thinks of you.
Keep your head high and do your best, future collegiette – anywhere you go you can find fulfilling college experiences. Best of luck!