For many high school seniors the college admissions process is one plagued by doubt and second guessing.  While there are certain questions that frequently arise in relation to how admissions decisions are made, there are some things that seniors need to keep in mind:

  • Get to know your high school’s profile and familiarize yourself with what colleges will see when they look at your school.  This profile is used by Admissions Officers to determine the rigor of your high school curriculum.  The profile contains the high school’s demographics, rank policy, semester or block system, grading evaluation method, grades weighted or not and standardized test score averages.
  • Recognize that everything you do can end up in admissions files.  Since you will more than likely not be given access to these admissions files, make sure that you always put your best foot forward.  Lately, social media activity has proven to a particularly problematic area for many high school students.  Do not let yourself fall into this cycle of on-line embarrassment.  Also, be sure to keep meticulous records of all communications with colleges.  Here are some examples of information that Admissions Officers may keep in your file:

email and phone communications

Social Media profiles

links to any blogs or personal website information

notes from any interviews

Your best course of action is to be pro-active when it comes to your controlling your image.  One way to do this is by regularly performing Google searches on yourself to see if anything problematic pops up.  Another thing students must do is set up privacy settings on social sites to control who gets access to the.

  • Early Decision can increase your chance of acceptance.  The simple truth is that students are competing against a smaller pool of candidates when they pursue the Early Decision route.  For this reason, your odds of being successful rise exponentially.  Colleges also like the assurance they get from students that they have to accept any admissions invitation, so there is no question of student loyalty.  While this increase in admission chances may seem appealing to students it does not come without a cost.  You should only pursue Early Decision if you are certain that you want to attend a school and financial aid is not a main concern.
  • Make sure that your Common Application is anything but common.  It is no longer enough for students to expect their grades, extracurricular activities and test scores to successfully carry them through the admissions process.  Now more than ever, you have to market yourself to colleges in creative and thought provoking ways that separate you from the masses of applicants who have similar grades and test scores.  By submitting relevant supplemental material and taking full advantage of any opportunity to provide helpful materials, such as resumes, essays, or recommendation letters that paint a unique personal portrait, you can increase you odds of standing out from other applicants.
  • Take every opportunity to distinguish yourself. Anything students do to bring positive attention to their candidacy can increase their chances for success.  Some factors that could possibly tip the scales in your favor are if you are a legacy applicant, recruited athlete, large financial contributor or an Underrepresented and First Generation student.
  •  Attending a private high school may not have preference over public schools. 
    Colleges, for the most part, are looking to build diversified freshmen classes ethnically, geographically, academically and financially. Public high schools offer that kind of range. Some private high schools are much more competitive academically and students have a harder time excelling.
  • High SAT and ACT scores are not enough on their own to ensure admission.  More than ever before, colleges are looking for well-rounded students who can help those colleges achieve a diversified student population.  While you should strive to maximize your test scores, you cannot count on those high standardized test scores to make up for other deficiencies in your application.  Colleges are eager to find students who make the most of their high school experience both in and out of the classroom.  Engaging in a rigorous academic curriculum is a must; however, Admissions Officials are also looking at how students use their free time in order to make judgments about how well those kids will fit into the prospective college’s student body.  Remember that Admissions Officials see hundreds if not thousands of applications each, so they can easily distinguish between resume stuffing activities and genuine community involvement.  It is better to take an active role in a few extracurricular activities at your school and in your community than it is to merely stack your resume with numerous clubs, organizations and activities in hopes of seeming more involved.
  • Many colleges give special consideration to First Generation Students and students who come from economically challenged situations.  First Generation students (when neither parent has graduated from a college in the USA) and economically disadvantaged students often get special consideration by Admissions Officials, as colleges must report how many First Generation and low-income students they will enroll.  For this reason, be sure to emphasis such status if it applies to you.
  • Maintain open and effective lines of communication with schools.  Students should take any opportunity they can to make new contacts with officials from the colleges in which they are interested.  Personal contacts can go a long way towards separating you from the nameless faces that make up the admissions pool.  While interviews are normally not required, many schools do engage in informal interviews at the student’s request.  Choosing to interview can give you yet another chance to make a positive impression.  It also gives schools a way to gage student enthusiasm.

Colleges are still businesses.  Remember that despite common misconceptions, colleges are not benevolent institutions eager to reward you for all of your hard work.  At the end of the day, colleges make admissions decisions that are in the best interest of the school.  That being said, these same colleges will market themselves to everyone, so be sure not to confuse the initial interest shown by many schools that send you mailers and catalogues with some kind of unstated prediction of admissions success.  Colleges are eager to have as many students as possible apply to their institutions because it helps them lower their admissions rates thereby making the school appear more exclusive.  Do the necessary research to determine if you are indeed a good fit academically, socially and economically for the respective college.