Not-so-complicated college admissions advice

Rocket

So, what if you haven’t won prestigious awards, earned a
perfect score on the SAT, or invented plutonium during your high school
years?  Don’t worry.  Impressing colleges isn’t as hard as you might
think it is.  Here are five college admissions tips, none of which require
that you invent a radioactive chemical element.

1.  Raise your hand.

Colleges don’t just want students who plow through courses
and get good grades; they want students who are engaged in class, who like to learn,
and who make contributions by participating.  In fact, that’s why colleges
ask for letters of recommendation from your teachers–to learn if you’ve
demonstrated these qualities.  So put your hand up, ask questions and
contribute to class discussions. 

2.  Commit yourself to a few activities you really
enjoy.

Colleges aren’t impressed by joiners who try to do as many
activities as possible.  Schools are more interested in the students who
pursue their passions, who really commit themselves to the few activities that
actually mean something to them.  So instead of trying to add more
involvements to your plate, ask yourself what you really like doing, then find
ways to pursue those interests. Athletics to art, clubs to computers, school
plays to after-school jobs, if you commit yourself to it, the colleges will
take notice (and you’ll have a lot more fun in high school).

3.  Be yourself.

Too many students today spend their high school years trying
to mold themselves into someone that colleges supposedly want.  But
colleges aren’t looking for students who all act and think alike.  In
fact, a big part of getting into college today means just being comfortable
with who you are.  So if you love math, celebrate your love for numbers
and become the math club’s fearless leader.  If you’re a die hard Yankees
fan, don’t be afraid to mention in your college essay that the worst day of
your life was when the Red Sox came back after being down 3 games against your
beloved Bronx Bombers. The best way to show colleges how you’ll fit in is to be
exactly who you already are, not to be someone you think they want you to be.

4.  Don’t let your parents call colleges on your
behalf.

When a parent repeatedly calls an admissions office to ask
questions, it’s natural for admissions officers to wonder why the student isn’t
mature enough to call on his own.  That’s why we recommend that any
communication with an admissions office come from the student, not the
parent.  This is the time for kids to start developing the ability to show
initiative and take care of themselves.  The one exception to this rule is
when it’s time to discuss financial aid, as the admissions offices don’t expect
kids to carry on discussions about family finances.

5. Be careful who you listen to about college admissions.

We’re consistently surprised by the amount of inaccurate
college information students get from friends at school (and parents get from
other parents at dinner parties).  The truth is that while many people
claim to know a lot about colleges admissions, very few actually do.  So
unless the person giving you advice is a professional (like us, a high school
counselor or a college admissions officer), check with your high school
counselor before following any free advice from your friends.  Seek out
good advice from people who really know what they are talking about.
You’ll be more relaxed and more successful knowing your advice came from those
in-the-know.