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Top Five Things to Know Before Applying to College

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College admissions have gotten more and more difficult over the past ten years, especially for those applying to competitive universities out-of-state. In 2007, the out-of-state acceptance rate at UCLA was 26%; this year, the acceptance rate was a mere 9% for the same out-of-state students. This trend, however, is not isolated to the California Public System: it spans across the country, to almost every competitive college in the country. The question is why? More people than ever are applying to college, private and public high schools alike promote “grade inflation,” or the process of giving GPA boosts for “harder” classes, and the value of standardized testing in the admissions process is near zero. What does this mean for you as a student applying to a competitive college or university? It means you must go further than ever to differentiate yourself from the thousands of other applicants. There are dozens of ways to do this, but these are, in my opinion, the easiest and most effective.

  1. Take the SAT or ACT. So many people post-COVID have opted to not take these standardized tests, as it is easier and requires less time. With that being said, prestigious colleges like Dartmouth, Brown, and Georgetown require standardized test scores for admission in 2025, so it’s a good idea to take either the SAT or ACT. At the very least, a competitive score can make your application pop out from the others, showing effort and dedication. 
  2. Play a sport. Athletics is a great way to show that you work well with others and are capable of dedicating large amounts of time and effort into something that you hopefully enjoy. Additionally, accolades related to sports look great on a college application, as they show success in something you are passionate about. There are many different types of sports for all different levels of athletes including uncommon sports like bowling, fencing, skiing, golf, and more! 
  3. Challenge yourself with APs if possible. Colleges are looking for driven students that are capable of excelling in a college setting with college coursework. There is no better way to prove that you are ready than succeeding in a college-level course. Pick a course you are both interested in and can excel in. Additionally, choosing to take the AP tests at the end of the year is great practice for finals in college and can be a place to hone in your studying methods for college. Many colleges will also accept a score of three or higher for college credit, saving you and your parents money!
  4. Avoid an excessive variety of extracurriculars. If you are looking to study biology on a pre-med track in college, it makes no sense for you to be the president of Model UN, a treasurer of FBLA, and a member of the student book club. If all of these clubs are a passion of yours, go ahead! But, do not join every club to try to impress colleges. In reality, a college is much more likely to appreciate a student who has clear goals and passions who pursues them in high school over a student that looks to have an insane resume full of meaningless activities. 
  5. Learn how to use the tools available to you. The Common Application is a great way to easily apply to up to twenty (yes 20) schools. Wayne Schools provides you as a student with a Naviance account in which you can view school financials, acceptance rates, programs, and more on one site. College Vine is a similar site that allows you to make a list of schools you are interested in and compare them. There is an article in the New York Times that helps you to create your own ideal college entitled: “Build Your Own College.” On college websites, they will often have virtual tours, videos of their campus, or sign-ups for tours in person, which can be a great way to get a feel for the school and its environment. Talk to your teachers, and guidance counselor, and use online tools to make any essay or writing you may be required to do for a school you apply to individual to the school and personal. 

At the end of the day, if you can make yourself seem different and interesting to a college admissions counselor, you are more than likely to be accepted. Work hard to do so, and you will have success. 

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