As I start working with a lot of juniors this time of year, we get to talking about the different parts of the application, how to approach them, when they are due and why they matter. Below is the watered down version of what we talk about:
1. Student’s Application– Applications need to be filled out accurately, completely and on time. Nothing else matters if your application doesn’t accomplish these three things.
2. Academic Record – This includes grades and courses. The difficulty of the curriculum you have been pursuing can significantly affect how your application will be evaluated.
3. SAT and ACT Scores – All colleges will accept both, though some won’t require either. As juniors, taking a practice test for both the SAT and the ACT is a great way to figure out which one is better suited for you. There are differences between the two tests and you may find that one or the other is a better fit. Once you’ve made a decision on which one you want to take, be prepared to take it twice.
4. Personal Statement and Requested Essays – Between the personal statement, the activity essay and required supplemental essays, you need to produce some of your best writing. Speaking from experience, the majority of students produce poorly thought-out and sloppy essays. The essays are your opportunity to tell your story and show admissions counselors just how well you can write.
5. Recommendations – Colleges will typically require recommendations from the school counselor and at least one teacher. Depending on the school, a third recommendation may be welcome, but you should avoid a barrage of recommendations. The counselor recommendation should highlight significant facts about you, explain any issues of significance related to your transcript and, when necessary, introduce extenuating circumstances that might enable an admissions counselor to view your application with greater insight.
6. Extracurricular Activities – Colleges are increasingly interested in students who demonstrate a passion for one or a few interests and activities rather than applicants who have tried their hand at everything available. A very real and compelling case can be made for a student who has branded themselves through their VIPS.
7. Interview – While not necessarily required at most colleges, the interview (like the personal statement) is your opportunity to connect with admissions counselors and show who you are beyond grades and test scores. I always recommend that students interview where they can even if the admissions office says it will not factor into their decision.