College Preparation: How To Stand Out In A Crowd

College Preparation

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Your entire high school career is your college resume. For those four years, all of your achievements and shortcomings will contribute to the number of colleges you can possibly attend. For that reason, it is important to begin preparing for college as you begin your freshman year of high school.

There are five main points to securing admission to a good university.

All of these five areas are equally important and are allotted the most attention when you are applying for colleges. Not only is it important to have an excellent record for your base application, but for potential interviews as well. If you happen to end up weak in one of the areas, it becomes crucial to have extensive merit in the other four groups.

1. Maintaining High Grades

Your GPA (Grade Point Average) is a numeric representation of your academic performance throughout your high school career. Being such, poor performance in any year can greatly offset your chances of maintaining a specific mark. For that reason, it is important to always perform to the best of your abilities. If you hope to attend a good college, your GPA should be at least a 3.0 which roughly translates to a high B. While this is around the lower requirement for acceptance into Ivy League schools, that grade must also be accompanied by stellar performances – in other words, state or national recognition – in athletics or nationally-honored societies as well as upper-tier scores on college entrance examinations.

When considering your grades, remember to keep things in perspective. Know your limits and the possibilities for change based on how much time you have remaining in high school. For example, if by the start of your junior year, you have a steady C average, obtaining a B average by senior year might be impossible for you. With that in mind, start performing well early. That way, if you feel yourself beginning to slip, you will have already built yourself a strong foundation. Just like a C might not become a B within two years, a B is unlikely to become a C in two years unless your grades drop below a C.

Lastly, high grades can mean winning the distinguished honor of valedictorian or salutatorian. They are the students with the first and second highest GPAs in the graduating class. Having recognition as either of those two will go a long way for your acceptance into college. Stay up to date on your class rank and work hard to keep a good position. Where you stand amongst your peers is a standard bit of information used to judge applicants.

2. Extracurricular Activities 

Colleges will be equally impressed with your workload outside of your academic school life. Being a part of programs like the National Honor Society, Beta Club, or DECA will greatly add to your recognition. More importantly, you should strive to acquire leadership roles in such communities. For that, it is important that you begin assessing your extracurricular options starting freshman year. Many of these clubs require you to work your way up the ranks through your accomplishments, so expecting to be the president of your school’s Beta Club if you start your junior year is probably more trouble than it’s worth.

Outside of school-sponsored activities, colleges are impressed by how many independent responsibilities you can manage on top of your academics. An extensive work history is a sign of dedication and work ethic; good grades on top of a stable part time job demonstrates your ability to focus on multiple responsibilities at once without sacrificing the efficiency with which you handle those individual responsibilities. Though completely optional, this is an excellent area to make a good impression on colleges.

Many universities take pride in their athletic teams. If your athleticism is ranked on a state level, colleges with strong athletics programs will be more likely to award you full scholarships. Like non-physical extracurricular activities, athletics requires determination that must be fostered from as early a stage as possible. Without incredible natural talent, you can’t hope to be one of the best competitors simply by jumping into a sport you’re interested in. Practice as early as possible and build your reputation. Attempt to qualify for state competitions (much easier to accomplish in individual sports like track or swimming) and strive to place as often as possible. If you’re not able to reach a high standard during your first year, subsequent attempts will give you chances to grow in your ability.

3. Community Service

Something colleges harp upon is how much prospective students will be able to contribute to the community. A record of community service demonstrates your willingness to positively interact with the community. This includes volunteer work in homeless shelters, kitchens, nursing homes, and other places in occasional need of additional aid; also, donations to orphanages or similar institutions reveal your charitable character to the institutions you apply to. The more extensive your community service record (i.e. the more hours you devote to it), the more favorable your application becomes.

4. Scholarships and Grants

There is an abundance of scholarships and grants available for high school students. While the majority are only available to seniors, it’s never a bad idea to start looking early. Dozens of websites provide search engines for locating scholarships applicable to you. The list of scholarships may seem small at first, but it will grow as you progress through high school. You can find scholarships for nearly anything: being multilingual, taking AP courses, participating in certain clubs, maintaining high grades, providing community service, or attending certain camps. Their qualifiers for scholarships become more readily available the more involved you are in your academic and extracurricular life which is why it’s so important to have a healthy resume in the other four areas.

5. Entrance Examinations

Scoring well on entrance examinations is one of the most important aspects of a strong application. Most students are exposed to an evaluative version of the SAT meant to gauge educational progress and readiness for college in middle school and again as high school juniors. Outside of those two experiences with entrance exams, a dedicated student should take into account the availability of official test dates. You can only take SAT or ACT tests so many times before submitting your final score to colleges. It’s best to begin taking the tests in your junior year and using test prep books to prepare yourself as you aim for higher scores.

There are two main entrance exams: the SAT and the ACT. The SAT also provides subject tests which are basically subject-specific evaluations of your knowledge. They aren’t always necessary but can benefit your application. If you intend to major in a math-heavy area, scoring highly on mathematics subject tests will serve as your credentials for acceptance. Colleges may require that you take none, one, or both main tests, and there’s a chance that subject tests may be mandatory for application. This is extremely important to consider when deciding which colleges to apply to. Take care of your entrance examinations early so that you have readily available scores and, if necessary, work to improve them throughout your senior year.

Staying on Track

If you manage your time properly and make a reasonable effort to prepare yourself for college, the possibilities are endless. Be sure to maintain good performances in the five discussed areas, and attending college won’t be nearly as stressful as many high school seniors would admit to.