Five Ways to Get into Your Top Choice Colleges

Everyone wants to get into a top-choice college but simply wishing for it won’t make it happen. Everything about college admission is strategic, and each individual strategy combines into a comprehensive plan of action that begins as early as ninth grade. However, it is never too late to begin. Whether you are in 9th grade, 10th grade, or 11th grade, there are several things that will increase your chances of getting into one or more of your top choice colleges. Here are the top five.

1) Begin by creating an appropriate college list. By this, I do not mean that you should only apply to slightly competitive colleges. On the contrary, I believe you should have more reaches than targets and more targets than safeties. It is how you choose the colleges that makes your list appropriate. For every college in America, there are up to 100 factors you should consider before applying. Choosing colleges is not just about the ranking. It is also about the community, the experience, the available activities, the location, and the size. It is about finding the right match for your major, your passion, your interest, and even your likely career path. It is about access to labs, internships, research opportunities, and professors. There are also many social issues to consider including religion, gender identity, international emphasis, political emphasis, culture, living arrangements, food, personal safety, and having the opportunity to satisfy your interests and curiosity for important social and societal issues. If you have chosen your list correctly, then your top choices will be colleges that fit your overall profile. Colleges are far more likely to accept you if they feel that you are a good fit for their campus, their culture, and their academic opportunities.

2) Think about what thrills you and pursue it to the nth degree. It is likely that your strength and passion will combine to enlighten your choice of anticipated college majors or programs. Presenting the strongest possible case for admission based on your choice of major or program will enhance your chance of getting into your top choice college. Furthermore, your choice of colleges should reflect these strengths and passions. Colleges will generally select you based on two factors: your likelihood of success and the likelihood that you will contribute significantly to the college environment.

3) Earn stellar recommendations. Excellent recommendations are earned, rather than given, and a recommendation that is less than glowing can actually hurt your chances of admission to a top-choice college. Most students ask for recommendations from their 11th grade teachers, typically one on the STEM side and one on the humanities side, though this is not usually required. Early on, identify two teachers that you feel could give you excellent recommendations, and then nurture the recommendations throughout the year. You can do this by being a leader in a class, by taking an interest in the subject, by getting work in on time or early, by asking appropriate questions inside and outside of class, and by meeting with your teacher beyond class time to discuss certain topics. During these meetings, if it is possible, you should discuss your interests, accomplishments, and activities. The more a teacher gets to know you, the better recommendations they can write.

4) Enter contests or competitions that you feel you can win. These could be math contests, science Olympiads, writing or arts contests, or musical competitions. There are many of these out there, some more valuable than others. Do your research and try to earn academic honors they can then be placed into the appropriate section on the common application.

5) Write powerful and appropriate essays. The common application essay is a personal narrative that is designed to reveal some personal characteristic(s). It should not be a restatement of your activities list. College supplemental essays require research. You should not take a cookie-cutter approach to these essays. Rather, they should be based on significant research and understanding of each college’s culture and strategic goals. In all cases, your intention is to match your strengths to each college’s list of desired candidate attributes.

Of course, creating a strategic plan for admission goes far beyond anything that can be contained in a few pages of text. However, these five strategies are surefire methods that will make a positive difference to your admission campaign and help improve your chances of getting into your top choice colleges.