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In 2024 How to Get into Highly Competitive Colleges

There are many ways to gain admission into the college of your dreams. It helps to fully understand the college admission process so that you may take advantage of some less-traveled paths.

There are several things you should know about getting into your top-choice colleges. The first thing to know is that if your top-choice colleges are very highly ranked, then the odds are far higher that you will be rejected than accepted. At the most competitive level, colleges look for a lot more than GPA and test scores, although these two factors are definitely important. You must consider that anyone applying to a highly ranked college has those credentials already. Therefore, to stand out from the applicant pool, you must have lots of other factors that catch the eye of admissions officials. Alternatively, you could present at least one extraordinary accomplishment.

The second thing to know is that ED (Early Decision) and ED-II (Early Decision Round II) can give you a significant advantage among the applicant pool. Colleges prefer a “sure thing,” so they are more likely to choose a candidate who is 100% committed to attending that college if accepted. If you are unfamiliar with ED-II, just know that it is exactly like ED, except that your ED-II application (you are only allowed one) is due on the same day as regular decision applications. In exchange for gaining a higher chance of admission, you are required to attend your ED-II school if you are accepted. Alternatively, EA, or Early Admission, gives you no statistical advantage in being accepted, but does provide you with the decision far earlier than RD (Regular Decision). EA, ED applicants typically hear from colleges within the first two weeks of December, whereas ED-II and RD applicants must wait until March or early April to hear their colleges’ decisions.

Also, some ED, EA, REA, and RD applicants may be deferred (ED, EA, REA) or placed on a waitlist (RD). Neither of these is a death sentence. Being deferred means you go from an early round into the regular round of candidates. Yes, strategically it means you were not among the college’s top choices, but it also means that you were strong enough to still be considered for admission. Being placed on a waitlist means that you still have a chance to get in to that college. However, those who show the most interest are typically the ones selected off the waitlist. Further, those who have additional factors to report are also more likely to be accepted off of the waitlist. For example, perhaps you have achieved higher grades than in previous grading periods, or perhaps you have received an award, or have a new activity. All of these things can make a difference in getting you accepted off the waitlist. The one thing that you cannot do is ignore colleges which place you on the waitlist. These colleges want to know that you are still interested. Therefore, making contact with these colleges is critically important if you want to have any hope of being accepted off of the waitlist.

Some colleges consider your interest in their institution as a factor in their decision. This is referred to as demonstrated interest. To some colleges, this is a highly valued measure of a student’s overall profile. Other colleges do not consider demonstrated interest at all. Whether your top choice colleges do or do not consider demonstrated interest, it still makes sense to visit the campus anyway. Wouldn't it be terrible if you accepted admission to a college that you had never seen and didn't like it when you got there?

Another thing to consider is that some colleges give you the option of delayed enrollment. On the application, these colleges will ask if you are willing to start in the spring semester. Answering yes can give you a far greater chance of getting into that college. That is because colleges are aware of the fact that some students will drop out during their first semester, leaving some seats empty. Also, some colleges will give you the option of starting somewhere other than their main campus. They do this simply because they are trying to fill seats at some of their less popular locations. Of course, agreeing to this condition can give you a huge advantage. Typically, you are allowed to join the main campus after 1 to 2 years as long as your grades are sufficient. This means that you will graduate with a degree from a college that is high on your list.

Finally, you should be aware that transferring to a top choice college is, in some cases, easier than getting into that college as a first-year freshman. In fact, some highly ranked colleges have a far higher transfer acceptance rate than freshman admission rate.

To summarize, there are many ways to gain admission into the college of your dreams. It helps to understand the process so that you may take advantage of some of these less-traveled paths.

About the author: Neil Chyten is founder and VIP-Level College counselor at Avalon Admission. He may be reached by calling 800-469-1028 or by emailing Visit to start your college list.