Five Ways You Can Still Improve Your Admissions Chances

By Kevin McMullin


Noor-1Juniors are just a few short months away from officially applying to college. And while there are lots of last-minute strategies that just don’t work (please don’t found a club or two this fall in the hopes that doing so will prove you have leadership skills), there are still some effective ways to boost your chances of admission.

1. Apply to the right colleges.
The surest way to have more college options is to apply to the right colleges in the first place. Have you found schools your counselor believes will admit you just the way you are? Would they be affordable—or close to affordable—even if you didn’t get the financial aid you were hoping for? Do they seem like schools you’d happily attend in the unlikely event they were your only options? There’s nothing wrong with trying to improve your odds at schools that aren’t necessarily sure things. But with 2,000 colleges to choose from, chances are there are at least a few that meet all the necessary criteria for fit, no matter what your qualifications.

2. Keep focusing on academics.
You’ve probably heard that slacking off in the senior year can hurt your chances, or in particularly bad cases, convince a college that admitted you to revoke the offer. It’s all true. But the more positive version of that advice is that doing well in challenging courses as a senior is a good way to improve your chances of admission. Most colleges will evaluate the strength of your 7th semester (fall of senior year) schedule when you apply. And many schools will also ask to see your grades from that semester before they make a decision. So continue to challenge yourself and make grades a priority. It might not make a big difference in your overall GPA, but that doesn’t mean colleges won’t pay close attention to what you’re doing in the classroom as a senior.

3. Consider retaking a standardized test.
I’ll be honest—I hate this one. The SAT, ACT, and Subject Tests —along with all the associated preparation—have already eaten up far too much time, mental energy, and money for many seniors. But depending on your current scores, how many times you’ve taken them, and where you’re applying, you might be able to improve your chances by retaking a test and improving your scores. Check this past post for advice on whether or not to do so (which includes the caveat that you should check with your counselor to get his or her take, too).

4. Invest time in your applications and essays.
Too many seniors spend three years doing all the hard work to be competitive for college and then rush through their applications by waiting until the last minute. That’s like a gymnast getting all the way to the Olympics and then waiting until the night before the medal round to practice her routine. You’re an interesting, complex person who deserves to be presented accurately and compellingly. And you can’t do that unless you invest real time and energy in your applications. Many colleges will make applications available this summer. And even those schools that release theirs in the fall might still offer up the essay prompts on their sites ahead of time. “Don’t wait until the last minute” is such clichéd advice. But this is one of those times when the cliché is true. Starting early leads to better applications, and finishing early leads to less stress.

5. Seek out good advice.
Your friends, relatives, and neighbors may willingly offer advice on your college application process. But they probably know a lot less than your high school counselor, an admissions officer, or a qualified private counselor does. So seek out good advice from people who know what they’re talking about and who have some skin in the game. This process can be confusing and complicated. But it’s not as secretive as it sometimes may appear to be, especially when you reach out to people whose jobs are to help you make sense of it.