His grades and standardized test scores weren’t great, but this guy was determined to get into college.
So he ventured out from his Maryland home to visit California University of Pennsylvania (cup.edu).
During his interview with Cal U’s assistant director of admissions, Amanda Magdic, the conversation turned to the student’s not-so-stellar grades and SAT scores. But instead of blaming his teachers, his parents or his busy life for his poor grades, he blamed himself. And during the two-hour interview, he also told Magdic how he planned to change.
That was a good move.
“He spoke from the heart and was a genuine, respectful young adult,” Magdic says. “Not only was this student impressive because he was genuine; he had evidence that showed he was trying to improve.”
Lesson 1: Back up your conversations with colleges with as many examples as possible
Showing how you plan to improve is important. The student who interviewed at Cal U actually improved throughout senior year instead of just talking about it. He provided examples of his intentions to succeed—and followed through. He was admitted to Cal U.
“Sometimes it takes students a little longer to mature and understand the importance of their high school performance, but making excuses doesn’t help. Working to fix it and being genuine is what does it,” Magdic says.
Need to show improvement? Here’s how.
• Seek out tutoring in difficult subjects.
• Ask a teacher of a class you struggled in to write a letter of recommendation that highlights your persistence.
• Get involved in an extracurricular activity related to a subject you need help in. It’ll help you learn and bolster your involvement record. Bonus!
Lesson 2: Don’t let your parents take over
“We really want the student to make decisions on their own,” says Bill Zeiter, assistant director of admissions at Southern Vermont College (svc.edu) in Bennington, Vt.
College is likely the first major decision you’ll have to make—and live with. Make a good impression by showing the college (and your parents) you’re up for the challenge.
Keep in mind that your parents are not the ones attending college in the fall, you are!” says Lindsay Gerhardt, an admissions counselor at SUNY Geneseo (geneseo.edu). “Therefore, you should be the one asking the questions and deciding what college is the right fit.
Do your parents keep trying to overstep their influence in your college choice? Try these tips.
• Set up a weekly time to talk about college. This will prevent every conversation from being about college.
• Take the lead. Your parents will feel like they need to get involved if they don’t see that you’re on top of the game.
• Take your parents on campus visits. They’ll likely have some good insight on which college is a good match.
• Listen to your parents’ input, but remind them (gently) that the final decision is up to you.
Lesson 3: Tons of extracurriculars don’t guarantee you admission
We all know someone who joins a ton of clubs senior year to show colleges they’re a great catch.
But that last-minute joining is not what makes a college rep’s heart sing.
“I want to see a leader,” says Rich Gaus Jr., admissions counselor at Palm Beach Atlantic University (pba.edu).
Sure, extracurricular activities are a great way to show you’re a leader and into being involved. But when a college considers your extracurricular record, they’re looking for someone who has participated in a leadership role or for a length of time.
“An incredibly long résumé of activities does not necessarily impress an admissions representative,” says Charlie Leizear, assistant director of admissions at The George Washington University (gwu.edu). “… Those second grade ‘fastest swimmer’ certificates are just not going to make or break an application!”
Need to make your extracurriculars work for you?
• Run for office in a club.
• Do something to show your interests outside of the school day. Love playing the flute? Join a community band.
• If your high school requires community service hours to graduate, use the opportunity to deepen your commitment to a cause in which you may have been involved in the past.
• Cut your activities. That’s right, cut ‘em. Participating in fewer clubs will give you more time to spend with the causes that interest you most.
Lesson 4: Show your interest
“The easiest way for prospective students to make a good impression on me is by showing that they have done their research on GW,” says Leizear. “Many students have incredible credentials, but it’s most impressive when students are able to connect their own interests to why GW would be a great fit for them.”
Besides joining their Facebook group, how do you show a college you’re interested?
• Ask detailed questions at a college fair or in an interview.
• Set up a campus tour through the admissions office.
• E-mail your tour guide when you get home with any additional questions and a thank you.
• Request information from colleges through Web sites. (Also request info by sending in the business reply card from Next Step Magazine!)
• Send your complete, neat application to the college on time!
Lesson 5: Don’t reject yourself
You have a college in mind that offers the major, location and experiences you crave. There’s just one teensy problem: You’re afraid your grades or test scores won’t get you in.
“If a student has poor grades, this does not mean that the student is completely out of luck,” Leizear says.
Yes, grades are tops when it comes to how a college evaluates prospective students. But how can you show a college that is otherwise a good match you’re a good fit?
• Ask for an interview even if it’s not mandatory.
• Find ways to improve your grades throughout the rest of high school.
• Stay involved in extracurricular activities even as a senior.
Lesson 6: Proofread that app!
College admissions reps want to make sure they admit students who are excited to attend. Don’t blow it by forgetting to proofread.
“One of the required essays for admission to GW asks students to tell us why they feel that GW is a good match for them,” says Leizear. (The university is in Washington, D.C.)
“… Every year, however, there will be a student who has not proofread this essay properly and ends it with something to the effect of, ‘I can’t wait to spend the next four years in Boston, Massachusetts!’”