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Getting students into their dream colleges

Ultra-competitive schools can be a challenge to help students get into - but not impossible

Getting students into their dream colleges

So your student wants to get into a super-competitive college. While there is no magic formula that guarantees he or she can get that coveted envelope, there are a few things every high school student can do to help better their chances at admission to their dream college. 

The good news is, one of the most stressful things about getting in is also the one your students have the most control over — applying. Suggest these tips to your students to help them bolster their academic profiles and be better qualified applicants.


Starting early

Students should start as early as freshman year to take steps necessary to build their college admission resumés. According to author of “The Admissions Game,” Peter Van Buskirk, “while it’s often the case that students become actively involved in the college admission process in their junior year, [they] need to remember [they] become college applicants the first day of freshman year.” He adds: “Everything [students] do over the four years of high school counts. Each year is an opportunity to build upon the successes, both academic and extracurricular, of the past.” 

It is also vital that students figure out early on what is really important to them in their college experience. “Exploring options early and then narrowing them down is the best course of action,” explains Scott Weingold of The College Planning Network. “That way when senior year comes around the whole process will be more manageable.”


Junior year

Van Buskirk advises that students should start narrowing down their options during their junior year. It’s a good time for them to begin working on a list of possible colleges and allows them to make campus visits to those schools during their spring and summer breaks. Students can also use that time to familiarize themselves with essay requirements for each school and start working on possible themes for their applications. He says, “this is a good time to start drafting essays. Good writing is a process, not an event. Make sure you give yourself enough time to do it well.” 


How students can be standout candidates

According to Van Buskirk, there are three main keys to keep in mind for students if they want to have an advantage of getting into their dream college.

Be on the right competitive playing field. Students should focus on areas where their academic credentials put them in the top half of the competition.

Providing evidence of a talent. Interests or perspective that will be valued by the institution. 

Attend to the details of the applications. It’s vital for students to know that if they don’t pay attention to details, they will be giving the admissions officers a reason to say “no.” 

“Students whose only assets are a strong GPA and test scores are not compelling [to admissions counselors],” explains Maria Furtado, executive director of Colleges That Change Lives. Those kinds of student are perceived as those who will not bring passion, interests, experiences and personality to the campus. 

“When admission officers are presented with a candidate with strong academic credentials, they ask the question: If we admit this student, what do we get?” explains Van Buskirk. “What does he/she have to offer that will enhance the quality of life on our campus?” 

It’s important for students to keep in mind that every college has its own set of criteria in measuring students. GPA is one of the primary factors; the academic course rigor is also heavily weighed. Tests scores are looked at by some schools and not by others, although for the most part it does help to have good test scores. He adds that being well rounded is important. Being involved in a few extracurricular activities, it looks best if the student is involved at a higher level in one or two rather than at a lower level in many different clubs.  

The application is a tool for colleges that allows them to compare candidates and assess how each will fit into the fabric and culture of the college. The application is also a marketing tool for the student. It’s the student’s opportunity to present his or her best features to their dream college. It’s not the time to be modest. Every award, academic accomplishment and every extracurricular activity, volunteer involvement; students should find a way to include it. When applying, students should aim to create a “3D picture” of themselves.

If your students follow this admissions road map, they’ll have a better understanding of what makes a strong application and gives them a better shot at admission, even to an ultra-competitive school. While the applicstion process can be stressful, it can be exciting too. Encourage your students to shoot for their dreams — and encourage them to have a backup if necessary.

Dawn Marie Barhyte is a widely published freelance writer and former educator who continues to touch the lives of young people through her writing.


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