With summer quickly approaching and things finally beginning to return to normal, this is an important time for students in their freshman, sophomore or junior years of high school. Underclassmen – especially in the 11th grade – should be looking ahead to their senior year, when they will go through the often stressful process of applying to college. By beginning to prepare now, you can make the entire process much easier and significantly increase your chances of acceptance.
There are three key steps we encourage underclassmen, and especially juniors, to take in the spring and summer each year:
Step 1: Compile your college list
Whether or not you already know where you want to go, your first step should be to develop a strategic college list. A college list is a list of schools that match your strengths, talents, and interests, and includes a mix of reach, target, and safety schools. Consider things like how competitive they are to get into; what programs they offer; what the school’s culture and atmosphere are like; and where they are located geographically. I generally recommend that students select between 4-6 reach schools, 3 target schools, and 3 safety schools, but your list can be slightly longer or shorter.
Step 2: Develop your Application PositioningTM
It goes without saying that the top colleges in the country are incredibly selective. What many students do not realize, however, is that these schools are not looking for the most well-rounded students. Rather, they are looking for the most well-rounded class. This means that it is imperative for applicants to highlight what makes them unique, demonstrating to their dream schools what special talents, skills or experiences they will bring to campus. At The Ivy Dean, we call this approach of identifying and highlighting unique traits that will be most interesting to a prospective college “Application PositioningTM”. Think about what particular strengths set you apart from other applicants, and then plan to emphasize these features in your applications.
Step 3: Plan your activities
Now that you know where you want to go and what you will focus on when you apply, it’s time to decide how you will spend the next few months to bolster your profile. This is a key opportunity to find summer programs or classes, community or volunteer positions, paid work, projects and other activities that will improve your applications. Be sure to choose activities that align with your Positioning, because they will help you to present yourself in a specific, strategic light to any schools you apply to. I also recommend that you keep track of what you do as part of each activity: simply make note of any key tasks you performed, goals you achieved, recognition you received and so on, so that you can easily capture these details in future written applications and interviews.
While the process of applying to college may feel daunting, it does not have to be. The key is to begin early and seek out assistance whenever possible. Remember, my team and I are here to help – our company’s mission is to use our extensive experience to give students their best chance of being admitted to a top college.