College is the springboard to a career and adult life, and it can take up four (or more) years of a young person’s life. It’s an incredibly important decision. Many students start their college search and application process in earnest during the summer following their junior year, or the fall of their senior year. But there are several reasons to start earlier – much earlier.
- The selection of high school courses is a huge factor in college admissions. Students need to plan all four years of high school with care. How many foreign language, math and science courses will they take? What difficulty level (college prep, honors, AP) will they select? These decisions can have a major impact on which colleges will be interested in them.
- Likewise, making good grades a priority throughout high school will pay off later. Starting in ninth grade, this means balancing schoolwork with social life, family responsibilities and (of course) screen time.
- Which standardized tests will your child take? ACT? SAT? Did you know that your child can win scholarship money for a high PSAT score? Or that some colleges suggest taking two, and sometimes three, SAT subject tests? In any case, it’s wise to leave plenty of time to prepare for the tests and to retake them if needed.
- extracurricular activities can really pay off. While not as important as courses, grades and test scores, colleges look for a pattern of activities suggesting dedication and growth. Trying a variety of camps, clubs, hobbies and jobs is not nearly as impressive as a steady job with increasing responsibility or another consistent pursuit.
- If your child hopes to win an athletic scholarship, it’s essential to actively promote him or her to college coaches early in high school. Other families are doing the same, and much of the scholarship money will already be spoken for by senior year.
- Financial aid applications may ask questions about family finances going back to January of the student’s sophomore year in high school. Decisions about how to allocate and spend money at that time can affect the child’s chances of receiving financial assistance two years later when applications are due.
These are only some of the reasons to plan far ahead. Thoughtful decisions may reap great benefits for your child – and your checkbook.
Most of you already know about the importance of tests scores, grades and extracurricular activities. But some colleges also look at a factor known as “demonstrated interest.” This means a student has shown through his/her actions a true desire to attend a particular college. In this age of the Common App, it’s relatively easy for students to apply to multiple schools to “play it safe” even if they don’t know or care much about some of those schools.
Some schools – especially elite institutions such as Harvard and Stanford – claim that they do not give much weight to demonstrated interest. (This does not mean that applicants shouldn’t be well acquainted with the schools to which they’re applying, even top-tier ones.) About half of all colleges, however, consider demonstrated interest to be a fairly important factor, and they often monitor students’ interest in great detail.
Fortunately, there are quite a few ways students can show their interest in the schools that do care about this factor:
- Request information about the school by responding to promotional materials or by contacting them on your own.
- Make a campus visit. Better yet, visit twice! Ask about more in-depth opportunities than the usual campus tour, such as lunch with currently enrolled students, “shadowing” students in class or an overnight stay.
- “Like” the school on social media (and make sure there’s nothing on your social media you wouldn’t want schools to see).
- Interview if possible. Most schools offer the option of interviews (sometimes with alumni), but applicants may need to request one.
- Apply early decision, if possible. Colleges are increasingly filling their incoming freshman classes with students who apply early. Applying early action (which is binding) can help your chances as well, but students should only do so when they are certain of their top choice school. Even if you apply regular admission, try to get your application in well in advance of the deadline.
- Write supplemental essays with care, especially when the question is “Why this school?” This shows a college that you are taking extra time on their application. Be explicit about how interested you are in the school.
- Attend college fairs. Students should introduce themselves to admissions reps and leave their contact information.
- Contact the admissions office to ask follow up questions.
- Send a follow up note thanking anyone who helps you – an interviewer, a rep at a college fair, or anyone you speak to in admissions.
- If you have the opportunity to be interviewed, take it. Sometimes it’s optional – and sometimes you have to seek it out.
- If you are waitlisted, follow up immediately to show that you still want to be considered.
These steps take extra time, but they’re worth it. Demonstrating your interest shows that you’re a serious applicant, and colleges want students who are likely to accept their offer of admission.