The College Application Process
I have heard from more than one person that colleges like applicants to include a photo with the application. Though I have no problem doing this, it sounds a bit strange. So, what’s right?
If colleges ask for it, send it. Otherwise, you risk having an incomplete application and not receiving full consideration. Colleges are well beyond discriminating on the basis of how you look. On the other hand, if they don’t ask for a photo, don’t send one. Sending exactly the material a college application requires is usually the best policy.
What do you write in college application essays? Can you write an essay about your experiences in extracurricular activities? Or do you list your extracurricular activities? Also, is there a limit to how many recommendations you can get from your teachers? If not, is it better to get a lot of recommendations from your teachers? Even if the recommendations are not well-developed, it’s better to have lots, right? Thanks.
Great questions! You can really do a lot with a well-written, interesting essay. If your grades are good but not fantastic, you could push yourself over the edge to acceptance with a great essay. And even if your grades and scores are great, presenting yourself in a poor essay could really hurt your chances for acceptance.
The best essays discuss something meaningful in your life and show a passion for the subject you’re writing about. If the essay deals with some problems you’ve overcome, it should be insightful, show that you’ve reflected on what you went through, and it should share what you’ve learned from those problems. For instance, if you had a personal challenge that affected your grades for a time, briefly share that challenge along with how you have worked to become a better student since then. Overall, a good essay is well-organized, interesting, and helps the reader get a good picture of who you are.
Make sure you answer the essay question on the application, if they ask a specific one. If you feel that your activities experiences were very important in your life and had a great impact on you, then yes, write about that. The college wants to know you a little better, what has been important in your life, what has changed you, people who have had an impact on you, how you have become a better person, etc. Don’t list your activities in an essay, schools can read about them elsewhere in your application.
As far as recommendations, just submit the number the school asks for. You actually do need to make sure they are quality recommendations, more is NOT necessarily better. Just like in an essay, schools want to find out something about you from a recommendation that is more than just facts or “I think this student should go to your school.” You do want your recommendations to be well-developed, clear, and concise.
A few final tips: get a parent or teacher to read through your essay to find ways you could improve it, and make sure you don’t have any spelling or grammatical errors. This does not mean having your parent write your essay for you. Good luck!
Hello, I have a couple questions. First, I am a sophomore in high school, and I was wondering if I should be looking into colleges right now. Second, I want to be a pediatrician. What are good colleges to go to pursue that career?Thanks.
Sophomore year is a great year to start looking at colleges. You should start thinking about what kind of school you want to attend (e.g., public vs. private, large vs. small, etc.). You should start looking at a variety of schools at this stage. It’s good to get an idea of how many students apply versus how many are admitted, what the average GPA of an incoming freshmen is, what the student to teacher ratio is, etc. so you can determine where you would fit in. Also, be sure to consider non-academic factors such as size, location, financial aid availability, student mix, etc.
Most schools have a pre-med program, which you’ll need to complete before applying to medical school. Actually, “pre-med” is not a formal major, but you do need to take certain science and math courses in order to be accepted to a medical school. Beyond the required courses, you can major in almost anything.
At this time, it’s best to focus on doing your best as an undergraduate before beginning to consider medical schools (where you’ll focus on your specialty, such as pediatrics).
I am seeking admission into the University of Texas at Austin. This is my top-choice school. I want to do everything possible to increase my chances of getting in. I am contemplating writing a short letter to the admissions committee. Do colleges like it when you “suck up” to them (for lack of a better term)? Do you think this will hurt my chances, since it will be something completely unnecessary for my application?
While the University of Texas is your first choice, it is also the first choice of dozens, if not hundreds, of other high school seniors. Consequently, the admissions committee is well aware that many applicants are going to “pull out all the stops” to try and get their applications noticed.
That said, the best way to get your application is not to write the admissions committee a letter telling them how desperate you are to attend their school. They know that dozens of applicants long to be admitted. They also have thousands of applications to read and don’t have the time or interest to reading any extra essays.
The best way to make your application stand out is by submitting the strongest overall application possible. The admissions committee will evaluate your application based on several factors, including grades, rigor of curriculum, essays, recommendations, extracurriculars, and SAT scores. Make sure your application is strong and unique in each of these areas, and you should stand out.
Can one defer a year with an Early Decision acceptance?
Usually the acceptance is for a specific semester and you cannot defer it. However, you could ask the college if they will. If you have interesting or unique plans for your year off, they may consider it. Be aware that you will be taking somewhat of a risk with any sort of request of this nature.
I have already attended a four-year school for my freshman year and then left to go to a community college for my sophomore year, due to the fact that I was unhappy at my first college. Now I am looking to transfer again and was just wondering, how is my GPA seen if have two different transcripts? Is it combined in some way? I’m looking to get scholarship money based off my GPA, and I don’t know where I stand.
Typically what you can do is list both your GPAs separately on your new application. Schools will usually combine GPAs themselves using a formula, so you don’t have to feel responsible for that part of it. Otherwise, if you really do want to get a sense of where you stand, you can use this formula I borrowed from UNC’s career services website (careers.unc.edu):
[(# of credit hours from previous college) X (GPA at previous college)]
+ [(# of credit hours completed so far at current college) X (GPA at current college)]
SUM divided by total credit hours from both colleges
= combined GPA
(30 credits X 3.4)
+ (30 credits X 3.1)
= 102 + 93
195/60 = 3.25 combined GPA
Remember, though, that you need to indicate on your application that you already combined your GPA using this formula. A safe bet is to list both your separate GPAs as well as your estimated combined GPA.
How many colleges should I apply to?
For being such a short question, this is a good one! There are many variables, but to be honest, you can apply to as many schools as you want — that is, if you don’t mind paying the application fee for each one.
In general, I advise against applying to just one or two schools (it’s a bit risky in case you don’t get accepted to either one). Applying to five or six schools is usually an appropriate number, and I’ll explain why. You want to have a couple “reach schools” in there, which are schools you’d really like to attend — but usually they’re very selective, and getting accepted is probably a long shot for you. Next, have a couple of “second-string” schools that you’re reasonably sure you can get accepted to. Lastly, think about applying to one or two “safety schools” that you are almost guaranteed to get into.
Remember, you don’t have to go to an Ivy League, you can always get a great education at a wide variety of public colleges and other private schools too.
How should I answer this question? “Briefly state your purpose for which you want to pursue your degree from this college.”
This is a task that just about everyone applying to college will have to complete: the writing of the application essay. There is no way I can tell you how you should answer that question, and there is no way I would tell you. But I hope I can give you some tips on how to get started.
First, instead of thinking about the “right answer” to this question, think about why you really do want to go to this school. Have you heard great things about it? Do you have family or friends who have gone there before you? Does the school have exactly the program you want? Do you love the campus? The school traditions? If you don’t know why you want to go to this school, you need to do more research. Really think through why this school is a great fit for you. If you can’t answer this question in your own mind, you won’t be able to believably articulate it on paper.
Second, follow the directions. If a question says “be brief,” then be brief. If it says “one page,” then write one page. More is NOT necessarily better. Don’t try to fit your life story into one paragraph. Make sure you answer the question that is asked…no more, no less.
Third, put yourself in the position of the person reading your answer. They read hundreds, maybe thousands of these. Why should they be impressed by your essay above others? Is it your honesty? Humor? Articulate thoughts? Commitment to the school you are applying to? Passion for your area of study? Sell yourself in an honest manner. Be memorable!
Finally, take your time. This is not something to rattle off and send in. Write a first draft, then come back to it a few days later, and so on until it’s just right. Read through it over and over for mistakes, an automatic spell-check is not enough! Give your final draft to one or two other people (English teachers can be great help) for their suggestions.
Hello College Guru, I would be very happy if you could help me out with a few questions I have, regarding how well I’m doing if I plan on entering an Ivy-League-type school.First off, one of the most interesting high school experiences for me is the fact that for ninth and tenth grade (I’m currently a junior), my family moved to Asia because of my dad’s job. There, I attended a prestigious international school and came back with a 3.9 GPA. However, I feel as if this has almost hurt me, seeing as I am not able to have a leadership role until next year in any clubs/organizations on account of the move. And even the chances of getting a leadership position by then are shaky. To what extent will colleges take this inability to assume a leadership role as a hindrance on my resume?Secondly, so far this year I have a 4.2 GPA and just received a 216 on my PSAT. I have done quite a bit of service in high school, but I have not recorded it well. The presidents of the various clubs I was in recorded my hours for me, but I don’t think those documents followed me with the move. Will I have to provide a log of hours with my admission?Thanks!
You don’t always have to provide a log of your hours for admission purposes. But it wouldn’t hurt to keep putting together an estimate of hours for each activity you’re involved in, just to be safe. Try contacting the previous clubs to see if you can track down some more accurate records.
For the activities you participate in right now, ask around to see if you could take on a leadership role or two. Sometimes the desire and moxie to attain such a position is worth more than just the hours of experience. If you think creatively about this and pursue a leadership position more aggressively (especially in a club where others are reluctant to assume leadership), that could work out very well for you.
As far as your unique experiences go, I think your time spent in the international school in Asia is quite an asset to you! When you’re putting together application essays, I highly recommend you write about your experiences studying in a different country.
Colleges are looking for students who have had a vibrant series of experiences and have critically thought about those experiences. They are not necessarily only looking for traditional involvement in extracurricular activities, although that doesn’t hurt either. Ivy League schools are looking to recruit an interesting and diverse set of students every year. So your experience could very well make you stand out from the crowd. Now, you may or may not decide to explain your lower involvement in American extracurriculars as a result of your time abroad — that’s really up to you. I wish you well in your future application process.
I am a junior in high school, soon to be senior, and I go to a not-very-good school in a small town. I have aspirations beyond this small town in Mississippi (maybe a prestigious liberal arts college?). My GPA is a 4.0, I have taken one AP class (our school doesn’t allow room for much more). My question is, should I stay in band or take more challenging classes? Do colleges like to see commitment or difficult classes more? Also, should I advertise to colleges that I have not had the best education but am interested in working hard to fill in those gaps? Or should I not mention it at all? Thanks for your help!
I think you might be over-thinking it a bit, you’re allowed to relax a little. You sound like an excellent student, and colleges know that you might not be able to choose exactly where you go to high school. They will consider your GPA as well as test scores, teacher recommendations, activities, and personal essay. If you’re still worried about it, maybe you could consider taking the summer to try a precollege program, which might also give you a chance to get out of town and see a college option or two.
As far as your other question, whether to stay in band or take a couple of other classes – I would say that you should pursue what you want to do and not worry about what colleges “want most.” What they want to see is someone passionate about what they do and try, so stick with what you want to do and don’t worry about which is “better.”
Since I want to apply to approximately five different colleges, is there a combined application of some sort? Instead of filling out five different applications and paying five application fees, is there something that can be filled out and sent to all five colleges?
It depends on which schools you want to apply to, but it may be possible for you to fill out the Common Application this fall. Students who fill out this application can send it to multiple schools – but keep in mind that you still have to fulfill all the other application requirements of each school, whether it’s writing a specific essay or obtaining a certain number of teacher recommendations. You might still have to pay separate fees as well. Check out the Common Questions section if you still want more information…and, of course, to check if your schools are listed as participants. Good luck.
I just graduated high school, but I won’t be going to college for at least two years. When I apply for college, in two years, will I still need to have the teacher recommendation forms?
Typically, yes. I’d suggest you follow up with a few teachers that you respect and who know you pretty well. It will be better if they have a fresh idea of your work before two years pass. They could even write drafts now and then just revise them when the time comes for you to apply to school. But I’d work on that now – good luck.
All of these questions seem to be from the smartest kids from their schools: honors and AP classes and very high SAT scores. I’m a pretty average student. In my opinion, I’m good at English, and very bad at math. On my SAT, I scored a 610 in writing, a 560 in critical reading, and 450 in math. A few of the colleges I’m looking into let me know what SAT scores they look for. For the most part, they asked for what I have, except for my math score. Will this absolutely ruin any chance of me getting into the college I want to go to?
I don’t think it will ruin your chances by any means (unless you’re planning on studying math in college, I suppose). If you’re worried about your math score, though, it doesn’t hurt to call up some of your preferred colleges and simply ask. You don’t have to give too much information away if you don’t want to. And you can always try retaking the test if you’d like, of course.
Also remember that admission is a combination of considering your grades, test scores, extracurricular activities, personal essay and recommendations. So you have several factors that could run in your favor. If you love English, I suggest you totally wow the admissions committee with a sparkling and creative personal essay. That’s the kind of thing that admissions officers really remember. In any case, don’t rule yourself out yet.
Guru, I am a high school junior and due to medical issues I have battled the past two years, I have been unable to participate in any sports or extracurriculars. However, over this past summer, I was able to resolve the medical issue and I am now able to participate in activities again. I was just wondering, if I join a bunch of activities now, colleges will think I was just joining them to get into to college, not because I wanted to? If they won’t like the fact that I will only have two years of activities, what else can I do to help my application stand out?
Even though this is a special circumstance, it might not actually be that complicated. On your college applications I simply suggest you add a brief statement just like the one you told me: that you couldn’t participate in activities during your first two years because of medical issues (you may want to list the issue if you’re comfortable doing so) and that now you can participate. That will tell the admissions committees what they need to know.
Of course, I suggest you join activities that you’re most interested in. Don’t be insincere about who you are!
I am a high school senior and it’s about time to start the college application process. The problem is, I don’t know what I want to study. I love learning about philosophies and cultures and history. I also love to travel. Any idea what I should do?
It’s okay to not know your major during the college application process. it’s likely that you won’t decide on a major until the end of freshman year, or even during sophomore year. Don’t worry though, because every school requires a core curriculum, and freshman year is a good time to take those core classes while also experiencing new subjects that interest you. Knowing what you want to study may help you pick a school, but unless you have a very specific major in mind that only a select few schools offer, you really don’t need to make the decision yet. It sounds like you enjoy the liberal arts, and you might want to take a look at smaller colleges with liberal arts focuses rather than big universities with research and science focuses. If you love history, you might consider the history or political science department at several schools. These majors can prepare you for law school, a teaching career, or a variety of other paths. You’ll find, as a freshman, that many other students are in your same shoes. Good luck with the admissions process!
I have always been very interested in learning new things. I pay attention in class, but I just cannot do well on tests no matter how hard I try. I am currently in my second semester of sophomore year, and I have only had four A’s all of high school with a weighted GPA of 3.6. I really want to get into an Ivy League school. Is it possible for me? Do the B’s take away all my chances?
It’s natural for a student to set her sights on an Ivy League school, but it’s important to remember that there are many other great colleges and universities out there that offer a solid education and great career preparation. Ivy League schools look at a student as a whole to determine whether that student will add something special to the academic community, and each school is different. Unfortunately, I cannot describe or predict your chances of getting into any particular college. You can look at the school’s admission requirements and the average GPA and profile of an entering student. These details will give you more of an indication of whether you should apply. If your GPA or test scores are much lower than the average or minimum scores, know that your chances will not be great. My best advice is to research many schools, not just Ivy Leagues, and find a few that match what you seek in terms of academic programs, campus life, and location. Then, find out more by visiting the schools, talking to the admissions department, and requesting information. The more research you conduct, the better chances you have of being accepted and finding a school you will love to attend. Best of luck in your research!
I am currently a month away from finishing the 11th grade. I am enrolled in the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme and probably will have around a 2.5–2.7 GPA. I suffer from clinical anxiety and have had a very rocky high school career. However, for more than 10 years I have pursued extracurricular activities, such as piano and dance, and I landed a job at a large structural engineering company, which is what I want to pursue as major in college. Will positive letters of recommendations and a good community service and extracurricular portfolio compensate at all for my GPA? I would like to go to a decent college, and community college is something I would rather stay away from.
I’m sorry that you’ve struggled throughout high school, but don’t be discouraged. Grades aren’t everything, but they are important. You’re going to need to work as hard as you can to improve your grades your senior year. Consider asking teachers for extra help outside of class and speaking with a guidance counselor about ways to manage your anxiety.
Although schools will look most closely at your grades and test scores, your GPA is only part of your application, along with test scores, activities, essays and recommendation letters. Colleges are looking for well-rounded students. Schools will be impressed by your long-term commitment to your extracurriculars as well as your ability to hold down a job while in school. It’s also great that your job is in the field you want to study. Colleges love students who pursue their passions. But don’t let your extracurricular activities and job interfere with your studying!
The essay portion of your application will be a great place to explain to the colleges you’re applying why your grades suffered and how you plan to succeed in college. Not only would that demonstrate that you have overcome obstacles but also that you are focused on improvement.
Positive recommendation letters will help, too. Be sure to ask people who know your academic story and can speak to why you are a good fit for college despite your rocky high school experience so far.
When it comes to applying to schools, work with your high school adviser to identify schools with varying levels of selectivity. For example, some state universities are not as selective as other colleges. Apply to a wide range of schools that have programs that match your interests.
There’s still hope — just make sure you spend senior year improving and working hard to show your commitment to your education. However, GPA and test scores usually represent about 80% of the college admission decision. I want to be realistic, and your activities and recommendation letters may not be enough to offset your GPA. So, if you don’t get into the four-year college you want, please consider a community college. You can transfer after a year or two and obtain your bachelor’s degree, and nobody will ask or care where you started your college education.
I’m an 18-year-old in a somewhat odd situation with a very specific problem, and I can find absolutely no advice on it. I’ve always been an absolutely stellar student, but due to some mental health complications and my mother’s declining health, I transferred to an online school my freshman year and then ended up dropping out entirely and pursuing a GED. I can write a mean essay, and if there’s an interview involved, I’ve got it down. But then comes the issue of high school transcripts and letters of recommendation: I hardly have either. My transcript is only one partial year, and when it comes to letters of recommendation, I didn’t actually have any high school teachers (other than two who also taught at the middle school). Can I still get accepted to a semi-decent school when all I have are a couple of semesters of (very high) grades? And what can I do to strengthen my application and/or somehow avert the crisis? Thank you!
In recent years, more and more colleges and universities have been developing admission policies for students with nontraditional records. Although students presenting nontraditional — or nonexistent — transcripts are still a very small percentage of the overall applicant pool, most colleges will work hard to make sure they’re not disadvantaged in the admission process.
Even without a high school transcript, admission committees will be able to evaluate your SAT or ACT score, community involvement, essay, recommendations, and so on. These factors will allow an admissions person to judge you against other applicants, and you need to be competitive.
Colleges are going to look extra hard at your standardized test scores to get a sense for your academic abilities and proficiency, so study hard. They will also put more weight on your extracurricular achievement and involvement. Think about how you will demonstrate your commitment, maturity, and leadership skills.
When it comes to recommendations, schools typically want at least two recommendations from teachers. In your case, choose individuals outside of the family who have some knowledge of your academic capabilities and interests. Whether it’s a community liaison, employer, activity director or clergy, ask someone who can speak to your intellect and character and your preparation for rigorous collegiate course work. When you approach them, give them plenty of advance notice and provide them with a résumé of your proudest accomplishments and a list of future goals.
Have you considered enrolling in a transition-to-college program through a local community college? These programs are great for GED students prior to entering postsecondary education. Not only will you learn all the necessary skills for a successful college career, but it also provides a review of reading, writing and math fundamentals in a college-style environment. Google “GED transition to college” and “college transition programs” in your area, and see what you find. Good luck!