With a majority of high-school seniors accepted and enrolled into their respective colleges, it is officially junior season. Though the college process may seem intimidating, it really boils down to just a few factors–most of which you are likely already doing! Here’s a list of the six things I am keeping in mind as I move through my second semester junior year.
Oddly enough, I’ve noticed that grades often get overlooked in the college application discussion. The number one most important factor of any college application is the GPA.
Throughout junior year, students tend to spread themselves too thin, causing their grades to drop. Despite whatever wonderful activities and impressive standardized test scores you have, if your grades are not within the range of a school, your likelihood of getting in is going to drop significantly. It’s harsh, but it’s true.
So, before worrying about any of the factors that follow in this article, please remember to always prioritize your GPA. At my school, I’ve noticed that one test or project can significantly lower my grade. I’ve also come to realize that a majority of my peers have grades within one or two percentage points of mine. Treat every assignment as important, because it is.
A common misconception is that a student needs to be the star of the class and have the absolute highest grades to get a stellar recommendation letter. This is not true!
A good recommendation letter will show colleges your learning styles and how you confront challenges. It does not need to prove that you’re a capable student because your GPA and standardized test scores demonstrate that. Instead, it is valued in an application because it illustrates a student’s place in a classroom and larger community.
To build strong relationships with my teachers, I am focusing on participating in class–even if I am not totally certain in my answer–and attending office hours. I know it sounds like a cliche but office hours are KEY!
Besides proving that you are a dedicated student, office hours allow teachers to see your personal learning style, and provide ample opportunities for small talk–which can make all the difference!
As many schools go test optional, the importance of a standardized test score has lessened significantly and test prep strategy has become much more personalized. Take a look at the prestige of the types of schools you are applying to and make an educated decision on the amount of effort you want to dedicate to test prep. For me, I simply know that no matter my amount of preparation, I will not get a good enough score for some of the schools I want to apply to. It is important I recognize this as it helps me to understand the strengths and weaknesses of my application and where I should place emphasis.
There are a lot of great online resources for researching schools, but nothing beats touring the campus itself. I have visited several schools that I thought I would love but ended up disliking when I toured in-person (and vice versa).
The key to touring is to do it wisely. At the end of the day, many of these schools are so similar, so lean into the similarities! Think you want a small liberal arts school? Awesome! Tour one that is convenient for you first in order to get a feel and generalize your opinions on the school to see if it’s worth it to tour other similar schools.
On the tours that I have been on, I make sure not to keep my noticings too specific to the respective school. Instead, I try to apply my thoughts, both positive and negative, to a broader scale of colleges and use that to narrow down my choices.
Unless you are applying early decision or binding early action, you can always tour schools after you get in. If you are planning to apply early to a school, you should tour that specific school if possible, so that you don’t get stuck somewhere you don’t want to be.
Nowadays, merely having a high GPA is not good enough. One must have powerful extracurricular activities as well. Note that this does not mean a million extracurriculars, but instead, a select few that you have devoted ample time to and thoughtfully participated in. Ultimately, there are only ten available slots on the Common App for students to list their extracurriculars.
Each activity should be meaningful and something that you are passionate about. Do not participate carelessly in an activity and solely because you think it will look good on your resume! Colleges will be able to pick up on this as you will likely not have spent a large sum of time on the activity or obtained a position of true meaning (Without these factors, a given activity will not add much value to your application).
Additionally, the schools like to see what you have taken away from each experience and how they shaped you as a person. This being said, make sure to draw throughlines between each of your activities. Treat your extracurriculars as pieces of evidence that support the “claim” of your application, which is the answer to who you are.
As I take part in my extracurriculars, I make sure to keep in mind the meaningful moments and turning points I have experienced so I can explain how they have shaped me as a person.
Please, please remember that the college process is not personal. Despite colleges’ best attempt to understand you, they do not really know you as a person. You will see many peers who seemed as though they slacked get into better schools than you. On the other hand, peers who pushed themselves all throughout high school, getting perfect grades and impressive extracurriculars, will be rejected from their dream school.
It is important to keep in mind that schools are truly just building a class. They need X number of private school students, X number of Californian students, X number of male students, and so on. Your application could be seemingly perfect but they could already have filled the ten slots they needed for a student in your shoes.
Remember: Do not take it personally! The college process is unfair, but that’s the way it is. You will likely end up in a place that is a good fit for you. I always remind myself that with the right mindset, I can have a positive experience wherever I end up.
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