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Getting into a college of your choice... how?

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Getting into a college of your choice... how?
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Valiant Vicks Vizier
Join Date: Jan 2005
2005-07-15, 01:04

I've been sitting up at night looking at college websites. I'm totally overwhelmed at the moment! Currently, I'm a sophomore in HS. Most of my friends say that I shouldn't worry about college until my Jr. year, but by the way things are looking at the competitive end of the spectrum, I'm really kind of worried.

Some of ya'll might remember my question about getting into the field of graphic design. I've had my sights set on that for years, but now, I'm starting to think "Maybe I'm just better suited for something else..." How exactly should I go about getting into the university I wish to attend? I'm a good student, I'm in all AP courses, most of which are pretty good grades (85's and up). I also am very active in marching band and drama... but that's about it. College is just so competitive these days, I'm worried that I won't get accepted to the college of my choice. And don't get me wrong, I can deal with not getting into Texas A&M, if it doesn't work out it won't be an earthshattering blow to my life... I'll be just fine and move on to the next college. But my underlying fear is that none of my choices will accept me (most of the places I want to apply to are major Texas universities).

Is there some sort of strategy I should start to form? Anyway, what's ya'lls advice when it comes to getting into the colleges of your choice? Thanks for the patience too!
Veteran Member
Join Date: May 2004
Location: San Francisco, CA
2005-07-15, 01:20

Just make sure you have a safety school, and make sure that all the other places you apply to are places that you want to go to more than your safety. Pretty much the worst case scenario is that you'll get rejected from all the other places you apply, and end up going to your safety school. This is what happened to me. However, I also took a ton of AP, so I'm apparently already a sophomore without even taking a class.

Also, don't even think about college for the next 6 months or so, and even then, you don't need to start writing your essays until next summer. That's pretty early, as most people start writing them in the fall. What you can do now is visit colleges you think you may like, and take tours and stuff.

Lastly, don't let college apps take over your life. There's nothing worse than spending your entire senior year worrying about college.
M AH - ch ain saw
Join Date: May 2004
2005-07-15, 03:17

I'm not exactly sure what your question is?

You're either a) good enough to get in, b) not good enough to get in, or c) not good enough to get in but know someone on the board of trustees/regents (whichever the school has). There really isn't anything more than doing good at school and having extracurriculars, and good standardized test scores. There is no magical formula you can follow to get into the school you want, it's sort of like... "life is what you make of it." You either try or you don't.

I think the challenge is not getting in, but finding the school you really want to go to. I know in my case I was not interested in a large school, say 40,000+ undergrads, so I went to a smaller school ~12,000 undergrads and its the best thing I could have imagined. So before getting more worried about getting into the schools, which you really have no control over outside of your performance in high school, I'd be worried about finding the right school for you. And thats what the summer before/after junior year is for. Touring schools... so I'd say good luck.

Application essays are important, most people seem to try and be very original, etc... be fancy. However, past common misconception you should really try to be yourself, and write something interesting - not what you think the admissions office wants to hear, because they hear it all the time... I hope you are taking AP Literature, because thats where I learned nearly 100% of what I know about college essays...

User formally known as Sh0eWax

Last edited by Maciej : 2005-07-15 at 03:19.
Veteran Member
Join Date: Jun 2004
Location: Portlandia
2005-07-15, 03:58

Well, there are generally three areas that colleges look at in their applications: grades, activities, and standardized tests. The first two are entirely up to you and you'll need to have been working on those and continue to do so.

Standardized tests (SAT, ACT, GRE, PSAT, etc.) are another matter altogether. You have to be smart, but your ultimate score can be dramatically increased by understanding how these tests work. My fiancee has been a master instructor and curriculum author for The Princeton Review for almost 10 years. She has been able to help her students increase their test scores an average of 30%.

Of course, having the complete package that admissions counselors are looking for doesn't just mean you get in. Having the complete package can mean scholarships.

Good luck.

"What a computer is to me is it's the most remarkable tool that we've ever come up with, and it's the equivalent of a bicycle for our minds."
- Steve Jobs
Senior Member
Join Date: Jun 2005
2005-07-15, 12:16

I'm going to disagree with a lot of the stuff already posted. I just graduated HS.

Also, don't even think about college for the next 6 months or so...
IMO to get into a top college you need to be thinking about it as soon as freshman year ends, maybe before. Most colleges ask for ECs from 10th through 12th grade, and assuming your GPA and SAT/ACT are high enough to meet whatever standard the college has, ECs are the most important thing on your application. You need to find something you like, are good at, and plan to continue in college, and you need to do something in that activity that stands out. So if you like drama, do whatever drama stuff you can and aim to get in the paper or something. That will help you out a LOT.

On that note, doing a community service-based EC for three years is probably the best possible activity you can do.

Application essays are important
Yeah, but not nearly as important as your teachers and counselors and the colleges themselves make them out to be. Many essays don't even get read. Write carefully - absolutely no spelling or grammar mistakes - and don't choose an overworked topic, and you'll be fine. Even if you apply EA/ED you don't need to start these until summer before senior year at the earliest.

Teacher recs are important, too - try and get to know one or two of your teachers outside of the classroom and ask them to write your recs. It helps if they can say something other than "He got good grades and did his homework."

You're either a) good enough to get in, b) not good enough to get in, or c) not good enough to get in but know someone on the board of trustees/regents (whichever the school has).
Or d) know how to work the system. My cousin got into a non-community college after having failed several classes and gotten something like a 900 on the SAT. My aunt is a teacher, though, and knew what to put on my cousin's application to make it look good.

You say you want to go to a state school. Most state schools (in VA, at least) base admissions on grades (first) and test scores (second). You can absolutely get in with subpar grades or scores if you have some really special ECs, but just getting good grades is the easiest thing to do (IMO). Check or or the college website for average grades and test scores of admitted students.

You can take the SAT as many times as you like, so I'd suggest taking it once or twice to get a feel for how well you can do, and if you aren't happy with your score ABSOLUTELY go to a program like the type sunrain recommended. I was a part-time teacher at a summer program for SAT testing and all the "tricks" really are helpful. If you can force yourself to actually complete an entire SAT prep book without tutoring you'll get almost as much out of it as you would from the class.

So basically grades, SAT/ACT, and ECs are what you need to focus on. Start with grades and ECs now and you can hold off on whatever test you're taking until junior year. It's hard to compare grades between high schools. In my county an 85 is a B/3.0 but in the next county over it's a B+/3.5. Makes a BIG difference. They'll also consider the difficulty of your course load, so all APs are good.

The fact that you are getting ready for college now, as opposed to next year, is a great head start. I really wish I had had better ECs but by the time I realized how important they were it was too late. Also, apply to as many colleges as you can afford - each one is looking for something different and the more you apply to, the better your chances.

And if you're still sure A&M is your first choice when it comes time to apply (mine changed a lot), apply early. It does help.
Good luck!

Last edited by BenP : 2005-07-15 at 12:35.
art jrk
Join Date: May 2004
2005-07-15, 13:28

One thing no one has mentioned. If you are still interested in Graphic Design (or just general art for that matter) you will probably need to pass a portfolio review before admission. The sooner you start preparing your portfolio the better. A Summer job in the field will help.

I know its been quite a while since I applied (25 yrs) and things change, but in art it all still comes down to ability and talent.

Graphic Designer for 20 yrs.

...obviously less than perfect. :\
Join Date: Jul 2004
2005-07-15, 13:53

Hey, I'm entering senior year in highschool. . . Things I wish I had known before I started the whole college thing.

1. Most important of all, do what you like to do . Get yourself busy doing sports, martial arts, visual art, performing art, community service, be a big brother/sister, computers and video.

2. Do internships, if your interested in medicine, intern in your local hospital, or a vet's office. For technology, work with somebody who repairs computers, or runs a tech job. If your getting a job, don't work at Target or a restaurant, get a job in a library, or a paid assistent or intership in a proffesional office.

3. If you live somewhere with a local college or university, take classes there, work there, get to know proffessors, volunteer for the psychology department (they need lots of subjects and research assistents)

4. You may want to pander a little bit to college, like run for school government, or join school clubs, or do community service. Don't do these things just to pander though, 20 hours of community service doesn't mean a thing, 200 does, and colleges can tell the difference.

5. Testing. Its important to do good in all your classes and on standardized tests. Don't freak out though. If you spend 100 hours in a kaplan course and raise your score 50 points nobody cares, you lost 100 hours of your life. I got a book, took some practice tests, practiced the things I was bad at, and took a few more tests. Going overboard about SAT's and the like isn't worth it. I'd recomend learning vocabulary as early as possible, cause its hard to learn it in a month. I got a 720 verbal instead of 730 because I didn't know the word maudlin. Of course now, I'll never forget it.

6. Take advanced classes, challenge yourself, take electives that your school offers, because they are more interesting anyhow. Take AP and IB courses, but not like 8 of them, unless you think thats fun. Always better to do well in a small amount of classes than take 4 AP's in one year and stretch yourself thin.

7. Visit alot of colleges when they are in session, skip the walking tour, and be a fly on the wall in as many classes as you can. Talk to students, see how they appoach school work. Go overnight, with a student you know, or a student the college matches you up with.

8. Once you find colleges your interested in, find out their requirements. For instance, I'm screwed over, because I have only 2 years of foreign language, most elite colleges want at least 3. Don't let that happen.

9. Again, most of all, have fun being yourself, more important to have friends and tangible skills than to get into the best college. In the long run, having moral's and character are going to be better than SAT scores and A+s.

Have fun
Join Date: May 2005
Location: 5 minutes from SouthPoint
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2005-07-15, 14:07

Keep in mind that getting into the top university may not be the end of the line. In my experience transfer student admission requirements are somewhat looser than freshman admission requirements. I went from acceptable HS career (though I failed a few classes) to good community college performance (grad. ~3.8) to UNC-CH. Sometimes I still wonder how I got in...
The Return of the 'nut
I am worthless beyond hope.
Join Date: Dec 2004
Location: Berkeley
2005-07-15, 14:25

Originally Posted by BenP
Yeah, but not nearly as important as your teachers and counselors and the colleges themselves make them out to be. Many essays don't even get read. Write carefully - absolutely no spelling or grammar mistakes - and don't choose an overworked topic, and you'll be fine. Even if you apply EA/ED you don't need to start these until summer before senior year at the earliest.

Teacher recs are important, too - try and get to know one or two of your teachers outside of the classroom and ask them to write your recs. It helps if they can say something other than "He got good grades and did his homework."
Essays are EXTREMELY important. I don't think any schools specifically asks for them and then doesn't even read them. Essays are possibly the only way the admission board can really get a feel for who you are as a person. The rest is a numbers game. You think activities and extracurriculurs are important yet EVERYONE else has those. Everyone else has great numbers. Everyone else is the treasurer of the chess club or whatever. It is your essay which often times sets you apart from everyone else. All of the top tier schools, who have thousands of applicants with 4.0+GPAs and 1500+ SATs have extensive essay sections on their applications. I've gone to dozens of applicant infosessions, read several books written by admissions staff, and all of them confirm that the essay is often the deal breaker in a decision. In fact, Stanford's admission board has admitted to admitting certain individuals simply because of their essay.

When I was a senior in high school, it was hell. I was really stressed out, putting a ton of pressure on myself, and was really confused. I felt like I got a early start on things to, I had been planning things since sophomore year. My grades were fairly good, SATs decent, extracurriculars were focused ( I played Varsity baseball for 4 years so it wasnt the multipage list some others have), community service small but there, and I felt like I wrote pretty good essays for most of the applications.

Doing the applications was a stress-test. Didn't help that I applied to 14 schools, with very few using similar applications. Once I appliied to a couple I got this mentality of why not another or two, it's only 25 bucks or 40 bucks and we'll see what happens. I had several reach schools, several midrange chance schools and several safety schools. Looking back I probably should have narrowed it down to 1 or 2 from each of those 3 categories but whatever.

I made 9 of the 14 I applied to. The one that I chose was a vvery big reach school for me which I was not even realistically considering until I got accepted.

The biggest stress test for me though was the decision after getting the acceptances. So many factors to consider and it's a big decision.

My advice, just be relaxed about it, keep up the good work, always have college admissions in the back of your head. Use your summers wisely and do things early rather than last minute. Will make your life much easier.
Not sayin', just sayin'
Join Date: May 2004
Location: Durham, NC
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2005-07-15, 15:25

Find out a little about the admissions department/committees at the college. Is there one centralized department? Does the department have a central pool of applications that they whittle down and then pass the remainders to departments or colleges within the university, do the applications go directly to certain schools, etc.? You want to know who, when, and how many people from the departments you're interested in get to look at your application.

Getting into certain schools does also depend on what your extra-curriculars are, not so much how many, nor whether you're the best at any, but if State U. needs a kazoo player for the marching band, and you play the kazoo, you have the upper hand against people with similar qualifications otherwise. Don't spread yourself thin though. You can't predict this stuff, and jack of all trades is master of none. Do what you like, after all, once you're accepted in part because you play the kazoo, you're probably going to be pushed a bit into doing it.

Also, if you do decide to go into graphic design or other design field, your creative portfolio usually counts more than anything else, sometimes by a LOT. At least it should IMO. At my university, once the administrative folks within the art/architecture/planning school eliminated so many applications from the several thousand to the several hundred, the remainders were passed on to faculty committees who only cared about those two things, and they would comb over the work and sometimes grill you in an interview.

Also, get in touch with alumni from the university or college. They can either supply you with names of volunteer alumnil, or else they will have an alumnus contact you. One thing that I think helped my chances of getting into my first choice was sitting down to have an interview with a local alumnus.

And, to reinforce, have a range of schools to apply to in terms of their difficulty of admission and what you want out of them. You can, as has been said, transfer later, and it's likely you'll change your mind about what you want to do. Colleges tend to be seen as these homogenous black boxes, that if you get into Harvard, all their programs are great. But different majors and different departments have different strengths and approaches to teaching. Don't pick schools because you think they have a good name, or assume that they have great programs in all areas. Get to know the specific departments and people in them, get as specific as possible insofar as what is good or not so good about a college.
Senior Member
Join Date: Dec 2004
Location: Texas
2005-07-15, 16:29

As has been said before, admissions essays, grades, and SAT scores are all terribly important. On a similar note, I was just accepted to the Professional MBA program at SMU and in my interview the Director of Admissions candidly said that one of my huge plusses was my GMAT score. So take that straight from the horse's mouth.

Veteran Member
Join Date: Mar 2005
Location: Near Indianapolis
2005-07-15, 17:01

Just to throw in my two cents...

Essays are important, yes, but they aren't everything. Don't b.s., either. If they ask who you admire most, don't say Mother Theresa, Gandhi, or Martin Luther King--while you may admire them the most, they've already read your essay several thousand times by now. Be creative.

Also, I see that you want to apply to a state school. In some states (including Indiana), if you graduate from your high school with honors you're automatically accepted into any state university. They won't necessarily tell you that up front, but I know from experience that if you have an honors diploma from an Indiana High School, you're automatically accepted into Indiana University and Purdue University (I'm currently taking classes from both). I don't know if that's the case in Texas, but I bet if you graduate with honors (check with your school to see what the criteria are), you'll get into A&M no problem.

You might have an admissions or scholarship interview. Learn as much about the school as you can between now and then. You've got a lot of time to research, so learn about the school's history and look into what kind of graduate research is going on in the program you're interested in. Knowing that kind of stuff shows an interviewer that you're taking some ownership in the school and that you're very serious about going to school there and performing well.

Finally, have a backup plan and an exit strategy. You think this is the perfect school for you going in, but you might find yourself unable to get in. Or, after you get in, you might want a way out. I decided right at the end of the year last year to transfer, and the whole process has been a nightmare because I didn't have a plan in advance.

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The Return of the 'nut
I am worthless beyond hope.
Join Date: Dec 2004
Location: Berkeley
2005-07-15, 17:05

Originally Posted by fcgriz
Just to throw in my two cents...

Essays are important, yes, but they aren't everything. Don't b.s., either. If they ask who you admire most, don't say Mother Theresa, Gandhi, or Martin Luther King--while you may admire them the most, they've already read your essay several thousand times by now. Be creative.
but if thats really who you'd admire don't hesitate to write about it, otherwise you ARE bsing.

no matter how common the topic or subject you choose may be, if you are honest and passionate about it it will result in a stronger essay. don't limit yourself like that.
I am worthless beyond hope.
Join Date: Jan 2005
Location: Ellen Feiss, née Robert
2005-07-16, 21:31

hmmm.. from what you're saying, you should be able to swing all the texan universities except rice, but i'm basing that on everyone i knew who applied there. If you're applying to a pretentious east-coast school, stanford, etc., i'd be worried, but in your situation you'll do fine.

i'm not sure it would really be wise to follow my advice as to how i got in to most of the colleges of my choice (it worked for me, but probably wouldn't unless you're in a similar situation, i.e., workaholic, addicted to antipsychotics, bipolar, flamboyant, etc.

as far as the quantifiable/standards-based things went, though, i was still good except in grades. I basically had B's in all the AP classes I took or worse (got 5's in 6. Got a D in AP macro ;-) ) . Every subsection of the SAT i's and ii's (old ones) I had to take were 800 or a few tens under. I did get national merit, but i was only in highschool for 3 years (skipped 3 grades), so i was already in college when the apps were mailed to me through the school. Hmmm. I didn't do any clubs or sports. I did a forced volunteering requirement. Oh! and i did get charged with academic misconduct 2 times (gave a scantron to some girls who copied it exactly) – admissions people get really pissed about that stuff probably.

I've heard that if you're applying to a good school, the essays count. other than that, they probably will more look at the numbers/grades unless you say something so egregious. So write something really hot and unconventional – use an unconventional prose style and an interesting spin.
They'll get 23912049210 essays "my dad is an abusive alcoholic and it's made me stronger/ my brother's a meth junkie and robs our house". If you write about such a cloyingly sweet topic (could be something like volunteering or sports too) they won't stay awake. I wrote about my former best friend, A, a cutter. Instead of saying I was sad, I said she was an attention whore/ drama queen who was going to kill herself, but one who I also had an extreme sexual fixation on for 2 years. Make it complex.

I have to go to the grocery store now. In short, what really helped me were glib handling of interviews, getting alumni to write letters of reccomendation about me, and inflating the applications in places no one could ever check.

Hmmm. Personally my parents and I were really surprised, not to mention the overachievers who thought that D in economics = ignorance/stupidity – who later became quite vitriolic on learning that I had only been refused at Y, U of F, and U of C (hehe). a certain school in upstate new york, cambridge (no, not in the UK and no, I wasn't going there for science), and the other state college accepted me, however.

BTW I didn't end up going to any of them because I was 15, unstable, and had to be committed to a 'mental health center' for 3 days during that summer. college wasn't really so important in hindsight.
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