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Making a Choice
The application process

Applications for all colleges are available on their websites, located somewhere on the "Admissions" page. Some schools also accept the Common Application, which can be completed online (although some colleges will want additional information) and will cut down on the hours of work filling out forms. Check, though, to be sure the colleges you're interested in will accept the Common Application.

The key pieces that will be evaluated on your application are listed below with some comments:

  1. Grades: Do your best in every class, particularly focus on college prep classes and honors and AP classes, if you feel you can handle them. If you didn't do too well your freshman year, just show improvement your sophomore through senior years and try to take increasingly challenging courses.
  2. Class rank: The higher the better, if you want more choices of colleges. If grades are weighted in your high school (meaning that honors and AP grades count for more than regular classes), that can make a big difference. Getting an A in an weighted honors course can certainly improve your rank. (The importance of class rank is changing, though, as some high schools stop assembling and some colleges stop using this criteria.)
  3. Standardized test scores: The higher the score the better for more college choices. Find out what test your targeted schools want. You can take either test more than once and you can take both the ACT and the SAT. Certainly, if you take a test more than once, do some preparing for it in order to boost your score. There are a variety of test prep options available from free studying to high-priced private tutoring.
  4. Extracurricular activities: Colleges tend to want to see a concentrated effort in a smaller number of activities. They always look for signs of leadership, creativity, special achievement and/or overcoming unusual circumstances. Honors and awards are a part of this category as well.
  5. Essay: Colleges usually ask the students to respond to a variety of possible questions with the goal of getting to know more of the actual person behind the grades and test scores. This is where your self-knowledge and your ability to articulate it will shine through.
  6. Recommendation letters: The best letters talk not just about how great you are, but who you are, so you want to choose the letter writers carefully. Usually, a teacher or two will write a letter, along with your high school counselor, but in most cases you can have others write too—a coach, a music instructor, an employer, a friend.

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