Want To Get Into a Top College? Do These Five Things.

It’s hard to conceive of the due diligence that top colleges go through before making their final decisions on their incoming class of students. Oh yes, they review every single application and every single essay. They look at your transcript and your test scores. They pay close attention to your activities and your recommendations. And, they do this tens of thousands of times: studying, advocating for, and arguing over, each and every one of the applications they receive. Each characteristic that is important to the college is discussed, and in many cases rated, before a decision is made. Given the amount of time and effort that each student’s candidacy receives, how wonderful it is to colleges when they come across an “easy admit”— a student who simply meets all the essential characteristics. While no two colleges are exactly alike with respect to the qualities and characteristics they look for in their incoming class, there are some that are high on every college’s list. So, if you want to make yourself an “easy admit,” then make sure you do these five things before applying to top colleges.

  • Make yourself likable. Colleges are much more likely to accept you if they like you. They will like you if you demonstrate to them that you are a likable person. How do you do this? Well, think about the people that you like. Likable people enjoy helping others. They write about and discuss positive things. They see solutions rather than problems. Likable people care about the world and the people around them. They are not fixated on the petty little things people do, but rather are focused on the important things that matter to others. Also, likable people tend to be fun or funny. This is not a requirement of being likable, but if you are naturally fun or funny make sure this quality comes out loud and clear on your college application.
  • Prove your passion. Anyone can say that they are passionate about something, but far fewer people are able to demonstrate that passion. First and foremost, decide what you are passionate about. Then, demonstrate your passion through your actions. If you are truly passionate about something, then you will follow a path that leads you to pursue that passion. Don’t try to fake passion on your college application. One of the most common types of disqualifiers of college applications is lack of commitment or lack of follow-through. For example, if you state that you are passionate about helping homeless people, then you should do more than work in a soup kitchen for a day. If you state that you are passionate about music, then examples should reverberate throughout your application. Did you take lessons? Do you have a videotape of your performance? Did you save all your money to buy a new guitar? Did you work in a music store? Did you give lessons to others? Let your actions, rather than your words, prove your passion.
  • Have a significant skill or accomplishment. At the level of top colleges, you are competing against thousands of students whose grades and test scores are just as good as yours, so these factors do not help you stand out: they merely put you in the game. To win the game, it is helpful to have something unique, significant, or important in your background. And, I am sorry to say that coming in second, third, or fourth, may not be good enough. It really helps to win something! Other accomplishments include starting a company, creating patents, publishing books, and many other things not usually attributed to high school students—which is exactly the point.
  • Have stellar recommendations. Of course, it is hard to be objective about yourself when the goal is to get into a top college. No one talks about what a terrible student he is or that he is lazy or how he bullies his classmates in the schoolyard. Therefore, you need someone in a position of objectivity to tell your story for you. Nurturing stellar relationships is critically important, because the difference between “he is an excellent student who always gets his homework done” and “he is one of the most passionate students I have ever encountered” can be the difference between rejection and acceptance.
  • Don’t screw up your essays. Neither the Common Application’s personal statement or college- specific questions should be used to reiterate your accomplishments, unless the question specifically asks you to write about one. For most top colleges, the supplemental questions are far more important than the personal statement. So, write them from a position of detailed knowledge about the college. Show that you care enough to have conducted research on that college. Don’t write about world-class professors or campus diversity. Instead, write about a specific professor whose work you admire, or about a recent event at the college. As for the Common Application personal statement, use it to reveal some interesting characteristic about yourself. Don’t be concerned about revealing some less-than-flattering aspect of yourself. Being humble or self-effacing is far better than being arrogant.

Of course, it is impossible to summarize all the characteristics that go into successful top college applications, but these five tips are a good place to start. Of course, it goes without saying that you need top test scores and grades. It also goes without saying that you need solid interview skills, and in many cases, a solid resume. But it is also important to be realistic. Far more students with 1550 SAT scores, perfect AP test scores, and near-perfect GPAs, are rejected than accepted. This is simply due to the large number of students applying to top colleges. However, if one of those students has an Olympic gold medal, has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for charity, has published a book, has started a successful company, or has done any of a thousand other possible things to make the world a better place or to rise above the hordes of others applying for that same seat at that same college, then he is far more likely to survive the roundtable discussion in which his application is considered.

Neil Chyten, Founder

NC Global Education




833-888-6232 (Chinese Line) 

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