The frenzy of college admissions is a regular headline grabber.
Increasingly lower acceptance rates – last year Harvard accepted 5.9 percent, rejecting 94.1 percent of the applicants – have encouraged students to apply to more and more colleges, feeding the frenzy even further.
But how deep does this uber-competitiveness go? It’s really only the top 50-100 colleges in the country where the acceptance rates are less than 50 percent. So for most high school seniors who aren’t looking at the most selective colleges, being a “solid B” student is not the end of the world.
If you’re not a straight-A student, how can you improve your chances? Pick your courses wisely. Make sure you fulfill your high school graduation and college entrance requirements – typically four years of English, four years of math, two or three years of science, two or three years of history/social sciences and one to three years of a foreign language.
Use your extra course options for areas of interest such as marketing, anatomy and physiology and interior design.
Try to do as well as you can in your weaker subjects, but don’t overcompensate. Work to your potential in all subjects, but don’t spend an inordinate amount of time in one area so that your other grades suffer.
Take more demanding courses in the subject areas that you like best and where you are most likely to excel. Research colleges realistically.
By all means, it makes sense to have a dream school or two on your list. Make sure as you’re compiling your list that you look at the average accepted GPA as well as the middle 50 percent SAT or ACT scores.
Identify a few target schools as well as two solid safety schools to fill out your list. Include one “financial safety,” typically an in-state option; who knows what can happen to family finances in the course of a year?
Increase your options by setting yourself apart. Don’t do what everybody else does for clubs and extracurricular activities. Be mindful of what you choose to do this summer – it’s one of the best opportunities to distinguish yourself from your peers.
Keep working hard. It’s not too late to improve your GPA or increase your test scores. If you’re a junior, do your best this semester and think about applying regular decision as opposed to early action in the fall, so colleges will be able to see your first-semester senior grades.
Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. www.collegeadmissionsstrategies.com5
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