HOW TO GET INTO COLLEGE
1. COLLEGES ADMIT STUDENTS
Selective colleges are seeking, and finding, serious, successful students. Most also want people who are givers, joiners, good at many things, and great at one or two. Some (like members of the Ivy Athletic Association) can get absolutely anything they want in every applicant they admit. Others are grateful to get a class that can make it to graduation. Most are in between. The successful candidates for selective colleges will be those who take plenty of hard courses, get consistently good and/or steadily improving grades, and still find time to do other things well. But here in the Land of Opportunity, there are college opportunities for any serious high-school graduate who desires higher education. That said, here’s how to maximize your opportunities.
Despite all the hype you've heard about SAT's, sports, leadership, community service, special categories, etc., the vast majority of all admissions decisions made by selective colleges are determined by two factors: grades and course selection. It’s a rare candidate who jumps over better students because of an editorship, a wealthy grandparent, or an amazing jump shot. To get into a "good" college, you've got to get "good" grades in "good" courses. To be sure, accomplishment in extracurriculars will make you stronger in competition against students like yourself for a place in a selective college. They will also make your life more interesting, more fulfilling and more fun. These, too, are important, but don’t let them make you a weaker student.
2. EVERYTHING IS RELATIVE
What is a "good" college for you? Only a thorough, individualized college search will reveal your right answers. Colleges at various levels of competition for entrance will have varying ideas of which courses and grades are "good enough" to get you in. But, as a rule, selective colleges seek applicants who have succeeded in the hardest courses they can handle across the five core disciplines. How many, how hard, and how successful are the variables that distinguish levels of selectivity.
3. THE FIVE BASIC DISCIPLINES
Colleges generally expect their candidates to be well prepared in English, Mathematics, History/Social Sciences, Laboratory Sciences, and a World Language. The closer you can come to four years of college preparatory work in each of these disciplines, the more competitive a candidate you become. Many students are not pleased to learn this truth; after all, few of us are equally good at and equally interested in all areas of learning. And since "everything is relative", it is surely true that exceptional advancement and achievement in one or more areas may excuse minor shortage in another. But the principle stands, and should be your default goal in high school curriculum planning.
4. HONORS, A.P., I.B., ETC.
Every selective college you visit today will tell you it's seeking students who have challenged themselves with the hardest courses their schools offer. For many, that means Honors and A.P.© courses. The principle is simple to state -- "Get the highest grades you can get in the hardest courses you can handle" -- but tough to execute. One point is clear: Don't take a course which for you is so hard it's likely to put a "low" grade on your transcript. By all means, "stretch yourself", but not to the breaking point.
If you are one of those numerous human beings who is somewhat less than perfect, the earlier in high school you make your bigger mistakes, the better. "Colleges", the aphorism goes, "are more interested in who you are now than who you were in ninth grade." If you can't do straight A's for four straight years, try to keep improving your grades (and course selection) year over year. Colleges respect this evidence of growth and maturation. The senior year is especially important. In most cases, the senior first-semester grades are the last information your colleges will learn about you before making decisions. "The best grades you've ever gotten in the hardest courses you can handle" are, of course, what you want to show them. And don't start your vacation half way through senior year. Every college admission is contingent upon "successful completion" of your high school studies. Colleges can, and occasionally do, revoke the admission of some hapless individual who took a dive in her/his last semester. Why? Those final grades showed he/she was not the student the college thought it had admitted.