Planning & Strategy

Getting into college is harder than ever. Many top schools can fill their classes multiple times from the highly qualified applicant pool. What should a student do to gain admission and possibly receive merit college scholarships? There is no formula and most schools take a holistic approach.

High School Transcript

College admission begins with the transcript. A good transcript will “open the door” to getting into college. Colleges like to see good grades and growth – which means your grades are trending upwards. They also consider the rigor of the curriculum that you have chosen. Colleges want to see that you have taken advantage of the honors and Advanced Placement (AP) courses or IB program offered at your school. A highly competitive student will take as many AP’s as possible and even begin taking college courses while in high school.

Some college majors may require certain strengths, for example the transcript of a prospective engineer should show a strong record in mathematics.

I recommend that students challenge themselves but there is no reason to be overfaced. There are excellent schools on every level. Choose courses that make sense for YOU. If you love a subject then challenge yourself. When you put together your college list, choose colleges that match your academic profile.

Standardized Tests

Standardized tests, the ACT and SAT, are considered by many but not all schools. Some schools require submission of SAT 2 subject test scores. Check the individual website for each school to find out what is required for college admission.

I recommend taking a practice test for both the SAT and ACT, to see which one comes more easily to you. Once you decide which exam is a better match for you, then begin preparation. Most students will take the tests 2-3 times. Students build confidence each time they take the exams and can improve their scores. It is also important to take a few timed practice tests – start to finish, before taking the actual exam.


After all the hard numbers – grades and standardized tests, the colleges will look at your extracurricular activities. They are assembling an interesting and diverse community. What do you bring to the community? Rather than a broad range of activities, the schools prefer a few deep interests developed over time, that show the student’s passions, dedication and accomplishments. Have you demonstrated leadership or initiative?

Applications & Essays

The application and main essay should help the admissions staff to know you as a person and not just a set of numbers. Getting into college means distinguishing yourself. What makes you unique is what will make you compelling. Spend a lot of time and really think through your essay. The essay is personal and should be written in the first person. Use the application strategically to show as much of you as you can. Do not repeat your transcript; showcase your accomplishments.


Many colleges ask for teacher and guidance counselor recommendations. Get to know your teachers and participate in class. Recommendations are much more interesting and valuable if the teacher can tell a story about you.


Some schools offer interview opportunities. If you have the chance you should go on college interviews. Check with individual schools to arrange an on-campus or alumni interview. The more that the admissions officers can learn about you the better.

Your demonstrated interest in the school may also be a consideration. Colleges like to know that if they offer you admission, you will come. Visiting the campus, interviewing, asking questions of admissions officers and staff are all helpful in showing that you are truly interested. Supplemental essays are also a place where you can show that the school is a fit for you and you are interested in coming.

College admission takes planning and strategy. The details can often make the difference in your success.