College Prep 101
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Going to college—for many high school students—is a no-brainer.
College students have opportunities to grow personally, intellectually, and professionally, and college graduates often make more money.
In order to give students the best shot at unleashing their full potential and maximizing their chances of getting into the school of their choice, it pays to plan ahead.
Making the Grade
One of the best ways to prepare for college is to do well academically.
A student’s grade point average and standardized ACT or SAT scores are a clear indicator of academic ability and the easiest tools for admissions offices to compare students. According to The Princeton Review, the national average ACT score is between 20-21, and according to www.collegeboard.com, the middle 50 percent of first-year college students scored between 27 and 32. The higher your score, the more options you have (and the better your odds at snagging scholarship dollars). Most colleges and universities post GPA and test score requirements on their websites.
In order to help students prepare for college-level work, many area schools—such as Breck School, the International School of Minnesota, and Minnetonka High School—start preparing students at a young age by offering challenging courses.
“It’s important that families and educators begin preparing young students while they are in middle school,” says Beth Esselstrom, director, University of Minnesota-Duluth office of admissions. “Course curricula and academic achievement in core college preparatory courses are foundational for building an academic record that will most positively support applications for admission in the senior year of high school.”
“In my opinion, students need to be aware that their high school transcripts will most likely become scrutinized by college admissions personnel beginning their freshman year,” says Kirk Neubauer, senior associate director of admissions at Luther College. “Typically, colleges look more favorably at students who have challenged themselves in high school. A transcript that shows enrollment in AP, IB, Honors, Accelerated, and PSEO classes demonstrates a willingness by a student to push him/herself in the classroom.”
Adds Kris Roach, director of undergraduate admissions and financial aid at the University of St. Thomas, “Rigor in high school will help students cope with the rigor of college. In some respects it is better to earn a B in a very rigorous course, as a opposed to an A in an easier course, when preparing for college.”
It’s imperative that students not give in to “senioritis” and think they can slack off their last year of school. The college admissions game isn’t over after a student receives acceptance letters.
According to Campus Explorer, “Admissions departments at many colleges and universities have been known to rescind the acceptance letters of students who drop their tough classes or let their GPA sink dramatically due to senior slump.”
Participating in an extracurricular activity shows good time-management skills, the ability to prioritize, motivation, responsibility, and leadership qualities.
“There is no question that co-curricular involvement makes an applicant more appealing to an admissions office,” says Neubauer with Luther College. “Beyond a solid transcript, most colleges like to see applicants who are engaged outside the classroom. Is the applicant using his/her leisure time wisely? Is the student involved in athletics, music, theatre, dance, or a member of school clubs and organizations? How does the student manage his/her time? Does the student have a part-time job? Has he/she participated in some sort of community service project or mission trip?”
When applying to schools, students should highlight the importance of their contributions and responsibilities. Admissions officers like to see students who are not only members but also leaders. They want students who can contribute inside and outside the classroom.
The activities a student enjoys in high school can become the activities a student enjoys in college, which is why it’s important to research this aspect when looking at schools.
“It is not just about building a resume. It is about discovering your passion and making a difference,” says Roach with the University of St. Thomas.
Another factor in painting an overall picture of the applicant is a college essay. Admissions counselors suggest writing in a way that will allow them to get a general idea of your personality. The essay should showcase who you are. In order to prepare yourself for the essay—as well as the rigors of college coursework—Tony Piscitiello, senior advancement director at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota, a college offering small classes, personal attention, and challenging academics on a beautiful 400-acre campus in Winona, has simple advice to high school students: “Before entering college, read and write … A LOT.”
Admissions committees are like employers, they look at the whole person, not simply statistics. The essay can be the perfect opportunity for a student with less-than-ideal grades to explain their discrepancies. “Personal essays and recommendations are a great way to get to know the applicant on a more personal level,” says Kristin Vogel, director of undergraduate admissions, Concordia University, St. Paul. “We appreciate the chance to learn more about applicants and understand their context; grades and test scores are not always the best reflection of a student’s academic preparedness or fit for a particular institution.”
“Sometimes there are reasonable explanations for poor grades that only an applicant can articulate,” says Neubauer.