College Prep 101
Choosing the right school is personal—and sometimes stressful. We offer tips on how to stand out in the admissions process.
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Jumpstart your planning
Counselors, colleges and organizations like the National Association for College Admission Counseling emphasize that parents should start planning for college no later than middle school. Why so early? This timeline allows students to take the required courses they’ll need to get into college (and maybe even take classes for college credit), meet application deadlines, and research and apply for low-interest loans, scholarships, grants, and work-study programs.
“We encourage students to begin thinking about post-secondary choices in middle school and when they’re freshmen, we help them create a plan that will chart their course in high school,” says Nancy Kracke, Eastern Carver County Schools (District 112) community relations director. “We help students select classes that meet college admission requirements and then offer even more depth for students who aim toward particular colleges.”
District 112, serving the residents of Carver, Chanhassen, Chaska, and Victoria, also offers Project Lead the Way, an accredited pre-engineering program, and college classes authorized by Mankato State University.
Making the grade
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 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 Academy of Holy Angels, a co-educational, Catholic high school in Richfield and Minnehaha Academy, a pre-K – 12 Christian school with campuses in Minneapolis and Bloomington—offer a vast array of Advanced Placement courses. Taking AP courses helps students develop the knowledge, skills and abilities necessary for a successful transition to college. AP courses are generally demanding, and require a certain level of maturity and dedication.
Hill-Murray, a Catholic school for grades 7-12, not only offers a variety of AP courses, it is the only metro area high school cited by ACT twice—in 2007 and 2009—for college-preparatory academic rigor “as a leader in preparing high school students for postsecondary education.” In addition, it is one of only 21 Minnesota high schools accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools. Beyond the core rigor in math, science, English, and social studies, Hill-Murray, based in Maplewood, has outstanding programs in fine arts, including an Artist-in-Residence program (giving students the opportunity to learn from a working artist) and award-winning theatre.
Across town, Minnetonka also attracts the best and brightest. In the last few years, student achievement has soared in Minnetonka Public Schools, and Minnetonka now ranks among America’s Top High Schools (Newsweek magazine). A school-record 15 students were named National Merit Semifinalists, with 24 Commended students in 2008.
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—Anthony Piscitiello, vice president of admissions 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.”
Keep in mind, though, that most institutions are interested in more than just statistics. “Members of the admissions committee are like employers—they look at the whole person, not just their academic credentials,” explains Kristin Janes, director of recruitment operations at Northwestern College, a private Christian liberal arts college in St. Paul. “Students who are actively engaged in their communities through leadership and service and who will enhance the student body are highly desirable candidates for admission.”