Before you can start college you have to get in, and to get in you need a plan. Set yourself up to succeed by creating a preparation timeline, learning about colleges’ expectations and making the most of your contacts.
Whether you are coming in as a new freshman, a transfer student or a returning student, a lot of moving parts go into planning for college. Stay on track, up-to-date and organized by following a step-by-step college planning timeline suited to your current status. Download a timeline to get started.
While every college evaluates applicants differently, your high school transcript may be the most important element for getting into the college of your choice. Your transcript is the document that describes what classes you took in high school, how well you did in them and your overall pattern of performance.
Generally speaking, above and beyond grades, two of the things admissions officers look for when reviewing a transcript are course difficulty and performance consistency. Course difficulty often comes into play when admissions officers are reviewing two applicants with similar GPAs. The student who took more difficult classes, such as college-level or Advanced Placement (AP) classes, will generally be favored, as he or she has shown a greater ability to accept challenges and work hard.
Performance consistency is a student’s ability to maintain steady grades. Admissions officers appreciate consistency, as it demonstrates a student’s dedication and work ethic. If you’re like most students and haven’t received straight A’s throughout your entire high school career, at least try to get your highest grades in the semesters leading up to your application submission. Your most recent grades are often the first thing application officers look at, and improved grades will make a positive impression.
Take note of course difficulty and performance consistency when reviewing your transcript, and, of course, take note of your overall GPA. Generally speaking, your overall GPA will likely be looked at first, as it represents the average number of grade points you earned for each high school class. You can calculate your overall GPA using the four-point scale. While not all schools use this, it is the most commonly used high school GPA scale. It breaks out as follows:
The totals are then added together and divided by the number of classes to get your overall GPA. For example, look at the following report card and calculations.
3.7 + 3.3 + 3 + 4 + 2.3 = 16.3
16.3 / 5 classes = 3.3 GPA
In addition to your application form and essay, many colleges now ask for letters of recommendation. Letters of recommendation are letters – often written by teachers and counselors – that offer personalized accounts of your character and qualifications as a student. They can be extremely influential in the college acceptance process, and the best way to obtain a great one is by following some basic practices.
Since teachers and counselors often get swamped with recommendation letter requests in the fall, the best time to ask for a recommendation is in the spring of your junior year. This gives your letter writer the summer to sit down and really take his or her time writing a thorough, well-thought-out recommendation.
You want to ask someone who knows you well and has an understanding of what admissions officers look for. Your writer doesn’t have to be the most notable teacher, or even the teacher of the class in which you got an A – he or she should be someone familiar with your work and who you are as an individual. That person will be able to offer more detail and credibility and ultimately compose a more compelling letter.
Don’t send an email. Don’t leave a voicemail. Meet with the person you’re going to ask face-to-face to convey just how important this is to you. Again, teachers get a lot of recommendation requests, and you don’t want to get lost in the shuffle. Plus, meeting face-to-face will give you the opportunity to provide some organized information about yourself that will help your writer compose a strong letter.
Give your writer a copy of the application from the college to which you’re applying, a brief summary of why you want to attend that college and an accomplishments résumé that includes grades, awards, extracurricular activities or anything else you’re proud of. Providing this information will save your writer time and help him or her write a more personalized and detailed letter.
Always give your writer pre-addressed stamped envelopes for mailing. The last thing you want is a lost recommendation letter due to an address misspelling or lack of postage.
An actual thank-you note is best. Showing your appreciation formally will ensure your recommendation writer’s testimony for years to come – and having good contacts throughout your college application process is important.