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Anthony-James Green is world-renowned SAT and ACT tutor with over 10,000 hours of experience teaching these tests, crafting curriculum, and training other tutors to teach their own students. He is also the founder of TestPrepAuthority.com. CNN recently named Anthony: “The SAT tutor to the 1%”
If you want to get into the nation’s best colleges, there are plenty of people out there who will tell you what to do. However, few people discuss something far more important: what not to do if you want to keep your application out of the rejection pile.
Your mistakes will keep you out of college much more quickly than your triumphs will get you in. In this quick guide, I’ll teach you seven of the most common, most damaging mistakes that students and parents make during the application process, why they’re so harmful to your chances of admission, and how you can avoid making them.
1. Leaving things until the last minute.
To get into good colleges, you need to take the SAT or ACT, SAT Subject Tests, find recommendations, write essays, pick colleges, make college visits, keep a high GPA, select your specialty, set up interviews, fill out applications…the list goes on. The longer you wait to get started, the more likely it is that you won’t have time to effectively handle each element. Start planning now, figure out when, where, and how you’ll prepare for each element of your application, and get moving!
2. Applying to the wrong schools.
Every student makes a strong applicant to some colleges – and a horrible applicant to others. Not all schools are created equal (or anything close to it). Make sure that the colleges to which you apply match your particular strengths, weaknesses, and interests. A strong math student might thrive at MIT (and get easily admitted), but be miserable at Amherst (and get rejected offhand). You’ll be spending the next four years of your life at your college, so make sure it’s somewhere where you’ll thrive! Just as importantly, make sure that your target colleges are looking for your kind of application.
3. Failing to craft a single area of expertise.
If you want to get into the nation’s best colleges, you need to fill one blank:
“You should let me in because I’m an absolutely incredible _________.”
Colleges don’t want Jacks of all trades – they want well rounded classes, not students. They want a few incredible athletes, a few incredible mathletes, a few amazing writers, a few top-notch philanthropists, and so on and so forth. Figure out what one thing you’re best at, then gear all your academics, extra curriculars, etc. toward that one region of expertise. Cut out any activities that don’t have to do with it.
4. Failing to show interest.
Want to know the only statistic more important to a college’s prestige than admissions percentage? The ratio of students who are admitted to students who actually show up. The better that ratio, the better the college. Harvard is Harvard for one very specific reason: practically everybody who gets into Harvard goes. They are no one’s “backup school.”
If you apply to a college without indicating that you might attend, it’s an enormous red flag. They don’t just want to know that you’re good enough for them – they need to know that they’re good enough for you. Nothing makes a college look worse than admitting a bunch of students who don’t show up.
Go visit the campus. Do an interview. Make sure your application matches the things that they’re looking for (see rule #1). Mention specific elements of the school that you like in your supplemental essays. Do everything you can to show active, researched interest in that school. If you don’t, they might reject you simply because they think you’ll be a no-show.
5. Forgetting that it’s about elimination, not about acceptance.
Before colleges pick the people they love, they first eliminate the people they can’t possibly admit. The easiest way for them to do this? They take anyone with a bad GPA or sub-par SAT/ACT scores and toss their applications in the trash before they ever read them.
Unless you’re a recruited athlete, published author, highly sought-after minority, or huge alumni connection, you need the right metrics. It doesn’t matter how awesome you are – if you don’t have scores and grades that meet the minimum standards of your target schools, they’ll never find out!
Do everything you can to boost your GPA and your SAT/ACT scores. They’re the most fundamental part of your application. Once you have strong metrics, you have a chance to prove yourself to your dream schools. If you don’t have good metrics, they’ll never find out about you as a person!
If you want to get into the schools of your dreams, start planning now! Plan your academic calendar. Focus on your area of expertise. Go on site visits. Plan your essays. Plan your SAT or ACT prep schedule. Figure out which Subject Tests you’ll take. Boost your GPA. Do everything you can to make yourself the most appealing applicant as soon as possible – you’ll have much less to deal with down the road!
I hope you found my guide useful, and thanks for reading! So long as you avoid the five mistakes above, you’ll stand a better chance of admission than 99% of the applicants you’re competing against. Now get to it!