My (Kelly) mother used to say in her inspired attempts to wake me, "The early bird catches the worm." My reply would always be, "I don't want any worms" as I rolled over in my bed and burrowed deeper beneath the covers. In the case of college admissions, you definitely want the worm. In fact, you want a whole bucket of worms.
If you are a junior, sophomore or even a freshman reading this, then kudos to you! You are giving yourself an advantage that most seniors only wish that they had. There are so many ways you can prepare for college admission that the earlier you start, the more successful you will be. Before we begin, however, we should warn you that your goal in getting an early start is to accomplish as much as possible in a limited amount of time. But don't feel that you have to do everything all at once—if you did, you would have little time left to enjoy anything else.
Start by asking your parents, teachers, counselors, older siblings and friends to share what they know about going to college. Talk to alumni from your high school about their experiences. Ask them about their courses, activities and social life. Get a college directory with detailed descriptions of colleges and universities. Or, search databases of colleges online. Visit the homepages of colleges that interest you. The goal is to just learn everything that you can about colleges in general. You're not looking for anything specific, just trying to get a feel for the "lay of the land."
Flipping through brochures and college guides at the library is a good beginning, but it only tells you so much. To really learn about a college you need to take a field trip. The next time your family goes on a vacation, see if you will be near any of the colleges you might want to attend. If so, why not stop by for a short visit? While you're there, take a campus tour, sit in on a class or just walk around the campus absorbing the ambiance. Speak to students, peek inside the dorms and have a meal in the cafeteria. You can learn a lot from observing: the size and environment of the campus, what surrounds the campus and how happy the students appear. It's still early but by getting an early start on thinking about where you want to apply, you will have a tremendous advantage when the time comes to actually begin the college selection and admissions process.
One of the most important factors in being admitted to college (as your parents have probably lectured to you more times than you would like to remember) is your grade point average—and it needs to be competitive. However, understand that not all grades are considered equal. An "A" in an honors or Advanced Placement course is much better than an "A" in a non-honors course. After all, it's not fair to compare an "A" in regular physics to an "A" in AP physics, is it? In fact, colleges often recalculate your GPA based on how many courses are honors or Advanced Placement.
Some students make the mistake of trying to get a high GPA by taking the easiest classes offered like "Woodshop: How to Cut Wood." Colleges want to see that you are motivated and willing to challenge yourself academically. If you can handle the work load, sign up for honors, Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate classes. Yes, this means that you will voluntarily ask for more homework, spend more time studying and take more difficult tests, but keep in mind that an acceptance letter into the college of your choice could be your reward.
Gen and Kelly Tanabe
Founders of SuperCollege and authors of 13 books on college planning.
By: Gen & Kelly Tanabe
The only how-to book which shows all students how to get into the school of their dreams. Based on the experiences of dozens of successful students and authored by two graduates of Harvard, this book shows you how to ace the application, essay, interview, and standardized tests.