12 things you can do now to strengthen your college application

It’s that time of year when seniors are busy putting the final touches on their college applications. With a simple click, they’ll hit “submit” on the culmination of years of preparation. For their fellow underclassmen, it’s never too early to think about your “next step.” As your time to apply is still a little time away, Greater Atlanta Christian School’s Counseling Office has tips to help you plan ahead and strengthen your applications, giving you the best possible personal profile! Stand out by using some of these helpful ideas.

By: Elisa Restea, Associate Director of Marketing and Communications, Greater Atlanta Christian School | Photos Courtesy of Greater Atlanta Christian School

1. Make every grade count: For many colleges and universities, including our own state universities, grades as early as freshman year are used to calculate admissions GPA. And for good reason. According to a 2017 study from the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research, how students perform academically in ninth grade can predict their future success. Students can recover from a less-than-perfect academic performance, however, and most colleges will appreciate an upward trend. You might even be able to turn a lower than hoped for semester of grades into a comeback story in your admissions essay. Bottom line: Don’t miss the opportunity to make every grade count in your favor.

2. Rigor matters: An A in an easy course will be a lot less impressive than a B in an advanced class. In a survey from the National Association for College Admission Counseling, results show that over half of admissions officers will factor in the applicant’s strength of curriculum. A challenging course load shows that you are willing to work hard, which is an indicator of future success in college. We encourage students to challenge themselves. Pursue more difficult courses in areas that you think you will enjoy, but what you do, you want to do well. GAC students can choose from 26 honors classes and 29 AP courses, providing them ample options to take challenging courses. GAC alumna Megan Eberhart has seen firsthand how taking AP classes at GAC prepared her for the rigor of her master’s program at Vanderbilt University. “I owe so much to my teacher in AP Lit for strengthening my writing skills—skills I still put to use today in writing the many papers my master’s program requires me to write.”

3. Use teachers as a resource: Not only will your teachers write your college recommendation letters, they will invest their time in developing relationships with you. These are men and women who can guide you in exploring your future college major selection and career choice. Our teachers provide multiple times when they are able to work with students outside of class for better course understanding, advanced mastery, and just a little extra practice. Faculty members not only teach, they mentor our students academically and spiritually. These relationships form a foundation of caring. You’ll leave high school with people who are in your corner and can encourage you throughout your journey, from college and beyond.

4. Your counseling office is your friend: Take advantage of your school’s counseling office. They have a wealth of knowledge and can guide you to finding your right-fit school, including schools you might not have otherwise considered. GAC has dedicated counselors for each grade level who help students at every stage in the application journey, starting with freshman year. GAC Counselor Lori Davis shares, “It’s really important to identify a student’s goals and begin to refine a list of colleges to meet the priorities set by each student and family. The list has to be balanced and should include schools that will be good academic, social, and financial fits. We want a student’s college choice to meet his or her needs, both inside and outside of the classroom. Our goal is that by the time students are making final college decisions in March – May of their senior year, they will have a variety of colleges to choose from where they can be happy and successful. And I firmly believe that we can find a fit for everyone.” But counselors do so much more. They help you strengthen your profile and put forth the most rigorous application possible, adding that all-important counselor’s recommendation to your application package. At GAC, your counselor also serves as a resource for when you are struggling or uncertain. Preparing you for leaving high school involves helping you build your confidence, and developing the resilience to walk through challenges, coming out ready to take the next step.

5. Real work experience gives you an edge: consider using your summers to participate in interesting job or internship opportunities. Not only does this show initiative and responsibility, it can pay dividends in college where you can be more focused because you have some idea of what you want to pursue as a career. GAC students have the opportunity to participate in the Summer Fellowship Program where they are placed with potential employers in their desired fields. This competitive Junior year program gives students a leg up on other applicants through real-world experience. GAC Fellowship student Melissa Lucht has her sights set on a career in biomedical engineering. She gained valuable insight from the experience with the City of Peachtree Corners. “The most important thing I learned is that you never know enough. As the fellow, I picked up a lot of new information; however, I noticed that others in the workplace were eager to learn from their colleagues. Everyone wanted to grow in their knowledge and understanding of different topics. I was able to meet and grow relationships with people who have similar interests and gain a better understanding of the workplace in general.”

6. Leadership matters: Colleges look at your leadership as a reflection of how you will also serve at their school. By demonstrating leadership potential, you become a much more attractive candidate. And whether it’s serving as a mentor or holding an office in the drama program, you can show servant leadership through everyday activities you are involved. Find something you are passionate about and lend a hand!

7. Serve with purpose and focus: contrary to popular opinion, colleges care less and less about one-off community service. Ian Fisher, former admission advisor at Reed College, states, “there is nothing extra special about community service.” But this is not true for students with a passion or cause who have shown commitment over time. According to a survey by Dosomething.org, 70 percent of admissions officers prefer students who work consistently on just one issue or project — and are “more impressed by long-term local grunt work than a summer of volunteer work abroad.” Find a cause you care about and start now. Spend two hours a week serving at the local animal shelter or visiting residents at a nursing home. GAC’s graduating classes volunteer approximately 20,000 hours over the course of their high school career. They do this by serving locally or overseas with causes they feel passionately about.

8. Be wise about social media: Your friends are not the only ones looking at your Instagram profile. Admissions officers may do the same but they may have a different take on your bikini selfies or questionable comments. A 2016 Time article reports that 40 percent of admissions officers say they visit applicants social media pages to learn about them. IvyWise writes that 35 percent of admissions counselors found something that negatively impacted an applicant’s chances of getting in. A good place to start is to Google your name and see what is out there. Clean up any unscrupulous tweets and be more careful about what you post in the future.

9. Apply for scholarships early and often: The only thing standing in the way of you and a smaller tuition bill is time, dedication, and some writing. You can start applying for awards and scholarships as early as freshman year in high school. Many of them will ask you to write a brief essay on a particular topic. Some scholarships, such as the Horatio Alger Scholarship, for example, provides scholarships to students who match a certain profile (in this case students who have faced and overcome great obstacles in their young lives). Find scholarships that you qualify for at LifeLauncher.com, Scholarships.com, and Unigo.com. You have nothing to lose. In fact, you’ll probably become a stronger student with all of the writing practice you’ll be getting.

10. Improve your chances with early decision (ED) or early action (EA): Hundreds of schools have early application plans/deadlines which require applicants to apply earlier in the fall, way in advance of regular application deadlines. ED typically gives your application a generous boost toward acceptance according to Lora Lewi with Unigo.com. For example, in 2016, Columbia University’s regular decision acceptance rate was 6 percent, but the ED acceptance rate was 20.4 percent. The only problem with ED is that it is binding so if you are accepted, you have to attend that college. EA is not binding, however, but also provides less of an advantage. You then have the opportunity to compare financial aid offers from multiple schools. Former GAC salutatorian Caroline Bower knew that Duke University was her top choice, so she applied for ED. Not only was she accepted, but she spent the majority of her senior year with the college decision checked off her to-do list.

11. Take an online course: The future of education is changing. About 33 percent of college students are taking at least one course online, according to a survey by the Babson Survey Research Group. Why not be prepared by taking an online course, whether on edX, Coursera, or GAC’s online school Ethos? It’s another great thing you can be doing over the summer.

12. Start your SAT or ACT test prep: It’s probably a no-brainer, but you will definitely want to practice for your standardized tests which are typically taken the semester before applications are due, in the spring of your Junior year. Whether it’s taking an online prep course, engaging a test prep tutor, or simply using a prep book and flashcards, find the way to study that works best for you. Through its Summer Camp, GAC offers test prep courses over the summer which is a great time to study for these exams. Test prep courses are generally on-going throughout the year at GAC, but you have to plan ahead. A typical test prep class will start a couple of months before the testing date, so keep an eye on our announcements for the next one starting soon!

Want more tips? Contact GAC to learn more about how this Norcross-based private school can help you reach even greater success through stellar college acceptances. Email [email protected].


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