Guest Post by Erika Coplon

Now that the fall semester has come to a close, it’s the ideal time for juniors and their families to map out a game plan for the college search and admissions process.  With Early Decision programs on the rise, the need is greater than ever to start early and carefully research all of the options.    As you begin what will be one of the most important journeys you and your child will take together, remember that it’s not about “acing the college application” or picking a college based on rankings.  To help your teen find the college that is the right fit for them now is the time to get started.

Here is Inside Track’s Top 10 List of what college admissions officers are looking for when reviewing applications:

1. Rigorous high school curriculum

Students should choose challenging coursework, including some Honors, AP, and/or IB classes. 

2. Strong history of grades with upward trend

Grades should reflect a strong record of performance and reflect an upward trend over the four years of high school.

3. Thoughtful essay that shares something valuable about the student

The personal statement should be well written and share something relevant about the student – who they are, what they are passionate about, their future dreams and goals, and/or what they might bring to a college campus.

4. Passionate involvement in one or more activities

Students should be prepared to showcase a few activities that demonstrate their passion, leadership and initiative.  They should not present a laundry list of activities with little to no substantial involvement.

5. Strong standardized test scores

The importance of standardized testing scores varies widely across colleges and universities.  Students should be prepared to present a full battery of test scores, including SAT Subject and/or AP tests in their proposed area of study if possible.

6. Descriptive, honest letters of recommendation

Strong letters of recommendation from teachers and counselors should indicate a student’s level of intellectual vitality, the caliber of a student’s work, and how the student adds to the classroom dynamic.

7. Insightful interview

Evaluative or informative, an interview with an admissions officer or alumna provides students the opportunity to put a personal touch on their application and offers a chance to connect with the person who may be advocating for them in the process.

8. Demonstrated enthusiasm

Signing up for mailing lists, visiting campuses, attending a local college representative visit or college fair, and taking advantage of an optional interview are all signs that a student is serious about a particular school.

9. Involvement and activities outside of school

Students should be prepared to share how they spend their evenings and weekends, including work experience and community service.

10. Special talents

Star athletes, artists, dancers and musicians may have priority in the admissions process if their talent is one that is desirable on a particular college campus.

As InsideTrack’s College Admissions Coaching Program Director, Erika Coplon guides students on how to be successful in each of these areas. The earlier a student gets involved in the college process, the better equipped he will be to clearly articulate his goals, craft a stellar application, and ultimately make the right college match. So parents of juniors, don’t wait to spring into action and develop a very specific game plan for the year ahead.