Friday, November 15, 2019

How to Get Into Your Dream College

Junior and senior year of high school are extremely stressful! Applying to college while keeping up with grades, extracurricular activities, work, relationships, and more seems like an impossible task. I'm going to break down every part of the application process to make your life a little easier. 

For those who are new to my blog, I'm a sophomore at Harvard University. After going through the college application process twice (once for undergrad and another time for the professional graduate program I'm in) I've gotten to know the application process very well. Here is what I've learned...

Colleges want a well-rounded class, not well-rounded students. Most colleges, including Harvard, want you to be an expert in your field. This is also referred to as your "spike." You don't want to be good at everything, you want to be great in your field of study. For me, this meant writing, fashion, and business. I made sure all my extracurriculars, awards, and internships showed that I was truly passionate about what I'm going to study. I also brought these three interests in my college essays. 

College Tours

College tours are a great place to start when applying. A current student will be your tour guide and you can ask them any questions you may have. This is a really helpful way to get a feel of the campus and find out more information. I took notes when I was touring schools, so that I could include details in my essays about why I wanted to attend. 

When I was touring Columbia University, my tour guide told me that Columbia takes note on interest. In other words, they notice how often you're asking questions and talking with admissions officers. This is important if you're certain what school you want to attend. Otherwise, college tours are great to see if you can picture yourself on campus. You might be surprised! When I visited one college that I thought I wanted to go to, I ended up not liking the campus and didn't apply at all. 

SAT/ACT Scores 

When I was a junior in high school, I took the SAT for the first time. I was absolutely terrified for this test. Personally, I think this test is not a true indicator of anything but unfortunately your scores do matter when applying to college.

I started studying my freshman year of high school, and took an SAT prep course my sophomore and junior year. I took the SAT twice and I would recommend taking the test as early as possible. Do not wait until your senior year to take the test! It will just put added pressure on you to get the score you want. There isn't a limit on how many times you can take the test, and there are seven testing dates throughout the year.

A huge part of the SAT and ACT is learning how to take the test. The test does have a time limit for each section, and it's very easy to get stuck on a question and then not finish your test. There are a lot of great SAT books to study from as well as online practice tests. I used this one. Taking practice tests really helped me be comfortable with the amount of time I needed to take on each question. If you don't know the answer after a minute or two, skip it and come back to it later. I would also recommend looking up the test scores of the previously admitted class of the school you want to go to. This will give you some guiding numbers of the score you need to achieve. Once your score falls in range of the school's averages, I wouldn't suggest taking the test anymore. 

The test is four hours long, which really got to me when I was taking it. I recommend eating a filling breakfast, getting lots of sleep the night before, and trying to take one question at a time. Try not to think about what the other test takers are doing. 


Once you figure out what schools you might like to go to, I would suggest looking up the average GPA and test scores of the students. You should apply to the schools where your scores are similar or higher. This is a pretty good indicator that you will be accepted. However, it's very important to apply to a couple backup schools. Backup schools are ones where your scores are much higher than the previously admitted students and you are very likely to get in. 


I took a lot of AP's in high school which meant I graduated with a 4.5 weighted GPA. I would recommend taking advantage of the AP classes that relate to what you want to study. You don't have to be great in every area, focus on your best subjects. 

Letters of Recommendation

Your letters of recommendation need to show why the college should choose you over someone else and what you can offer to the school. College Admissions Reps are reading thousands of applications a day and they read the same things over and over. Your letters need to be more descriptive than you're "hard-working." They need to expand upon your story and why you'd be a great addition to the school. One of my letters was from my English teacher who talked about how I was able to go to a high school while working full time as a model and actress. I was able to study in all different parts of the world when I was on set, and I was able to expand my education through traveling. My work experience is what made me different. 


There is a section on the common application for you to list your awards. The five awards that I listed were for my charity work through my non-profit, Small Acts Big Change, that I started when I was 12. These awards should relate to your "spike."

Internships and Work Experience

I started working at the age of 6 when I signed with Ford Models. Being able to manage a busy work and travel schedule, while getting good grades in school was a huge part of my story. 

Throughout high school, I participated in three internships. One was  for a fashion company called SAbel, one for a magazine, and the third was marketing for Nordstrom's. This allowed me to apply real world knowledge and show how passionate I am about business, writing, and fashion. In my essays, I expanded upon how much these internships impacted me. I would suggest getting an internship or job in high school that relates to something your passionate about. This is a great way to see what kind of career you might be interested in.


Get involved in a variety of activities in and outside of school. Choose the activities where your interests lie. These make up some of the most significant part of your application. These can range from sports to charity work to clubs at school. Once you pick your activities, you should go deeper by holding a leadership position. On the activities section of the Common App, you will need to explain your experience and what you learned from each extracurricular. These should relate to your "spike" as well. 


Think of your essays as a way to get the admissions officers to get to know you. Every essay should be telling a different part of your story or "spike." You should expand upon things that aren't completely covered in your application. You should expand upon your background and passions. For me, I expanded upon my high school experience and how my self directed learning allowed me to achieve my goals. I also expanded upon some of my internships and work experiences and what I learned from them. 

I would suggest starting to write your essays in the summer of your senior year. You should rewrite and edit them up until the deadline. One of my writing professors at Harvard, says that the writing process is "40% writing and 60% rewriting." I think this is really great advice. I would suggest having as many people as possible read and edit your essays. 

Applying early to college can be really helpful because you are notified of your acceptance at an earlier date. There are two options when applying early, early decision and early action. Early decision is a binding agreement that if you are accepted to the school, you will go. This means that you can apply early decision to one school. You will also have to withdraw all other college applications if accepted. Early action is a non-binding agreement where you are notified earlier whether you are accepted or denied. You can consider all your options and make your decision by May 1. This can take off a lot of pressure because you will already know that you got into at least one school. 

Just remember that the schools you get into doesn't mean anything. College does not define you. Try to enjoy your high school experience and not get too stressed out. Everything will work out and you will end up at the school that's right for you! 

I hope this was helpful and I hope you get into your dream school! 

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