Planning for College
Getting into college is the culmination of all of your hard work in school. It also requires a well-thought-out plan. Set yourself up to succeed by starting early, learning about colleges' expectations and making the most of your contacts.
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The Truth About Transcripts
While every college evaluates applicants differently, your high school transcript may be the most important element for getting into the college of your choice. It describes what classes you took in high school, how well you did in them and your overall pattern of performance.
Above and beyond grades, two of the things admissions officers look for when reviewing a transcript are course difficulty and performance consistency. Course difficulty often comes into play when admissions officers are reviewing two applicants with similar GPAs. The student who took more difficult classes, such as college-level or Advanced Placement (AP) classes, will generally be favored, as he or she has shown a greater ability to accept challenges and work hard.
Performance consistency is a student's ability to maintain steady grades. Admissions officers appreciate this because it demonstrates a student's dedication and work ethic. If you're like most students and haven't received straight A's throughout your entire high school career, at least try to get your highest grades in the semesters leading up to your application submission. Your most recent grades are often the first thing application officers look at, and improved grades will make a positive impression.
In addition to your application form and essay, many colleges now ask for letters of recommendation. Teachers, coaches, employers and counselors write these letters on your behalf to offer personalized accounts of your character and qualifications as a student. The letters can be extremely influential in the college acceptance process, and the best way to receive a great one is to follow some basic practices:
- Ask early.
Since teachers and counselors often get swamped with recommendation letter requests in the fall, the best time to ask for a recommendation is in the spring of your junior year. This gives your letter writer the summer to sit down and really take his or her time writing a thorough, well-thought-out recommendation.
- Ask the right person.
You want to ask someone who knows you well and has an understanding of what admissions officers look for. Your writer doesn't have to be the most notable teacher, or even the teacher of the class in which you got an A; he or she should be someone familiar with your work and who you are as an individual. That person will be able to offer more detail and credibility and ultimately compose a more compelling letter.
- Ask in person.
Don't send an email. Don't leave a voicemail. Meet with the person you're going to ask face-to-face to convey just how important this is to you. Again, teachers get a lot of recommendation requests, and you don't want to get lost in the shuffle. Plus, meeting face-to-face will give you the opportunity to provide some organized information about yourself that will help your writer compose a strong letter.
- Provide necessary information.
Give your writer a copy of the application from the college to which you're applying, a brief summary of why you want to attend that college and a résumé that includes grades, awards, extracurricular activities or anything else you're proud of. Providing this information will save your writer time and help him or her write a more personalized and detailed letter.
- Make it easy.
Find out how each school prefers to receive your letters of recommendation, and do everything you can to make that process easy. For instance, the Common Application asks for your recommender's email address so they can submit your letter directly.
- Say thanks.
An actual thank-you note is best. When you show your appreciation formally, you ensure that you have your recommendation writer's testimony for years to come.
Paying for College
Understand all of your options for covering the various costs, from books to tuition.
College Planning Timeline
See the steps to take at each grade level so you can be prepared.