Strategies for Applying to Colleges

  • When applying to college, students should do their research first.  Look at size, location, cost, and academic appeal.  This process usually starts in the 10th or 11th grade.  The advantage to starting early is that it allows you time to visit schools, attend college fairs, and investigate the requirements to help you make a positive decision. Your high school transcript begins with your first high school level course.

    High School Transcript:

    • Grade point averages are important. 
    • This starts from the first time you take a high school level course. 
    • The unweighted GPA is your basic GPA that is averaged from the number of courses you take and the semester grades you earn in them. 
    • Weighted GPA is when an additional point is added for taking classes that are considered weighted.  These classes include honors, pre-IB, IB, AP, and Dual enrollment courses.  Some Dual enrollment courses do not get the full point added. This is due to the number of credit hours the course is worth.
    • There are also core courses GPAs for Bright Futures and NCAA Clearinghouse.  Core Courses tend to be English, Math, Science, History, and Foreign Language courses. 
    • The final GPA to be aware of is the GPA that the individual college creates from your transcript.  This can vary from college to college. 
    • Colleges will look at the GPA that is created from any courses taken prior to the 12th grade year. 
    • Colleges will look at the level of the courses taken. 
    • They are looking for you to have taken the most challenging courses available to you that you can be successful taking. 
    • Honors, pre-IB, IB, IB, and AP courses are important to experience and take.
    • Class rank is subjective to the college. 
    • Since most colleges, especially highly selective colleges recalculate their GPAs based on your courses, a class rank could not mean much.  They look more at the kind of courses taken and what is offered at the high school.

    Test Scores:

    • A college level entrance test is required at most colleges. 
    • There are some schools that no longer require either score. 
    • The SAT or the ACT are the two accepted at almost all colleges and universities. 
    • You should research the individual schools and their requirements. 
    • Some schools also require SAT II Subject tests. 
    • All of these tests are offered 6 times a year. 
    • Both the SAT and ACT allow you to send only the scores you want sent to schools. 
    • Most schools, but not all will also combine the best scores from different testing dates of the same test.  Again, research the school to see what they accept. 
    • Scores can be sent free when you register to take the test.  After the test, there is a fee. 
    • Schools will not accept scores just from the student or the high school, they must come from the testing organization. 
    • Many schools use a sliding scale, meaning that the higher the GPA the lower the test score needed. 
    • Again, researching the school of choice is important to see what the average test score is for that year.  For example, the average test score for the University of Florida is the following: SAT--1820-2060 and the ACT--27-31. 
    • There are services out there to help the student gain a better score.  This can be costly. 
    • Students can also purchase their on test prep books to help prepare for these tests. 
    • AP/IB tests can add college credit. This again is an area you want to research.  Some schools will not award credit but will advance you into higher level courses.  Some will not award credit unless the IB Diploma is awarded.  Other schools have certain criteria when it comes to certain majors.  If you major in history they may not allow you to use your AP History scores for credit.

    Extracurricular Activities/Sports/Community Service:

    • Being involved in the school and community is a MUST to be considered at the higher level
    • Look for things you can be involved in over a length of time (Doing too many can be seen as padding the resume)
    • Demonstrate leadership, creativity, and special involvement
    • Sports can be a rewarding experience and open doors
    • Community Service is important as well but should be meaningful
    • A student who is involved, can draw from their experiences


    • Besides grades, the essay is the most important part of the application process
    • It allows the reader to see into the student and get an idea of who they are
    • They want to see what makes you unique--this is important
    • The essay is the place for you to explain things that may be missing in your application, such as they need for you to work instead being active in the school or your responsibility to care for elders or siblings.
    • The essay should not be the boring "this is who I am" but rather an interesting look into your life.  Use a hook to draw them in or be creative in your writing.
    • Spelling and Grammar must be perfect.  Mistakes can be costly.
    • Be politically correct but avoid putting in too many of your own opinions.  you never know who might be reading the essay.  You do not want to offend.
    • Make sure you proofread all of your essay.  Make sure you have the right name of the university or college.
    • Have someone else read your essay for clarity, mistakes, tone, and understanding

    Letters of Recommendations:

    • Do not wait to ask others to write these letters for you. Give them plenty of time to write the letters.  Remember you are not the only one they may be writing a letter for at your school.
    • Always give them an academic resume, self-addressed stamped envelope, and any tidbits that give them a reason why you might be asking them in particular to write a letter. Was there a favorite project? Did they mentor you?  Their class changed your direction in school?
    • Some letters can be impersonal so select someone who really know you and can make the letter interesting and personal
    • Do not send letters or recommendation unless asked for by the school.  Many schools have gone to not requiring the letters of recommendations.
    • Do not exceed the number of letters asked for by the school.


    • If an interview is required, make sure you prepare
    • Research the school,, look over the website and any other materials like school newspaper to get a feel for the school
    • Talk specifics about the school, programs, and faculty
    • Be ready to answer anything including current events, recent books read, intellect, etc.
    • Bring a curriculum vitae to the interview for them to look at

    Campus Visits/College Fairs:

    • Attend all college fairs in the local area--allows you to see what is out there and make contact with current students or recruiters
    • Visit college campus--you might change your mind once there
    • Talk to students attending the school
    • Some schools keep track of who visits them
    • Research all schools you are interested in


    • Make sure you make all deadlines--schools really dislike missed deadlines
    • Regular Action--Regular deadline usually in the Winter sometime and you are usually informed in the Spring
    • Early Decision--If accepted you commit to attend.  Usually a early deadline in the Fall and informed in the Winter.  you can only apply to one Early Decision school.
    • Early Action--If you are accepted you are not bound to accept.  usually a early deadline in the Fall and informed in the Winter.
    • Rolling Admission--You can apply at any time and a decision is made rather quickly
    • Follow up with the schools to make sure they received all parts of the application
    • Most schools require everything to be sent electronically...proofread before you hit that SUBMIT button
    • Make sure you use an appropriate email address and one that you check regularly
    • Do not leave anything blank on the application
    • You want them to remember you, so stress what makes you unique.  Are you a first generation?  Legacy? First in your family from this country? Overcome some huge obstacle? Schools must fill certain criteria and so they look for that in the applicants.  This can be diversity, ethnic, racial, socioeconomic, area of concentration, or sports.
    • Give them an answer
    • You may be wait listed---this means they have sent out decisions to those accepted and they are waiting to hear from those first and then they will open the doors to those wait listed first after anyone does not accept.