Ivy Leagues have some of the lowest acceptance rates, with Harvard's acceptance rate for the class of 2022 being 4.59% and Stanford's being 4.3%.

Well, here's the deal: grade and test score alone can't do much to get you into elite colleges. Candidates need to bring much more to the table for colleges to even consider giving them a shot.

That's not to say grades don't matter. They do, and you can't even get your foot in the door without outstanding scores.

But almost all applicants will meet the prerequisite of 'good grades'; therefore, colleges look for qualities that make potential students stand out from the crowd.

Therefore, you need to study hard, maintain a high GPA, score well on your standardized tests, and maintain a well-rounded profile in non-academic things as well, such as community service and sports.

Is college necessary? There might be some students who may not be interested in college. However, if you're looking to improve your career prospects, the better the college ranking, the better your job prospects.

So, here are a few areas to focus on before applying to competitive college programs:

A grass field with trees, a paved path, and a college building in the background. University life allows you to live away from home and get a taste of life as an adult. Although some newcomers may be overwhelmed by the campus's size, some may see it as a challenge to explore it before the end of their degree!
Most college guides can give you an idea of what college life is like and what you will get to experience in your four years of study. Remember that your first-choice institute may reject you, but it's not the end of the world! (Source: Pixabay)

But if we were to break it down, what exactly guarantees you a place in the best colleges? Here are a few things to know before going to college or thinking of applying to one:

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Maintaining A Strong Academic Record

Most top colleges look at the complete high school transcripts of candidates. Some may make concessions for candidates whose academic records improved over time, but most take the entire high school record into account.

If you've floundered in your grades, it may be tough to get into your first-choice college. However, there is a chance for those who struggled during the first years of high school.

Taking core classes or making up for the low grades in summer school can balance your grade sheet.

Talk with your guidance counselor about a four-year plan. Ask them what prerequisites you need and tell them which colleges you plan to apply to, so they can decide which classes you should sign-up for.

Colleges also look out for students who went through advanced classes, such as AP, IB, or dual-enrollment classes.

Although they are a notch above regular classes, take as many as you can handle. Talk with your counselor as to how many advanced courses are reasonable for you.

If you're enrolled in AP classes, also take AP tests. The courses may look good on your report card, but ultimately it's how you score that shows on your record.

Ensure to keep your GPA up, as most colleges want a record as close to 4.0 as possible. Also, engage with your teachers to know where you're struggling and how you can improve.

Lastly, it's crucial to maintain consistency. If your report card looks like you've just been coasting through or slacking off at the end of high school, it leaves the wrong impression on admissions officers.

Remember that college life is tough, and admissions officers need to see your record's consistency before considering your application.

While we've talked about GPA, it's important to remember that the number of advanced classes you take will also be related to how many extracurricular activities you take part in.

Colleges look for well-rounded individuals who can show proficiency in different activities. Therefore, you need to focus on non-academic areas as well.

A student in a dress sitting on the grass playing the guitar. Colleges often fill their prospectuses with images of students enjoying university life to the fullest. Although this is true to some extent, there will also be tough days
University life is when you can explore and get to experience new hobbies, interests, and activities before you start your career. It will give you time to rediscover yourself and find out what you want to do for the rest of your life. (Source: Pixabay)

Excelling In Standardized Tests

Before applying to colleges, make sure which standardized test scores they're looking for. All schools in the US accept either the SAT or the ACT, although most students prefer to submit SATs.

Most colleges will have a minimum test score requirement that candidates must have, and you can confirm this from their website or admissions office.

Moreover, it's always a good idea to take practice tests. You can get an SAT or ACT prep book from your local library or check out used book stores.

These days, you can even find digital versions of prep books. But always make sure that the books are recent, as the SAT and ACT curriculums change regularly.

There's no limit to how many times you can take the SAT, although it's offered only seven times a year. Overall, you can take ACT up to 12 times, so it's a good idea to take them as soon as they are offered.

Colleges will allow you to send your best scores, but a few may ask you to send all your scores. If you're sending all your scores, it's recommended you don't take SAT more than six times.

If you feel that you're not scoring high enough, you can enroll to take a private tutor's help.

Many schools offer prep classes, but if they don't, your guidance counselor will be able to direct you to a place where you can find help.

Nowadays, you can find plenty of online classes and even hire local college students to help you out.

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Rounding Out Your Resume

Colleges and universities always seek students who are more than just academically-enclined and can present a well-rounded profile.

Candidates who can contribute to their college community and show that they can achieve something in the real world are always preferred.

Campus life is a far cry from school and students need to have a varied, well-rounded profile to survive university life successfully.

It's hard to gauge how much potential a student has, and colleges use the application process to ascertain who is the best fit in this regard. Most colleges do this by looking at the candidates' activities beyond academics.

But while we're at it, it's essential to know the difference between being well-rounded and overcommitted:

Well-Rounded Individuals

Being well-rounded doesn't mean that you have to join every club or activity that your school offers. Students should pick out a few that they enjoy and dedicate time to them.

Those who have won awards and shown leadership skills are set apart from other applicants. Excelling in one field is always better than spreading yourself short in multiple areas.

If you're part of a sports team, try to stick to it for a few years to give off the impression that you are dedicated to the sport.

Keep in mind that we're not asking you to be the star athlete. Even being a part of the team reflects well on your application.

You can always join sports, such as cheerleading or baton-twirling if throwing a ball doesn't appeal to you.

Furthermore, Colleges love students who contribute to their community. Consider volunteering, such as working at a homeless shelter, walking dogs, joining food drives, participating in bake sales, and other charitable events that show that you have compassion and willingness to help others.

The best colleges actively seek out individuals who they feel can foster change in communities and during their college life.

Over-Committed Individuals

However, it is crucial not to have too much on your plate. We suggest taking up initiatives outside of college so that individuals can draw a line between what they're doing off-campus and on it.

Consider getting a part-time job. Real-world experiences add a shine to your application, and the fact that you can juggle a job along with studies makes you stand out to admissions officers.

Moreover, it may be helpful to consider taking on leadership roles, such as heading local initiatives or running for your school's student council.

And if you want to stick to on-campus responsibilities, choose one that keeps you from picking up a lot of other things: leadership, activism, etc.

Colleges are always on the lookout for candidates who can shape the future and have the initiative to lead from the front.

The best way to juggle extracurricular activities is to join an afterschool activity; this doesn't have to be athletics necessarily.

It could be the drama club, the debate team, or a chess club. Join initiatives like the Scouts or the local LGBT alliance group. If you have the aptitude for it, join academic teams like the Mathletes.

A panoramic shot of a multi-story college library. College life is full of drama, debating, and athletic activities, and you are bound to find stocked facilities for each. Libraries at reputable institutes are usually the most impressively designed part of the building
A college library is one of the few places on campus where students can study in tranquility. Some draconian laws related to libraries have been thrown out the window by many universities; some will even allow students to eat inside now. (Source: Pixabay)

Preparing For Your College Essay

Get started with your essay before the senior year if you can. Try brainstorming and preparing for it the year before senior year so that you're not overwhelmed at the last minute with deadlines and other activities coinciding with your essay.

To brainstorm, make an outline and a concept map and keep adding to it. Your essay must represent things that have impacted your life to date:

  • People
  • Events
  • Places
  • Moments
  • Experiences

Think about the following questions:

  • Was there a moment in your life that forced you to introspect and challenge your thinking?
  • What have been your struggles in life?
  • Is there anything in your life that you did that makes you incredibly proud?

Even if you pick a topic that seems underwhelming, it's fine as long as you can write about it passionately.

Describe your accomplishments in life and the decisions that led to them. Even personal issues like surviving a loved one's passing or dealing with your parent's divorce can be a worthy topic if you can describe how it was important to you.

When you begin writing, fragment your essay and write it in three parts:

Introduction

Make sure to pay special attention to your introduction and make it as compelling and noteworthy as you can.

The introduction is the first thing in your essay that admission officers will read, and if it is unconvincing, they will not move past it.

Try and make it intriguing and make the readers want to read further. Ensure that your essay's main body links back to the introduction and use the body to build upon it.

Body

This is the part of the essay where you hook the audience and give them the notion that their time isn't wasted.

Your essay should seek to distinguish yourself from others, and the best way to do this is to remember to show and not tell.

Make sure you don't go on about your qualities, instead tell them a story about yourself, where those qualities show up.

Furthermore, remember to create a distinction between your essay and your application. Your essay is not an extension of your college application, so if you mentioned you were on the swim team, don't stress too much about it in the essay.

Also, make it a point not to mention your GPA or test scores in your essay either. Most university guides will tell you not to be bound by standard essay rules and don't keep yourself restricted to the usual five-paragraph format while writing your essay.

It should be as free-flowing and natural as possible. Remember not to make it contrived and formal and avoid using words and phrases whose meanings you may blur on.

Conclusion

Think of the conclusion as the last impression and make it concise and definite. Avoid clichéd words like 'in conclusion' or 'in summary.'

Link things back to the main body by including a phrase or two that you mentioned there. Discuss the implications of your topics in a broader aspect in the conclusion if possible.

Towards the end, ensure that you have maintained professionalism and a certain level of formality; also, avoid slang, colloquialisms, or gimmicks like adding unnecessary poetry

Lastly, proofread and edit your essay a dozen times and have your teachers, parents, counselors, or friends read it to check for errors and the overall style.

Any typos, spelling errors, or grammatical mistakes will spell extreme unprofessionalism on your part, so watch out for them!

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There are specific steps that every student will have to take to create a portfolio that may be seen as desirable for some institutes.

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