My husband helps evaluate high school seniors applying to MIT. He routinely meets awesome young people. Most of whom have strong academic records. Many have other aspects of their backgrounds that make them above average applicants. From his experiences over the past many years he believes that too often young people and their parents fail to develop an early stage strategy that will enhance their child's chances of gaining admission to the college of their choice. He believes that by time kids enter high school they should have a strategy and plan for how they will be spending the high years positioning themselves for the college application process. Waiting to think about these things until they are high juniors or seniors is way too late.
At a minimum young people entering high school should:
- Be focused on getting good grades from the very first high school semester. Grades later on may be more important to college selection committees but mediocre grades in the freshman and sophomore years can come back to haunt.
- Take AP courses when possible, assuming they can handle the tougher courses
- Get involved in school and hopefully community activities. If possible, do this at a leadership level and try to maintain some consistency in the things in which they do engage.
- Spend summers being productive, not just hanging out. Try to get some work experience. Having opportunity to travel with the family or on school sponsored trips can be an important difference maker.
- Consider getting some tutoring for the SAT tests which should be taken often.
- Visit the target colleges. It gives the student a real feel for the place and it is another way to demonstrate to the college how serious the applicant is.
- Many colleges offer off campus interviews with alums. Ace these meetings. Come well prepared including with good questions to ask the interviewer. It's always a good idea for the student to bring a well written resume and maybe some examples of their activities.
- To the extent possible, be able to articulate in their application and interviews their college education objectives and their eventual career objectives.
- Apply to at least 5 or 6 colleges with at least one being the "safety" school. The best colleges and universities may only accept 10-15% of those applying. Make certain your son or daughter winds up with choices to make.
Jack's experience has been that high school guidance counselors are often overwhelmed trying to provide exceptional advice to all their college applicants. As a result, parents and their kids have to assume the basic responsibility for gaining admission to the right college.