Juniors are often told that this year will be the most important year of high school in terms of getting into college. Besides being scary, it can also be confusing for them, and many questions may arise. What are colleges looking for? What do we need to pay attention to? There are so many factors that play into college admissions that it may be daunting to narrow our focus down to a few. Though colleges do look at everything you send to them, there are certain aspects that hold more weight than others.
Complexity of Courses: Colleges want to see that students are taking the most challenging classes available to them. This shows that they are hardworking and willing to take risks, rather than just going the easy route and doing the bare minimum. Believe it or not, a lot of colleges would prefer seeing lower grades in harder classes rather than higher grades in easier classes. This is because while many people can do well in an easy class, not many decide to actually take on challenges and enroll in the harder class. In most schools, this means trying to take as many Advanced Placement (AP) classes as possible but since AP classes are not offered in BSGE, and all students take IB classes whether or not they actually try for the diploma, this does not really apply to BSGE’s students. However, for the younger students who are wondering if they should stay in this school or not, it is worth thinking about how easy it is to automatically take IB when you enter the 11th grade rather than choose which AP classes to take in a different school.
Grades: Obviously. Grades need to reflect a student’s best efforts; you can’t pick this year to slack off or do the minimum amount of work. What people consider to be “good” grades is subjective and varies depending on the college you want to apply to. A student does not need to get all 7s or think that if they don’t, it’s the end of the world. Just do the best you can. While colleges generally are looking for improvement from the start of high school to the end, the extremely rigorous workload juniors face this year mean that a slight drop in grades is acceptable and even expected. Again, a lot of colleges would prefer a student with lower grades in tougher classes than one with amazing grades in easy classes, so don’t panic if you suddenly have a 5 in a class you’ve previously gotten easy 7s in. That being said, don’t take that as a sign to stop trying altogether as that will not help someone get into college. As long as the drop in grades is justifiable and not for a lack of effort, you’ll (most likely) be fine.
Standardized Test Scores: As much people do not want to hear this, standardized test scores are important, and unfortunately, taking just the SAT is usually not enough. The ACT and the SAT II subject tests are becoming more and more popular. Many of the students taking the ACT have also taken the SAT, and vice versa. Having to study for not just one, but two standardized tests may seem horrifying and cruel, but it can actually be an advantage. Since the ACT and the SAT test students on different things, they may do poorly on one and really well on the other. It is possible to choose which one to send to colleges depending on what you want to showcase. Also, standardized test scores should ideally be consistent with your grades. If you have really high grades and poor test scores, it may look like you did not care about and did not study for the test. If you have great test scores but poor grades, it’ll look like you don’t try in school. The best advice is to study for these tests as you would study for a test in school.
Extracurricular Activities: For extra-curricular activities, quality is better than quantity. This may seem counterintuitive but, surprisingly, colleges don’t want to see a whole page of activities, but would rather see two or three. It is more important to have a couple of activities that you have spent a lot of time and effort on, rather than being a part of a dozen clubs where you barely show up to meetings. Therefore, when you’re trying to fulfill CAS requirements, try to complete the bulk of your hours with single activities that you’d do year-round instead of completing a couple of hours here and there. Colleges will be impressed that you were dedicated to the activities you did. As an added benefit, you will have less forms to fill out.
Anything that sets you apart from your peers: This is general on purpose, and can include a variety of things. Did you win an award for something? Was your artwork or writing published anywhere (besides the school newspaper)? Did you have a summer job while the rest of your friends were sitting at home on the computer? Anything that shows colleges “Hey, look, I’m not lazy” could, and should, be included in your application because it gives you an edge over thousands of other applicants with the same grades and SAT scores as you. As much as you don’t want to make getting into college a competition (or maybe you do), it is a competitive process and anything that makes you look well-rounded and accomplished is important. Haven’t done anything that you think is special? There are always some types of contests for high school students that pertain to your interests, such as writing competitions or photography contests. Google is your friend in this situation.
Keep in mind that different colleges look for different things, so this list may not apply to the college you want to go to, and should be used as a general guideline rather than end-all, be-all rules.