A GUIDE TO APPLYING TO SELECTIVE COLLEGES
Olympia High School’s high-achieving students have the opportunity to be competitive in applying to the most selective colleges and universities. The OHS Counseling and Career Center can support you in achieving your college goals, from identifying potential colleges that meet your interests to providing guidance through the application process. The following is a brief overview to help prepare you to make your college decisions.
1. Reasons for applying to a selective college
a. Offers a challenging academic program
b. Attracts students nationally
c. Provides community of high-achieving students
d. Expands summer and post-graduate opportunities
e. Creates experience of another part of the country
2. Deciding where to apply
It’s important to recognize your interests and goals in order to identify those colleges that serve your individual needs. There are hundreds of excellent colleges and universities, but not all of them may be appropriate for your personal preferences. Considering these variables will help you identify what you are seeking in a college that suits your personality and learning style.
a. Geographic area: East Coast, Midwest, California, Northwest, etc.
b. Location: Metropolitan area, urban, small town, suburban, rural, etc.
c. Number of students: over 10,000, 5-10,000, 2-5,000, l,500-2000, under 1,500
d. Type of school: university, liberal arts college, technical college, etc
e. Special kinds of majors: Engineering, international relations, music, business, etc.
f. Colleges with strict core requirements, complete academic freedom, alternative programs
g. Cost: Most out-of-state selective private colleges are similarly priced, but out-of-state public universities may be less expensive than private schools. However, depending on your family financial circumstances, some private colleges can be less expensive than state schools.
3. Prepare your college list
a. Identify the colleges that appear to meet your preferences. College guides can be very helpful in discovering those colleges. Consult general web sites like collegeboard.com as well as individual college websites for more specific information.
b. Visit potential colleges. Visiting a campus will provide you with more detailed information as well as a feeling for the college environment, especially for non-academic variables like housing, dining, social, and recreational options.
c. Recognize the selectivity of your potential colleges in order to assess how you compare with other students and applicants. Look at what percent of applicants they accept and average SAT scores.
d. Depending on the selectivity of your desired colleges, consider applying to 5-9 colleges. The admission process can be competitive, subjective and seemingly arbitrary. Acceptance at a highly-selective school is never certain. Include possibilities that represent your dream, but also include options that offer a higher probability as well as a “safety school” where you know you will be accepted.
4. Give yourself the best opportunity to be accepted at your chosen colleges
In order to be successful you must understand what the colleges are seeking and what you must do to improve your chances.
a. Take the most challenging course schedule that is comfortable for you. A high GPA is nice, but selective colleges also look at the rigor of the courses you have taken. It’s not necessary to take all AP courses if that seems too demanding, but selective colleges know the range of AP courses offered at OHS and will want you to continue the rigor through your senior year.
b. Colleges are interested in applicants with good grades and test scores, but they also want to know your activities and commitments. What are you passionate about? You don’t have to be in the top 5% of your class to apply, especially if you have demonstrated excellence or leadership in other areas. Significant involvement in a few activities is more beneficial than scattered involvement in many.
c. Plan to take the required standardized tests: SAT, three SAT IIs and perhaps the ACT depending on where you might apply. Check with your individual college options to determine which tests are necessary.
d. If you are a talented athlete, you might want to contact the coach of that sport.
5. Get an early start on applications
You should begin the application process at the start of your senior year.
a. Most college deadlines are January 1, and as early as November 1 if you are applying early decision or early action. Many colleges use the Common Application, but most colleges also have a supplementary application. Check what the colleges on your list require and their deadlines.
b. Meet with your counselor in September or early October. Bring in your green Student Information sheet. Counselors need to fill out Secondary School Reports or Counselor Reports for most competitive colleges.
c. Contact teachers for letters of recommendation early in the fall. These are in addition to the Secondary School Report. Teacher recommendation forms are provided by the college. Select teachers who know you the best and give them time to do a good job.
d. Give yourself time to write and revise your essays. Try to be personal and original, and avoid generalizations and clichés. Essays allow you to demonstrate your writing ability, reveal
your personality and identify areas of personal interest or achievement.
6. Prepare to complete financial aid applications
a. Check with each college on your application list to determine what financial aid information is required, as well as the deadlines. Colleges often have different requirements and dates.
b. Most private schools require the CSS Profile form (available through www.collegebaord.com) with the most common deadline February 1. Required by November 1 if applying Early Decision.
c. All colleges require the FAFSA (available through www.fafsa.ed.gov), a federal form that determines your expected family contribution. It is available on-line after January 1 with the most common deadline February 1.
d. To complete financial aid applications, you need completed tax returns, or information to estimate. Organize your family financial and tax information as early as possible.
For further information, contact:
Your counselor or Cheryl Dale, OHS College and Career Specialist, (596-7034) or firstname.lastname@example.org