How Can High School Seniors Improve Odds of College Admissions?

US News and World Report

October 12, 2011

With all attention on applications and essays, high school seniors can easily lose sight of the importance that continuing good grades holds. Colleges need to be kept up to date with accomplishments, grades, and any other activities that can contribute (or unfortunately, detract) from a student’s candidacy. This week, we ask the Unigo Expert Network:

Q: What can high school seniors do to enhance their chances of admission?

A: Don’t underestimate the importance of your senior schedule.
Stacey Kostell, director of admissions, University of Illinois–Urbana-Champaign

Colleges and universities want to see that you are an excellent student as well as an involved citizen. Be sure to keep a strong senior schedule with challenging courses, and continue to be involved in a variety of activities: extracurriculars, jobs or internships, community service. Additionally, write engaging essays. Universities want to get to know you and your interests, and thoughtful, well-written essays are the best way to do that. Finally, research the schools you are applying to so you know what makes them unique and how you could positively contribute to the campus community.

A: Sprint, don’t limp, across the finish line.
Michele Hernandez, president and founder, and

The last thing college admissions officers see when you apply in the early round is your fall grades. Any decline in grades is grounds for rejection or deferral. Your top priority should be gunning for super high grades in the fall (winter, too, if you are apply regular decision). The second most important area is test scores. If you have any subpar test scores, use September and October (November and December for regular) to retake any tests; both ACT and SAT are offered in the fall, so take advantage of these test dates. Finally, be sure to let colleges know of any recent leadership or awards. Oftentimes some of students’ major awards occur in senior fall, so update your application to reflect any new accomplishments or leadership positions.

A: Remain calm, stay organized, and keep up the good work!
Katherine Cohen, founder and CEO, IvyWise

Senior year can be a stressful time for students who must manage the complex college admissions process, while handling an academically rigorous course load. Remain calm! Work with your high school guidance counselor to create a balanced list of reach, target, and likely schools that are all academic, social, and financial fits. If you have a balanced college list, you will get into a school where you will be successful and happy. Create an application strategy and decide to which schools, if any, you are prepared to apply early. Keep track of key deadlines with an application checklist. Become an expert on the schools to which you are applying and tailor each application accordingly. If your standardized test scores aren’t where they need to be for your target or reach schools, do some more practice and consider retesting this fall. Maintain focus and commitment inside and outside of the classroom; now is not the time to slack off!

A: Get a jump start on college!
Steve Loflin, founder and CEO, National Society of Collegiate Scholars

One great way to increase your chances of admission into the school of your dreams is to get a jump start on college all together. Think about attending your local community college during the summer before your senior year or negotiate with your high school to see if you can take a course or two at the community college in lieu of electives your junior and senior year. Pick classes that are both fun and interesting. If you can select a general education class that falls within the required set of courses at most schools, even better.

This is an opportunity to showcase your own commitment to your education and your ability to go above and beyond what is required of you. It also serves as an affordable way to earn credit before your collegiate career has even begun. Schools will certainly be impressed when your admission application includes your high school and college transcripts. Being proactive and getting a head start on college will definitely appeal to colleges when considering your application, and it will get you one step closer to earning your college degree!