4 Strategies to Improve your Chances in College Admissions…Without Breaking the Law
Updated: Mar 29, 2019
As the college admissions scandal has made clear over the past week, the anxiety, stress, and competition of college admissions can make families go to extreme measures to help their children improve (or in the case of the scandal “guarantee”) their chance of being accepted by their ideal school.
Through my work with both pro-bono with families of limited means and also with “privileged” clients, these are strategies I utilize for all of them to help them maximize their chances at their top choices — and it doesn’t cost thousands of dollars or require breaking the law. If you have a teen in high school, here are four strategies you can use to help them gain an edge in admissions beyond just completing the application.
Invest Time in Building Genuine Relationships
As someone once said, “love can’t be bought.” While it would seem that an acceptance can be bought from admissions in this scandal, it is not only rare but also clearly unethical and illegal.
Students who want to gain an ethical edge on their application can do so by investing the time and effort to create genuine relationships with admissions representatives. This is especially important for colleges and universities that measure the level of an applicant’s interest during the admissions.
A few ways to do this are: While visiting a school in person for an information session and campus tour is an ideal way to do this, students don’t need to spend that type of money to build a connection. Students can take advantage of when admissions representatives are in the area for college fairs and local high school visits or simply by sending them a well-written note.
Students I have worked with who do this not only grow in their communication skills but have also even gained acceptance to their “stretch” schools. One of my students felt like they wouldn’t be able to get into their dream school because she had C’s and D’s on their transcript. She connected with her regional admissions representative and by the time he visited her school, he called her out by name!
Remember, money is a poor substitute for genuine connections that don’t cost anything to build.
Don’t Obsess Over the Perfect Resume
Decades ago, the buzzword for what a perfect resume for college would look like was “well-rounded.” The truth is colleges don’t need well-rounded or “jack of all trade” students.
They want students that are talented and passionate in a few key areas — and most importantly, they don’t care which ones. As I told a parent who was adamant about having their child join a sport for their resume, “he doesn’t have to join a sport. Let him spend time doing what he enjoys.”
For example, a student of mine that had an interest in computer science would volunteer as a teacher’s assistant for a local robotics class and participate in hackathons on the weekend, in addition to being part of his high school’s computer science club.
As admissions have shared numerous times, there isn’t a formula for a perfect resume or admissions profile. So, stop obsessing about having everything on the resume, spend your time on what you care about — academically and personally — and be able to explain your choices. It’s easier to speak to your interests and where you spend your time if it comes from the heart.
Make Admissions’ Job Easier for Them
When I first started working after college, I received some words of wisdom that I share with my students today, “your job is to make your boss look good and you do that through making their job easier for them.”
Similarly, in admissions, there will be different readers who will be fighting for their favorite candidates, including you! The one question that they are all trying to answer is, “is this student a good fit for my institution?” Students can help themselves stand out by customizing their application, especially their responses to supplemental essay questions by focusing on how pieces of their admissions profile align well with the college’s mission, values or offerings. Admissions is trying to picture what type of impact you’ll have on their community if admitted. By doing your research and customizing your application to match up with the school, you’re making their job easier of connecting the dots to understand how you’re a great match for their school, but its really important that the impact you hope to have is genuine.
Get the Scores You Need to Qualify and Move On
While standardized test scores can play a significant role in merit scholarships, their role in admissions has diminished over the years as evidenced by the increasing amount of colleges that choose to go test-optional. Colleges recognize that there isn’t a strong correlation between standardized test scores and success at their institution. Rather, its use in the admissions practice for many schools, especially those who view students holistically is to qualify the student. Overall, it’s not the factor that helps the student get accepted to the school in the end.
So, work to get the scores you need to qualify for the school and then focus your time on the factors that actually might get you accepted at the school, like extracurricular activities you are genuinely interested in, essays, and experiences that help you grow as an individual.
I want to share my motto from when I was applying for college as a first-generation college student because it decreased my anxiety and stress and put the power where it belonged — with me. “This is me. Take it or leave it.” While it certainly is bold and even a little cocky, the point is you should go to a school that values and wants you too, because they are going to give you the opportunities you deserve — and have rightfully earned.
Anna Ren is the founder of Elite Advantage Prep College Admissions Consultingand the co-host of the top 10 iTunes podcast on college admissions, College Admissions with Mark and Anna.