How to "Get Into" Your Dream College: 7 Tips from the Top

By: Barbara Leventhal | Last Updated: June 13, 2021

Students and their families often ask us how to get into college. Whether it’s into a small private college or a large public university, the steps are the same—adhering to purposeful planning, and getting an early start. Below, we’ve provided our top seven tips to help make admission to your dream school a reality. Let’s get started.

1. Don’t Wait Until Your Senior Year to Start Planning for College

College planning = early planning. Most colleges review your academic record beginning with your ninth-grade courses, and many will also consider high school courses taken in middle school. Jump-starting your college planning as early as freshman year gives you the advantage of more time to strengthen your academics with improved grades and course rigor. Additionally, you’ll want to think about how you and your family will pay for college: Will you apply for financial aid? Will you apply to colleges that offer generous scholarships? Starting early gives you and your family time to discuss this important, but often overlooked, area of college applications.

When you start planning early, you also allow yourself time to explore different college campuses. Try to schedule college visits during school breaks in order to maximize the number of colleges you’ll visit to help you find your best college fit. Finally, when you start planning for college early, you’ll avoid extra stress during senior year. Most of our seniors submit all their applications well before Thanksgiving, so they can enjoy time off without the additional stress of filling out applications!

students visiting college campus

2. Take Your SAT and ACT Seriously

Preparing for your SAT and ACT is another important step to get into college, even in light of many colleges’ decisions to go “test-optional” in response to Covid-19. Test-optional does not mean test-blind: if you send test scores, they will absolutely be considered as part of your application as an important academic metric. If your scores are well within a college’s mid-50% range (posted on its admission website), then you should send your scores. An extra bonus: A higher score can often bring in more scholarship money. While a solid score cannot compensate for years of low grades, there is research indicating that it’s a good predictor of college academic readiness. So, keep up those grades and prepare for your SAT and/or ACT!SAT Test Prep Tutor

3. Practice What You Will Say During a College Interview

Not every college offers the opportunity for a personal interview, but for those that do, preparation is critical. Begin by going over a list of common interview questions, including those that ask why you wish to attend that college, what you will bring to that community, and what you intend to study (and why). Be prepared to answer more “offbeat” questions: what you’ve recently read, what you know about certain current events, where you see yourself in ten years, etc. Be prepared to think outside the box! Do your research. Leading up to your interview, make sure to spend considerable time on the college’s website, going beyond admissions and exploring the college’s academic and extracurricular offerings. Often, an academic department in which you may major has its very own web page. Take a virtual or in-person tour, attend a live or online information session. Have a list of questions prepared for your interviewer – you’ll certainly be asked if you have any questions!girl practicing for her college interview

4. Have a Plan to Pay for College

Paying for college is important but often overlooked. It’s an important conversation that can hardly be neglected until you have a list of college admission offers and now you have to “figure out” how to pay. Begin the conversation now about paying for college. Will your family need to apply for financial aid, take out loans, rely on scholarships? Do you know real college costs and how much your family is expected to contribute to your education? Most colleges have a net price calculator on their admissions or financial aid websites, a tool that allows you to input family income information, and then receive an estimate of how much your family is expected to pay. In order to receive grants, loans, and other forms of financial aid, you and your family must fill out the FAFSA (available online October 1) and sometimes also the CSS Profile (only for certain colleges). Some colleges also have their own financial aid applications in addition to requiring the FAFSA. Websites like and will direct you to private scholarships for which you can apply. However, the most generous merit-based scholarships are generally the ones given by the colleges themselves, often without need of a separate application. College can be expensive without a plan to pay. In fact, for the 2020-2021 academic year, the average price of tuition and fees came to $37,650 at private colleges, $10,560 at public colleges (in-state residents), and $27,020 at public colleges (out-of-state residents). As if that weren’t enough, you have to add another $11,000 - $15,000 for room, board, and discussing tuition costs

5. Seek Out Recommendation Letters from Teachers and Counselors

Most private colleges and many public ones ask for letters of recommendation from a counselor and 1-2 teachers. Don’t wait until the fall of your senior year to request one. Before the end of junior year, ask your core academic teachers for a letter of recommendation, preferably in person, and follow up with an email thanking him or her and providing aspects of the academic class that you especially enjoyed and where you felt you learned and grew. If you’re a rising junior, think about cultivating a good relationship with 1-2 of your teachers. If you’d like to study science in college, set yourself apart in your upcoming math and science classes. This means more than getting good grades: volunteer to help out in the classroom, peer tutor struggling students, and demonstrate your curiosity when working on assignments and projects. The more engaged and enthusiastic you are in the classroom, the stronger your letter of recommendation will be. The best recommendation letters are anecdotal; that is, they provide specific examples of your engagement in and out of the classroom. And one of your recommenders should teach a subject related to your intended major.student asking teacher for recommendation letter

6. Get Involved in Extracurricular Activities

Engagement is important outside of the classroom, too; colleges are looking for it in applicants. You don’t have to join every club your school offers; indeed, colleges want students with depth and focus in their extracurricular involvement, rather than students who join every available club. This is a great and early opportunity to help you get into college, as nearly all high school clubs, and many community ones, are open to all teenagers. Clubs like debate or Model U.N. showcase your intellectual interests and skills. A sports team or theatrical troupe will highlight dedication and/or talents. Student government, yearbook, and school newspaper provide opportunities for you to collaborate and become a leader. And there’s plenty you can do without joining an organized club or team: play a musical instrument, write poetry, hone your baking skills, baby sit, commit to an interesting hobby. Let your creativity shine!

A job or internship (which you may be able to find on is another way of gaining important skills that make your college application and résumé stand out. Try to select some activities that have relevance to your intended major. Many colleges ask you to upload your résumé when applying to college, and a sparkling activities résumé that highlights your depth of commitment to a few activities will certainly help you get into college!students singing

7. Manage Your Online Reputation

Finally, in order to get into your dream college, you must ensure that you have a great online reputation. What does that mean? First, many colleges invite you to include links to your social media accounts or personal websites within their applications, a great idea for students who may wish to share an artistic or professional page. While this is entirely optional, be aware that even if you don’t share this information, admission officers may look at your online accounts – so be sure to clean them up. Even questionable content that has been deleted can easily resurface, so before you post something, consider if you want your future college (or future boss!) to see it. When you “like” or comment on someone else’s post, be mindful of the content you’re supporting. Establishing a professional online presence is an underappreciated but potent way to connect with colleges. Set up a LinkedIn account (they provide how-to tips for students) and use that platform to connect with the colleges to which you’re applying. Connect with your tour guides and with faculty. Use the search feature to see what recent alumni are up to. Chances are you’ll learn something new about your dream college and maybe even establish an interesting connection.

In Conclusion

Getting into college takes time and planning, so don’t wait until your senior year. Use our 7 tips to get into college and turn your dream school into a reality. Need help getting started? Contact us today!

Topics: College Application Essay College Admission College Planning Educational Consulting


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