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11 Tips for Getting Into the College of Your Choice

Applying to college can be both exciting and stressful. With so many colleges to consider and important deadlines to meet, daunting might be an understatement for the work ahead. Not to mention, the competition is fierce among the many highly qualified applicants applying to elite schools.
Applying to college can be both exciting and stressful. With so many colleges to consider and important deadlines to meet, daunting might be an understatement for the work ahead. Not to mention, the competition is fierce among the many highly qualified applicants applying to elite schools.

But with the right approach and a better understanding of what makes a strong application, applying to college can be an empowering process—especially when the big envelope arrives in the mail. In the meantime, you have a lot to think about, so we’ve put together our 10 best tips for applying to, and ultimately enrolling in, the college of your choice.

1. Start early

The best time to start thinking about college is in middle school, but don't fret if you are in high school and just thinking about attending college.

Starting early allows you to develop a plan for carving out the best courses for college prep, maintaining or increasing your grades and class standing, joining and assisting in leadership of a high-school club/organization/sports team, and preparing for taking one or more standardized college admissions tests.

2. Meet with your guidance counselor and key teachers

Ask your school counselor and teachers who know you well for recommendations. At least a month in advance of college deadlines for recommendations, jog their memories by providing them with a “personal data” or “brag sheet” highlighting your academic accomplishments, athletics, activities, and community service and leadership positions. Also, highlight anything special you did during the summer (for example, foreign travel to improve language skills, volunteer work, projects).

3. Challenge yourself by taking Advanced Placement (AP) classes

To be accepted into a Tier 1 school, you will need to take AP classes in high school. Try taking pre-AP classes and AP classes as soon as possible, preferably starting in the 8th grade. Even if you find these classes academically rigorous, the weighted grading means their grade will count more than a regular classroom class, even if the grade is lower.

The rigorous curriculum at Riverside Military Academy has advanced math and science courses for students to consider. Those who are looking ahead to a Tier 1 school and need AP classes to get there will find them readily accessible at Riverside.

4. Focus on key elements of courses, grades, standardized tests

Once a student is in the correct AP classes, they need to work hard in those classes. GPA matters to Tier 1 colleges. Your child’s goal should be to get A and B scores in every class and get academic help if they aren’t achieving this.

The rigorous academics and one-on-one attention students receive at Riverside Military Academy help with this. Our curriculum is intense, but our teachers are always available to help. Because we are a boarding school, students have fewer distractions as they focus on academic success.

5. Get involved in leadership and development opportunities

Academics are not the only factor Tier 1 schools consider. They also look at students who are leaders in their schools. This helps them differentiate between the hundreds of students who apply who have good grades. The more extracurricular activities a student is involved in, the better. Leadership positions within these groups as well as awards from competitions are also a great thing to have on an application. Community service also shows this type of leadership ability.

Because RMA is a military academy, we strive to develop well-rounded students who are leaders in everything they do. The military side of our academics makes leadership a natural outcome, and we offer a robust list of extracurricular activities including everything from sports to art.

6. Research colleges and universities

Finally, these schools want to see applicants with a strong career direction. This direction will also help your student choose the right courses in high school. By about 11th grade, students should know what they are wanting to do and start researching college so they can tailor their application to the specific details that the college wants, while also ensuring their high school transcript fits well.

The teachers and advisors at Riverside Military Academy are here to guide students through these decisions. With the help of our dedicated teachers, your student can get direction and support while making these important decisions.

7. Get organized

As you begin the application process, you'll want to have some sort of organization scheme -- to keep track of application deadlines, transcript requests, standardized test score orders, teacher recommendations, and all the information you have on each college and university.

Try making a file folder for each college that interests you and put relevant information inside of it (for example, a copy of your application and essay, any materials downloaded from the Internet). Keep focused on your ultimate goal: Getting into the college of your choice.

8. Apply early

Many students wait too long to get started on applications -- and then rush to complete them in December of their senior year. Consider starting as early as possible -- and if you have a clear favorite, consider applying for an early decision (which usually has a deadline in November).

9. Spend sufficient time developing your college essays

Every school uses the application essays differently in the decision process ' from being a major factor to a minor one -- but regardless, just about all schools (certainly all using the common application) require at least one personal essay. The essays are your chance to shine -- to open a window into your personality and showcase your fit with each school. It's important that your essays tell an engaging story while also being well-written. Write, edit, write, revise, proofread -- and solicit critiques from a favorite teacher and from a family member.

10. Send right amount of materials with applications

Admissions professionals tell sad stories of applicants who send way too many materials with their applications (most of which never gets reviewed) and those who do not send enough. It's probably more critical to not short-change yourself. Remember that your application is literally selling your fit with the school -- and if you don't show that fit, the admissions staff may not see it.

11. Prepare for the financial aid application process

Having the support of your family goes a long way in this somewhat grueling process. Seek their input and recommendations on types of colleges best for you. Regardless of your family's financial situation, don't let finances stop you from applying to college; multiple sources of financial aid are available for attending college.

Riverside Military Academy helps students with the financial aid application process so they can understand their options and get the most possible aid.

Final Thoughts on College Admission Success

Getting accepted into the college of your dreams is the result of a number of factors, ranging from your academic performance and fit with the school to your diligence in making the strongest case for yourself in your application.

Riverside Military Academy makes it easier to achieve that goal. Our many opportunities and options make it more likely to get accepted into a competitive program. Our focus on active learning and the freedom from distraction that comes from a residential school is an ideal combination. Contact Riverside Military Academy today to see how an all-boys, college preparatory high school can help your son achieve his academic goals.