Making the Grade: College Application Tips

Getting into college is more competitive than ever

Like most high school seniors, Zach is getting his college applications in order.

He'll be the first tell you he doesn't have the best grades, but his SAT scores and activity list are through the roof.

"I want to go to college. I've submitted one application and I'm still working on the rest," he said.

To get into his reach schools, Zach frequents Signet Education, a tutoring, test prep and admissions consulting company out of Cambridge.

Jay Bacrania, Signet's founder and CEO, getting into college is more competitive than ever. He advises making sure your application has personality, where each part is one brushstroke in a portrait of you.

A big mistake that we see is students kind of treat the application as a whole set of different small pieces," he said, "and then they will kind of put it all in a box and send it off ... versus thinking abou the whole thing as a snap shot of you, so all of the pieces really have to fit together and the whole thing has to tell a story."

Especially in the essay portion of the application.

"If you think about the essay, it's the only place in the application that a student's voice actually comes out. Everything else is numbers on a page, it's a historical record of what you have done," Bacrania said.

In Zach's case, he drew attention to how he learned to cope with his ADHD.

Bacrania also advises getting an application reviewed from people who know you well and don't know you well at all.

"Often it's very appropriate to ask someone to read the essay and say, 'Does this sound like me? What do you think?'" he said.

And finally, it is important to show demonstrated interest in your school: Apply early, call an admissions officer, or go on a school visit.

"I've gone to visit every school I'm applying to," Zach said.

Bacrania says as application numbers go up, schools are more concerned about making sure the people they accept actually attend.

"Think of a student who is a good fit who is a strong student who then shows them, 'yes, you are my number one,' every year, that carries more and more weight in the college admissions process," he said.

College applications are not an easy process, but it's something Zach says freshman should start thinking about now.

"Everything you do in the right direction, can help you get into college," Zach said. 

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