It seems that students today are encouraged to pursue as many extracurricular activities as possible. Sports, music, community service, summer internships, science research, and on and on. They're all worthwhile. But when we read an application, we don't tally the total number of activities you've pursued over the years. We're not looking for a specific activity or leadership position; there are no "winning" or "sure-fire" extracurriculars. We simply want to know what you are passionate about and how you spend your time outside of the classroom.
Do not feel obligated to explain every single club and organization that you've joined, especially those you joined for only a short duration. If you have been in a leadership position and have significantly influenced the organization in some way, by all means tell us about your contributions.
We understand that some students attend schools that do not have the resources to offer a multitude of activities. High school counselors and written profiles usually keep us informed about the nature of various schools. We're also aware that some students don't have time to pursue extracurricular activities because they work part-time or have family responsibilities. Let us know if situations like this apply to you. We want to get a clear picture of your responsibilities and activities beyond school work.
Don't wait until a few days before the application deadline to ask your teachers for a letter of recommendation. Figure out who you want to write your recommendations and ask them early on in the process.
If possible, ask teachers from junior year who taught you in one of the five major academic areas (English, mathematics, science, history and foreign language). The teachers you choose should be able to write about your academic ability first and foremost, and differentiate you from other students in the class. If your recommenders know you in other capacities outside of class, they will help us understand your role within the school community, but the letters should focus primarily on your performance in the classroom.
Don’t forget to send your teachers a note thanking them for writing on your behalf. (This can also serve as a reminder for them to write and send the letter if they have not done so already.) If you want to send extra letters of recommendation — from a coach or a club advisor, for example — make sure that these supplementary letters add new information not covered by your teachers. No need to send eight or ten recommendations. The number that each school requires will be sufficient; one or two additional letters is more than enough.
The "perfect match." A "good fit." You've heard these phrases before, but what do they really mean? "Fit" or "match" is about more than simply being comfortable when you walk onto a campus. A good fit is about finding a college that provides the appropriate level of challenge, that offers the programs in which you're interested, that has an ethos or culture which you appreciate, and that strikes you as a place where you'll be both happy and engaged.
Sometimes students use these phrases as a shortcut for explaining that gut feeling they have about a particular school — and that gut feeling is important. But when used incorrectly, these phrases can prevent you from digging deeper to see if the college will suit you on many levels and offer what you need as your curiosity and aspirations expand. The end result of the so-called "perfect match" (is anything really ever perfect?) is not only that you graduate in four years, but also that you value how you grew, both personally and intellectually, as a result of your experience. And the fact of the matter is that there are dozens, if not more, colleges that will fit you — not just one.
The college search process is full of so many different dates and details that it can become overwhelming to keep track of them all. Therefore, you might want to create a master calendar for your college search, starting now and running through April of your senior year. Plan spring and summer college visits, and don't forget to include possible SAT I and II or ACT test dates and registration deadlines.
A lot happens at the end of junior year that admissions offices consider in the application process, such as standardized tests and Advanced Placement (AP) exams. Also, keep in mind that next year, when you're a senior, you may be asking some of your junior-year teachers for letters of recommendation during the college application process.
When planning your senior-year curriculum, we encourage you, when possible, to choose challenging courses that prepare you for college-level work. The most competitive college applicants demonstrate a solid academic foundation that includes the five core subjects (English, social sciences, a foreign language, science and math) every year and a willingness to take on ambitious coursework.
You'll be bombarded by emails and mail from colleges and universities, and the way you sort through all of the communications can set the tone for the rest of your college search. Don't dismiss an institution based on its ranking or its unfamiliarity to you. Many students find "their" college through an unsolicited communication. Before signing up to be on mailing lists, create a new email account or a folder within your email for all communication to and from schools.