Want to Get Into Your Dream School? Don’t Do These 5 Things


Want to Get Into Your Dream School? Don’t Do These 5 Things

I get it: when you fall in love with a school, it can be hard to see yourself anywhere else. You may envision yourself as a student, strolling the campus, exploring all of the possibilities at the college. But as acceptance rates become more selective and daunting with each passing year, fixating on just your dream school is a dangerous strategy.

In today’s cut throat admissions landscape, I fear that prospective students increasingly focus on the strategy of the application process at the expense of their own wellbeing. Trust me — this approach isn’t worth it! In an attempt to counteract some common misperceptions about “How To Get In,” I would like to offer you a list of five things not to do if you’re hoping to gain acceptance to your dream school. These tips will not only help keep you sane, but also set you up for a successful, rewarding admissions process.

1. Do not focus on only one school or program.

Once you’ve done enough school research, you’ll begin to notice that different colleges have quite a bit more in common than you might have originally imagined. Similar kinds of schools (urban universities, small liberal arts colleges, etc.) tend to have similar curricula, social scenes, and student amenities. If you have a dream school that you've fallen in love with, be comforted by the fact that there are dozens of comparable institutions at which you might be just as happy. Spend time balancing your college list; try to apply to institutions like your dream school at a variety of selectivity levels, giving you the best chance of ending up at a place that will fit you well.

2. Do not change your interests.

Admissions officers might be overloaded with applications, but they’re not fools. Having read and assessed thousands of applications, I can tell you that it’s obvious when a student has pursued an experience or activity in order to seem impressive, as opposed to pursuing genuine interests.

As you build your candidacy, do not spend time worrying about what your dream school wants. Don’t agonize over an activity that you hate or apply for a certain major because you think it will increase your odds. Instead, try to figure out what you want. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different extracurriculars and academic offerings, especially as a 9th or 10th grader. More so than published authors or highly-ranked chess players, all schools want thoughtful students who are genuinely passionate. This is a quality that simply cannot be faked.

3. Do not refuse to have a good time in high school!

Although it will be necessary to demonstrate significant scholastic achievement in order to be considered at top schools, do not let your academic ambitions get in the way of having fun during your high school years. Friendships and travel experiences may not feel as relevant to your future as studying for the SAT, but I promise that they are.

The perspective you gain and maturity you develop over the course of your high school years will come through in your application materials. These are the sorts of subtle personal qualities that admission officers look for through interviews and the personal statement. As intangible as these characteristics are, they can make or break an admissions officer’s impression of you. Take the time to relax and become a self-aware human — it will pay off!

4. Do not forget about your community.

When you’re solely focused on applying to your dream school, it can be easy to occupy a distant realm of fantasies of strolling through the quadrangles of your favorite campus. And while it’s important to indulge these thoughts as a way of understanding your future ambitions, it’s also crucial to stay grounded within the context of your present community.

If you’re lucky enough to be applying to college, you have talents and resources that can and should be shared for the benefit of others. Do not worry so much about your own future that you neglect to give back to the places or people that made you who you are. Working with your community is not only the right thing to do, but will help show that you’re an actively engaged person who has had an impact.

5. Do not write your personal statement to sound as impressive as possible.

The college application is a data-heavy document, filled with grades, scores, lists, and assessments of all sorts. The personal statement is the moment in your application where your personality will shine through. Admission officers are hoping to get to know who you are by reading this essay — how you think, feel, and conceive of the world around you. This is not an appropriate place to recap your academic or extracurricular successes. I assure you that your other application components will do a perfectly sufficient job of capturing your achievements. Try to show admissions officers what makes you you. It is intended to be an opportunity for human connection, not a resumé in disguise. There are many personal statement mistakes you’ll want to avoid, and regurgitating your accomplishments is one of them.

It’s okay to have a dream school that you love and are crossing your fingers for! Don’t let this blog dissuade you from applying — you should definitely throw your hat in the ring for a college you love. Reach high, but use these tips to maintain perspective and be strategic along the way.

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