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I'll be entering my senior year of high school in a few weeks, which means I'll be applying to colleges soon. Neither of my parents went to college, so I'm kind of at a loss for what I should look for in colleges and do in regards to the application process.

What are some things colleges look for? What do you think of "reach schools"? How many places should I apply to? What are some good "safety schools"?

If you could answer any of these questions, I'd be super grateful. I'm pretty confused right now :confused:
 

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I got into an Ivy League college early decision (the first person in my family to go to a Tier 1 college), so I will try to help you out.

What kinds of schools are you looking at? Ivy League? Liberal arts colleges? State schools? What is your GPA/SAT scores/extracurriculars? What major are you considering?

What are some things colleges look for?

GPA is definitely the most important determining factor of whether you'll get into a good college. SAT scores are important too, but less so -- an awesome SAT score will not do much to make a mediocre GPA look better (my best friend had that situation). Extracurriculars are quite important also to show them that you're a "real person" with interests. It's especially helpful if you have had an internship or something in the field that you are planning to study (if you know what your major is going to be). I had an internship doing molecular biology research at a world famous lab the summer after my junior year, and I'm pretty sure having that job experience (and an awesome recommendation letter from my boss there) greatly helped me get into my college, where I majored in molecular and cellular biology.

SAT Subject Tests and AP exam scores are nice to have, but not super important as long as you have the two to three required SAT Subject Tests and at least a couple of APs. Letters of recommendation should be decent but they don't have to be absolutely amazing -- choose a teacher or supervisor that you got along well and had some sort of rapport with.

Basically they want to see that you are intelligent and self-motivated and will be an profitable asset to the college (college is a business and don't let anyone tell you different). The essay should pretty much be used as a tool to convince them that you are an intelligent and motivated person. For example, my essay was about my experience on the high school track team and how I continued to do track even though it was physically taxing and mentally stressful because I liked the challenge and the feeling of becoming strong and achieving things I never thought possible. It was something like that. Total BS and of course the only reason why I even joined the team was to have extracurriculars for college, but they bought it and I got in.

What do you think of "reach schools"?

Honestly it's hard to determine which schools are "reach schools" and which are "good match" schools. To this day I still don't know if my college would have been considered a reach school or a good match school for me. Just apply to whatever schools you are interested in and then throw in a couple of safety schools. If you have an academic advisor at your school, ask them to help you figure out what colleges to apply to if you are unsure. College Confidential is also a good Internet resource for this kind of stuff.

How many places should I apply to?

At my high school they said to apply to at least 8 -- 2 reach schools, 3 good match schools, and 3 safeties. But apply to as many as you want to, as long as you have a good balance.

What are some good safety schools?

Again, it really depends on what your GPA and SAT scores are, and what kind of schools you're looking to get into. If you have a really good GPA etc., and there are good state schools in your state, those are a good and inexpensive safety school option. If you tell me what schools you're looking at and your overall information, I might be able to recommend some schools to you.

 

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GPA and test scores. Also make sure to join at least two clubs: an academic one and a community service one. Be a regular member of both. Don't take more than 2 APs at the same time.. if you get A's in every class with an AP or two, then your GPA would be around 4.3ish.

BTW, the admissions people are humans too, so don't take the essay too seriously. Write it like a personal letter to them. And don't make it too cheesy/emotional.. I made a mistake writing an essay about how a person close to me died and I barf a little every time I think about it. Good luck.
 

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While the above commentators are correct in that you can get into a higher ranked school via scores, that's not always piratical and rarely is useful. Anyone with a four year degree and a hard work ethic can achieve what anyone else can, so do not let the concept of "rank" worry you overly much.

I would do some basic research of the schools around you, and apply to them. If you are seeking a place out of state for some reason, realize financial aid won't be as generous (usually States have college aid of sorts), and that overall expenses will be greater (cost of moving, finding a job, etc. etc.).

Don't worry yourself overly much with "what you want to do in life," as you can easily switch colleges to one that suits you, should you change your mind. (Trust me, you will probably change your mind three or four times by your Junior year in college.) If you do already have a passion, go ahead and pursue it, but keep your mind open to alternatives.

Try to stay away from private financial loans (government loans are much safer). They are the epitome of evil and will add up fast.

For your first semester, just take 4 classes (with 3 credit hours at least), so you can ease into it. If you're a very hard worker (an ENTJ stereotype), you can take 5 or 6. But I would suggest just 4 for your first semester.

What state are you in? Are you willing to move out of state? Will you be working on the side or relying on other funding?
 

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You do realize you don't state anything about where you are geographically that may well be a factor here. For example, when I went to university in Ontario, Canada we were allowed 3 choices for university programs as part of the process there. It may well differ if you are in another place but do be aware that we aren't mind readers in knowing where you are geographically on the globe.

Reach and safety schools seem like silly ideas in a sense. What passions do you have to study and what level of grades do you have that may make sense for generating a number of schools to apply. If your grades are rather high, I'd select a few schools while if the grades are lower, consider more schools to cast a wider net.
 

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What do you want to study? Do you have any idea? What are your interests? I think that's the first thing you need to ask yourself.

Next, think about finances and scholarships. Find out about what kind of financial aid you can get. Some more expensive private schools offer their own individual scholarships. Are your parents going to help you at all?

Figure out what kind of schools you can afford based on which programs you want to go in there, and arrange a tour of the campus.
 

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I'll be entering my senior year of high school in a few weeks, which means I'll be applying to colleges soon. Neither of my parents went to college, so I'm kind of at a loss for what I should look for in colleges and do in regards to the application process.

What are some things colleges look for? What do you think of "reach schools"? How many places should I apply to? What are some good "safety schools"?

If you could answer any of these questions, I'd be super grateful. I'm pretty confused right now :confused:
They look at GPA and involvement with extracurricular activities, mostly. Any leadership positions you've ever had (such as president of a club) really stand out to colleges, as do volunteer service and any employment. You want to sell yourself.

Do you have any particular interests in any field of study? If not, explore that now. Shadow anyone in the workforce that you can to learn about what they do if you have no idea, and I would pick colleges based off of reputation in the field you're interested in and price. Find a balance between the two. Don't pick incredibly pricey private colleges unless you plan on receiving a ton of scholarships, grants, or plan on earning six figures once you graduate a specialty school in law or medicine or you will most likely regret it.

Apply for scholarships NOW! It's a lot of essay writing, but it gives you practice for writing the essay required for most college applications.
 

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Discussion Starter #8
I just realized that I didn't give very much information... Sorry about that!

I'm thinking about Science or Medicine based careers. I haven't narrowed it down much more than that, and I was hoping that college would help me decide. My GPA is a 3.3 (3.7 when weighted) which isn't super great. I got a 2120 on my SAT, but I'm going to retake that. I'm taking my ACT some time in the next few months.

As far as class choices go, I'm doing pretty well. I'll be pulling five AP classes next year, but I swear there is literally nothing left for me to do. I took 2 AP classes last year, and got a 4 and 5 on the tests.

I'm looking for a four year university, and I'm willing to go anywhere in the US to find a good one. Actually, I'd kind of like to be far away. My family is pretty co-dependent/clingy, and I'd like to steer away from all that jazz.

I volunteer weekend-ly at an animal shelter, am a competitive gymnast, and have played piano for almost 11 years. Other than that I'm rather unremarkable. I really haven't gotten into any clubs and it really bothers me that colleges care about that. Who cares if I'm president of the food club? How does that make me a good student?

My parents are pretty poor, so I'm pretty sure that I'm a great candidate for financial aid. My mom will be filling out all the paperwork for that soon.
 

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I'm thinking about Science or Medicine based careers. I haven't narrowed it down much more than that, and I was hoping that college would help me decide. My GPA is a 3.3 (3.7 when weighted) which isn't super great. I got a 2120 on my SAT, but I'm going to retake that. I'm taking my ACT some time in the next few months.

As far as class choices go, I'm doing pretty well. I'll be pulling five AP classes next year, but I swear there is literally nothing left for me to do. I took 2 AP classes last year, and got a 4 and 5 on the tests.

I'm looking for a four year university, and I'm willing to go anywhere in the US to find a good one. Actually, I'd kind of like to be far away. My family is pretty co-dependent/clingy, and I'd like to steer away from all that jazz.
You still have to consider if you want a big school where there are lots of freshmen or other schools where things may be a bit more selective as I'd imagine there may be some lesser known schools that may have smaller classes and other advantages depending on what you want.

I volunteer weekend-ly at an animal shelter, am a competitive gymnast, and have played piano for almost 11 years. Other than that I'm rather unremarkable. I really haven't gotten into any clubs and it really bothers me that colleges care about that. Who cares if I'm president of the food club? How does that make me a good student?
The point here is whether or not you can add to the value of the school overall. By participating in various groups, you demonstrate that you do well with others and will continue the clubs that the school has if not create some new ones possibly. If you just studied and went home with zero extra-curricular activities, do you think you'd add a lot unless you were in the top .01% of your field? By doing various things, you demonstrate the potential to be well-rounded and keep up the appeal of a school to others. When I was in high school, I did yearbook, Math contests and a few other things for my extra-curricular activities.
 

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I just realized that I didn't give very much information... Sorry about that!

I'm thinking about Science or Medicine based careers. I haven't narrowed it down much more than that, and I was hoping that college would help me decide. My GPA is a 3.3 (3.7 when weighted) which isn't super great. I got a 2120 on my SAT, but I'm going to retake that. I'm taking my ACT some time in the next few months.

As far as class choices go, I'm doing pretty well. I'll be pulling five AP classes next year, but I swear there is literally nothing left for me to do. I took 2 AP classes last year, and got a 4 and 5 on the tests.

I'm looking for a four year university, and I'm willing to go anywhere in the US to find a good one. Actually, I'd kind of like to be far away. My family is pretty co-dependent/clingy, and I'd like to steer away from all that jazz.

I volunteer weekend-ly at an animal shelter, am a competitive gymnast, and have played piano for almost 11 years. Other than that I'm rather unremarkable. I really haven't gotten into any clubs and it really bothers me that colleges care about that. Who cares if I'm president of the food club? How does that make me a good student?

My parents are pretty poor, so I'm pretty sure that I'm a great candidate for financial aid. My mom will be filling out all the paperwork for that soon.
Hey, I found this thing that tracks the SAT scores and GPA of admitted and rejected people for each college. It also has a "what are my chances?" calculator attached. Just google the name of the college you're interested in and "sat gpa" and it will come up.

Cornell University - GPA and Test Scores Needed for Admission

Here's my tentative list:
Reach: Cornell, Duke, Wash U, or similar places
Good Match: University of Michigan, University of Illinois, UCSD/UCSB, SUNY-Binghamton, or similar places (I don't know that many private colleges that are good in biology, but you can find ones that have similar scores/reputation to those. Also keep in mind that your financial aid may not be as good if you attend a state school as an out-of-state resident)
Safety: Texas A&M, smaller in-state colleges with a good rep for biology (for example in my state I would apply to University of Rochester, University of Buffalo, and places like that)

What state are you from? And did you go to a gifted high school or a regular high school?
 

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Discussion Starter #11
You still have to consider if you want a big school where there are lots of freshmen or other schools where things may be a bit more selective as I'd imagine there may be some lesser known schools that may have smaller classes and other advantages depending on what you want.



The point here is whether or not you can add to the value of the school overall. By participating in various groups, you demonstrate that you do well with others and will continue the clubs that the school has if not create some new ones possibly. If you just studied and went home with zero extra-curricular activities, do you think you'd add a lot unless you were in the top .01% of your field? By doing various things, you demonstrate the potential to be well-rounded and keep up the appeal of a school to others. When I was in high school, I did yearbook, Math contests and a few other things for my extra-curricular activities.
I don't particularly care about the school size. I'm just going to learn.

I understand that clubs are important, but I feel like my gym and piano should be enough as extra-curriculars go.
 

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Hey, I found this thing that tracks the SAT scores and GPA of admitted and rejected people for each college. It also has a "what are my chances?" calculator attached. Just google the name of the college you're interested in and "sat gpa" and it will come up.

Cornell University - GPA and Test Scores Needed for Admission

Here's my tentative list:
Reach: Cornell, Duke, Wash U, or similar places
Good Match: University of Michigan, University of Illinois, UCSD/UCSB, SUNY-Binghamton, or similar places (I don't know that many private colleges that are good in biology, but you can find ones that have similar scores/reputation to those. Also keep in mind that your financial aid may not be as good if you attend a state school as an out-of-state resident)
Safety: Texas A&M, smaller in-state colleges with a good rep for biology (for example in my state I would apply to University of Rochester, University of Buffalo, and places like that)

What state are you from? And did you go to a gifted high school or a regular high school?

Thank you! I'm from California, and I went to a regular high school. However, it's in a college town, and uber competitive. I swear it's terrible there.
 
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