Professional Shares Tips for Getting Accepted to a Dream School

By Catherine Groux
Posted June 08, 2012 09:21 AM

A professional gives students tips on getting into their dream schools.
A professional gives students tips on getting into their dream schools.
Some students have had a dream school in mind for years, hoping that one day they will have a chance to earn a bachelor's degree from this much-desired institution. However, during a competitive college admissions process, it is important for students to understand exactly what they need to do to get into their dream school. While there is no sure-fire formula for receiving an acceptance letter, Jieun Choe, Kaplan Test Prep's executive director of college admissions and K-12 programs, recently offered college applicants some advice.

What factors are important during the college admissions process?

When students set out to get into their dream school, there are lots of factors that can make or break their acceptance; however, Choe said that for the past few years, the top elements college admissions officers look for have largely remained the same. School officials tend to weigh students' grades in college-level or AP courses, strength of curriculum and SAT and ACT scores extremely heavily.

Still, the admissions process can be very holistic. Choe said degree seekers are typically evaluated on other factors as well, including their letters of recommendation, personal essay, leadership skills and extracurricular activities.

Similarly, while students may know what their dream schools want to see on their applications, they should also be aware of the factors that could cost them an acceptance letter. Choe explained that based on Kaplan surveys, 53% of college admissions officers say a low GPA is a deal breaker, followed closely by low ACT and SAT scores.

What if students don't get the SAT scores they need to attend their dream school?

Although many students know the score they need to receive on their SAT to attend the college of their dreams, some may simply struggle when it comes to testing. For these individuals, Choe says not to worry. In fact, one of the biggest benefits of the SAT is that it can be predictable and therefore, students can prepare for it in advance.

"The thing about the test is it's an opportunity to showcase your critical-thinking skills and it's something you can prepare for," Choe said in an interview. "It's a standardized test so it's relatively similar in structure and types of questions every single time. In many ways, it's predictable."

Once students take the SAT once, they can use their score to evaluate their areas of weakness, and prepare themselves better for this section the next time they take the exam. Choe also recommends students try taking both the ACT and SAT. Since both tests are different, degree seekers may find they perform better on one over the other.

Is it more important to be well rounded or focus on one or two activities?

Today, many students participate in countless clubs and organizations so their college application makes them seem well rounded. However, Choe said this may not be the best option for all individuals. While some students genuinely enjoy participating in dozens of clubs and activities, many applicants are better off showing university officials that they have put a full effort into a handful of groups throughout their high school careers.

"There's a lot of things that you can do, but I think if you look at the top factors, they're looking for a record of achievement and leadership," Choe said. "They are looking for people who are going in depth versus dabbling in a dozen things. I think it is about having this record of achievement. You can say you're well rounded because you do a little bit of everything, but that doesn't really translate to well rounded if you don't have a history of being really focused and going deep in the areas that you're interested in."

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