Are you excited at the prospect of going to college? College is a great experience no matter what age you begin your education. However, being admitted to the college of your choice does not happen automatically. In order to gain admission to college, you must show that you are capable of doing college-level work. The good news is that different college admissions boards have different standards for admitting students, so if you are not accepted to one school, the chances are great that you will be admitted somewhere else.

The Most Exclusive Colleges

There are some colleges whose admissions are extremely competitive. In fact, some schools admit less than 10 percent of the people who apply, meaning that nine out of ten people who apply will not be admitted. These exclusive schools have such limited slots because they want only the very best students, but others are exclusive due to other factors. For example, some schools have only a limited number of major programs, so they only admit students who have shown an aptitude and interest in those fields.

The Rest of the World

For most of us, gaining college admission is not a matter of being admitted to an Ivy League school. Most first-year college students fall into one of two categories: those who are graduating high school and beginning college immediately, and those who are returning to college after a period of absence to work or meet family obligations.

If you are a newly-graduated high school senior, the admissions process should begin as early as your junior year. Begin looking at the colleges in which you are interested and their application processes. Applying to college is not as simple as filling out a form; you must often write essays and get teacher and counselor recommendations. You will also want to fill out your Free Application for Federal Student Aid around February of your senior year so that you can qualify for financial aid.

If you are returning to school after an absence, talk to the admissions office about having your transcript evaluated. Most schools will try to give you as much credit as possible for the classes you have already passed. If you had a decent grade point average, the college may be more likely to admit you because you have shown you can handle college level work. If your grade point average was not very good, be honest about your prior performance and your new determination to succeed.

What Do College Admissions Boards Look For?

Colleges want to find students who are going to do well in their classes. In order to do this, colleges look for three things: previous grade point average, standardized test scores, and extracurricular activities. These things give decision-makers a look at a student’s dedication to study and commitment to interests and friends.

Grades Are Important

First, colleges look at your grade point average, either from high school or from your previous college experience. In some ways, grade point average is the best indicator of future performance, although there are exceptions to this rule. Students who make good grades tend to keep making good grades, and those who do not do well in classes often do not improve their performance. However, one or two bad grades do not indicate a “bad student,” so all grades are averaged to give a fair representation of your performance in class.

If you have had a few C’s or even D’s or F’s, it does not mean you cannot get into college. However, you must balance those low grades out with higher grades at some point, or your GPA will suffer. Most current GPAs are figured on a numerical average to make calculations easier, but some schools still use the “point” system—4 points for an A, 3 for a B, and so on. This is why you will hear people say a “four-point-oh grade point average” is a perfect score; it means that the student had straight As.

Standardized Tests Help Colleges Decide

Standardized test scores have become very important in the past few years in determining college admissions. The SAT and ACT are the 2 most common standardized college admission tests. The SAT covers writing, reading comprehension, and math. The ACT covers all academic areas. Some schools require one or the other; be sure to check your school’s admission requirements to determine which test you should take. You can sign up for either test through your school’s guidance office or online at the companies’ websites: www.collegeboard.org for the SAT, and www.actstudent.org for the ACT.

You can prepare for these important tests by checking out preparation books from your local library, signing up for a prep class, or finding tutoring online or through your school. Although you can take each test more than once, it is a good idea to prepare thoroughly for the test the first time you take it, as this tends to be your “baseline” score. Most colleges have a minimum published acceptable score on the SAT or ACT that you must reach before you will be considered for admission; this score is usually available on the college’s admission website.

Extracurricular Activities Help

Finally, colleges look at your extracurricular activities. It does not matter as much what you did as the fact that you did something extra while you were in school. Choir, band, sports, and clubs all look good on your application; they show that you did not simply sit in your room studying throughout high school, but worked on becoming a more well-rounded individual.

Many people recommend applying to at least five colleges so that you have a good chance of admission to at least one. Try to choose colleges from a diverse range of admission requirements. For most people with decent grades, test scores, and extracurricular activities, you will soon find a college that would love to have you as a student!