Ok so I just recently discovered your blog and I'm in love with it! So I'm wondering, as you seem to be very knowledgable in both AP and IB as well as college applications, what would you recommend to me (who's currently a sophomore) on the things to do in order to be accepted at one of the prestigious universities, besides having high academic achievements?
Good question! Here are some things that prestigious universities look for:
1. Test Scores
Whether you take the SAT or the ACT, strong scores will help you stand out as an applicant. If you’re a sophomore now, you should probably be preparing to take the PSAT or the PLAN. The PSAT is the precursor to the SAT and allows you to get a good estimate of your performance on the SAT. The PLAN is the same, but for the ACT instead. I have a video here describing the differences between the SAT and ACT, if you’re confused about which one to take.
Like you mentioned, high academic achievement is hella important in the college apps process. DON’T think that a weighted GPA will save you, because a lot of colleges will calculate your GPA unweighted before taking into account honors/AP/IB/etc.
At this point, colleges will look at the rigor of the classes you took. Did you take regular when your school offered AP? That might be held against you. Did you enroll in a class at the community college because your high school’s classes weren’t rigorous enough? That’ll definitely earn you some points. As a sophomore, you should challenge yourself to take the most rigorous classes you can handle. If you can, take a 0 period to show colleges that you can handle the added work load.
But alas, colleges want more than smart students. They want smart student athletes, smart student artists, smart student volunteers, etc. Get involved with your community! If you’re in IB, that’s what CAS hours are—creativity, action, and service. Even if you aren’t in IB, CAS is a pretty good criteria for extracurricular activities. Creativity: musical ensembles, theatre, dance, color guard, journalism or yearbook. Action: sports, charity runs, working out at the gym, yoga classes, pilates. Service: volunteer work, charitable fundraisers. Try to be well-rounded by showing involvement in all three areas.
You can’t do anything about these quite yet, but I would recommend keeping a journal or a digital file where you can jot down important moments and the emotions that accompanied them. Examples: document how you feel when your team loses at nationals, write about your struggle to become club president. Later, you can go back to this collection of important moments and build your personal essays from them.
Again, you can’t do anything about these yet, but keep in mind that you’ll need up to two rec letters from teachers and one from a counselor. For right now, just be nice to your teachers and counselor, and start thinking about who you want to write your letters of rec.
EVERY award you get, put it in an envelope or somewhere safe and keep track of what awards you get and where. This information is going to be so, so important when you’re filling out the Common App.
8. A Hook
This is perhaps the most difficult part of any application, but you need to have a solid hook: something that makes you stand out from the crowd. Maybe you were raised by a single mom on welfare, yet you managed to rise to the top of your class. Maybe you’re a stellar pianist that’s performed at state competitions. Whatever your hook is, make sure that your extracurriculars and essays make it obvious.
That’s all I can think of for now. Feel free to message me with any more questions! Good luck!