Schools make admissions offers based on your accumulation of experience and your goals for the future. Exact expectations differ slightly between institutions, of course, but here’s the list of universal essentials for you to have ready. 

Wondering How To Get Into College?

For college hopefuls, there are no passwords, secret handshakes, or Gumdrop Shortcuts to Sugarflake School. 

That’s good because this process is just as much for the student and their family as it is for the school. 

You want to be certain that the place you’re fighting so hard to get to is where you will thrive and find like-minded individuals to challenge and support you.

Somewhere out there is a school that is looking for a student just like you. 

And there are college counselors like us who want to be your ally through the process, to make it clear and manageable. If you have questions we didn’t cover here, don’t hesitate to ask us.

Do everything you can to paint your picture, weave your story of why colleges should choose you. 

You are in charge of what they see. 

So let’s look at the tools you have to paint and weave with:

A High School Diploma Or A GED 

This reassures them that you can succeed in a high-level learning environment, and are ready for the rigor of more advanced academia.

A History Of Good Grades 

Showing a prospective school that you are capable of achieving, collaborating, and keeping up-to-speed with their current student population is important. 

Demonstrate this by either:

Maintaining Consistently High Grades… 

Many four-year universities set a baseline of a 3.0 GPA for admission. 

There are plenty who will accept GPAs lower than that though since high schools don’t always use the same GPA scale. 

Additionally, it is more important to get good grades in classes related to what you want to study than to get straight A’s in all classes.

When applying to a biology program, for example, marks in your science and math classes will weigh more for admissions than your history class.

…Or Achieving Ascending Grades.

If your grades aren’t perfect right from the get-go, don’t over-stress. 

You still have a unique opportunity to impress colleges by showing them that you pick yourself up when you get knocked down. 

Admissions committees understand that life throws many curveballs that can be difficult. 

They are happy to admit candidates that demonstrate an ability to raise their grades, especially through hardship, and invest in their future by re-committing to school work. 

Do Colleges Look At Senior Year Grades?

Yes, schools take your senior year grades into account and can revoke admissions offers or scholarships if your grades go down.

“Great is the art of beginning, but greater is the art of ending.” 

– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Although many seniors want to relax after receiving acceptance letters, it’s important to finish strong. Your future school will be watching for assurance that you are a committed student that will be an asset to their school. 

So stick with it while also finding ways to enjoy your final year of high school.

Completion Of Core Coursework 

The quality of the classes on your transcript is as important as the grades.

Admissions committees will examine your records to get a sense of what kind of student you might be.

English, math, science, history, and several years of a foreign language are usually prioritized requisites- but there should be no big worries there, as these are often the same classes required for a high school diploma anyway. 

Beyond that, they want to see if you’ve pushed yourself or just skated by doing the bare minimum. 

Will you stand out compared to your classmates, based on the options at your high school? 

Here are some of the *bonus points* programs that won’t be required for college admittance, but may give you a leg-up in displaying your work ethic: 

Honors Classes

These are high-level classes that move more quickly and dive deeper than you might expect in a standard high school class. 

Being accepted to and successfully passing these kinds of classes signals that you want and can handle a challenge. 

Advanced Placement Classes 

Even higher-level, more-accelerated courses, AP classes are college-level learning undertaken while you are still in high school. 

At the end of the school year, you’ll take an AP exam administered by College Board and receive a score between 1 and 5. 

If you get a high enough score- usually a 4 or 5- many colleges and universities will give you credit toward graduation requirements (saving you time, money, and effort) or entrance to a higher level class your freshman year. 

International Baccalaureate Classes 

IB classes are also college-level courses for high school students, complete with independent research projects and a test at the end. 

Academically rigorous and integrating an international curriculum, IB programs seek to foster creative, individual, and interdisciplinary learning.

Standardized Test Scores 

Nearly all schools in the US accept either ACT or SAT scores.

Recently, more schools have gone “test-optional,” meaning that ACT or SAT scores are not required for entrance. 

HOWEVER, before assuming this means you’re off the hook for testing, you will want to read this article on test-optional schools

If you don’t plan on taking either test, you will force your other application elements to carry more weight. Are they flawless enough to get you admitted? Or would you like to present a more well-rounded view of yourself? 

Plus, without taking the ACT or SAT, you might miss out on thousands of dollars in free tuition because these standardized tests are how most merit aid and scholarships are decided.

A Filled-Out Application *Submitted On Time*

Keep careful track of all deadlines. You don’t want to put all this work in, only to discover you got your information mixed up and are too late to apply. 

If you need help getting organized, please reach out.

Application Fees 

Most applications have accompanying fees, typically ranging from $25 to $100. 

This should also be a reminder that you want to have a clearly thought out and prioritized list of best-fit schools that you are interested in, to keep yourself on track rather than sapping your resources by applying willy-nilly. 

Common App  

With the dawn of the internet age, a group of colleges created a simplified application process that allows you to submit the same application to more than one institution. 

More than 900 schools now accept the Common App, allowing you to research their specific requirements and apply through this unified system.

Coalition App 

The Coalition App is similar to Common App but was created more recently. The 150 US schools that accept it want to make the application process easy and expand college access to students of all backgrounds.

A Compelling Essay 

Your college essay is your best sales tool. 

It’s your opportunity to tell admissions committees who you are and how you will enhance their rising freshman class. 

There are three primary elements they will evaluate:

  1. What You Say  

Usually there is a general prompt but it’s deliberately broad so you can answer from your own experience, belief system, and point of view. 

Aka: There is no “right” answer. 

Tell them about yourself. Let them see your passion and perspective. 

Be creative.

  1. How You Say It

Spellcheck, proofreading, and re-writes are important parts of getting the final draft ready for submission. 

Word choice is as important as punctuation and grammar. It’s another opportunity to reveal who you are, where you come from, where you aspire to go. 

Be clear.

  1. The Honesty Of Your Message 

The goal of college admissions is to find the right school for the student and the right student for the school. 

Be honest so you can end up where you fit in, where they offer classes and opportunities that suit your ideal college education.

Be sincere.

How Long Should A College Essay Be?

Usually, the prompt gives a word limit.

If it doesn't, aim for 400 - 600 words with a clear beginning, body, and conclusion.


Most schools will accept letters of rec from either a counselor or a teacher;  double-check to see if one is required. 

The best recommendation will come from someone who believes in you, knows your strengths in the classroom, and can honestly articulate why you will succeed and become a good addition to a school or community. 

Be both brave and gracious when asking for one.

Special Requirements For Particular Programs or Majors 

This is the time to dream big and pursue your goals with a vengeance. 

If your dreams require a specific program or major, carefully review application instructions for additional requirements (ie: portfolios or auditions to get into arts departments).

An Interview

Not every school does interviews.

Of those that do, it’s often not required. 

However, they are invaluable opportunities to present yourself beyond what’s on paper. 

If you’re nervous, practice. Be prepared with questions of your own to ask them.

Dependable Source Of Money

Application fees are just the beginning of the money stuff. Education is expensive.

With the rare exception of work colleges, students need to dish out a lot of dough to cover tuition and cost of living - typically paid at the beginning of each semester. 

There are grants, loans, and scholarships to be mined. 

Most schools will require you to fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) as part of your admissions process.

Whatever your circumstances and whatever route you are undertaking, make sure you have your money ducks in order and develop a strong plan for how to tackle this huge part of the college equation. 

Demonstrated Interest

For some admissions offices, how much an applicant wants to attend the school matters. 

There are many ways to demonstrate your interest in a particular college or university- ways that accommodate the entire personality range from shy to flamboyant- so go for it.

Important Tips To Remember On Your Admissions Journey

Every School Is Different

Don’t rely on rumors.

Or what your parents did.

Go straight to the source (the college’s website, campus, college fairs, etc.) and ask the college’s admissions officers for the most accurate info.

There is no one right school for each student. There are hundreds. Don’t tie admissions to your self-worth; don’t obsess with getting into a school because it’s famous. Simply seek a good match with the environment and type of student that is already there, to set yourself up for success.

Every Student Is Different

Honor the fact that this is *your* path and that means:

  1. You have to do the work. Show up for yourself. Communicate what you need.
  1. Your path will not look like anyone else’s path. Embrace it. Use it to achieve your dreams.

Need Help? Get Guidance From Expert College Counselors

March Consulting and our sister site, Higher Scores Test Prep, can give you all the tools you need for untangling the intricacies of this process. 

We help with accountability and provide the most current data available to facilitate your endeavors- not just what information is available, but how to apply that information to achieve your goals. 

Let us know how we can support you!