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The California Career Center. Dream Big, Set Goals, Take Action!

Getting into the College of Your Choice

College admissions officers carefully assess your admission packet: your grades, the classes you took, essays, extracurricular activities, recommendations, and interviews. 

Use these tips to increase your chances of getting into the college of your choice:

  1. Entrance Exams. California public colleges and universities no longer use the SAT or ACT test scores in the admissions process. The tests are not required, but you might want to take the ASVAB, SAT, or ACT exam anyway. Your scores can be used to fulfill minimum requirements and can help place you in the right classes. Take advantage of free online SAT or ACT materials, study guides, and practice tests.

  2. Grades. Get the best possible grades you can during ALL four years of high school.

  3. Classes. Take academically rigorous classes ALL four years. You should carry as many challenging courses as you can handle—college prep (also known as “A-G”, Advanced Placement (AP), honors, and International Baccalaureate (IB).

  4. College Essays. Spend some time developing your college essays. Think and reflect before you write. Write, edit, rewrite. This is your opportunity to sell yourself. Convey who you are in your writing: energetic, exciting, passionate, and intellectually curious. How can you make the real “you” stand out from the rest of the crowd? Get feedback on the essays from your teachers and/or other school personnel.

  5. Extracurricular. Become involved in your school and/or community during ALL four years and summer vacations. You need to keep track of your involvement in extracurricular and co-curricular activities, sports, and/or volunteer activities in your community. Move up to leadership positions. Demonstrate growth. Develop a deep interest or talent in one or more areas.

  6. Recommendations. Ask your school counselor and teachers who know you well for recommendations. At least a month in advance of college deadlines for recommendations, jog their memories by providing them with a “personal data” or “brag sheet” highlighting your academic accomplishments, athletics, activities, and community service and leadership positions. Also, highlight anything special you did during the summer (for example, foreign travel to improve language skills, volunteer work, projects).

  7. Interviews. Prepare for on-campus interviews, if required by colleges. Re-read your essays and any information you have acquired on specific colleges. Be friendly and articulate. Dress professionally, not casually. After the interviews, send thank you notes or e-mails expressing your continued interest in their institution.

  8. Find the Right College. Decrease your stress by starting your search for colleges early—no later than the start of your junior year. This gives you adequate time for researching colleges, completing applications, writing essays, and taking necessary exams.

  9. Get Organized and Stay Focused. Success takes organization. Make a folder for each college that interests you. 

  10. Just Ask. Get assistance from your school counselor and teachers. Don’t be afraid to ask questions: there is no such thing as a dumb question. 

Put relevant information inside the folder. Things like information you have about the college, due dates and dates you submitted items, notes about what you’ve done and what’s left to do, and a copy of your application and essay. 

Stay focused on your goal of getting into the college of your choice.