I always found advice threads from admitted students to be helpful, so I have decided to make one for the high school class of 2015 (or any other high school student). These tips are mostly geared towards students interested in applying to very selective colleges, but I think that they can be of use to everyone.
1. Limit the number of reach schools on your list!
I personally think that you should limit the number of schools you apply to with acceptance rates under 15%. I know that some people apply to all eight ivies hoping that they will get into at least one. I understand where these people are coming from, but I do not think that this is a good strategy for a few reasons. 1) There is no way you are in love with all eight ivies. They have distinct personalities. 2) Think of the number of essays you will have to write. It is better to write three good essays than 10 mediocre ones. 3) Unless you are a transcendent student (by ivy league standards), chances are that you could end your senior year with many rejections. That is just disheartening.
As for me, I applied to five reach schools. Four were ivies. I was accepted to two of my reach schools and rejected by the other three. I do not think that five reach schools is a terrible number, but I would not do it again. I only applied to two of the ivies because of their prestigious names. I spent a lot of time on the applications, and then I was rejected in March! It just is not worth it. I would recommend 1-3 reach schools that you LOVE.
2. Craft your college application list as if the reach schools did not exist.
This is something I did, and I would recommend this tip to everyone. Select your 1-3 reach schools, and then forget about them. Assume that you will be rejected. Next, decide on your match and safety schools as if the reach schools don't exist. If you implement this strategy, you will be more likely to select match and safety schools you actually like instead of just settling.
3. Do not listen to the people who say you are an automatic admit to every school.
This tip is mostly for URMs (underrepresented minorities), legacies, first generation students, and students from poor backgrounds. People will tell you that you will DEFINITELY get into [insert name of prestigious school] because people like you are in demand, sometimes get in with lower grades and SATs, and provide diversity. Do not believe these people. I will not deny that some groups of students do have an advantage, but nothing is guaranteed. I am a URM with three ivy rejection letters. People told me that since I am a high achieving URM, I could get in anywhere. This just isn't true. I know of other students with hooks who were rejected as well.
4. Know what you want, and do not compromise.
Has your dream been to live in a city? Apply to city schools! Have you always wanted to be an engineer? Apply to schools with highly ranking engineering programs! Is a small environment a must for you? Then apply to small LACs, and forget about the big universities.
Do not compromise when you apply to schools. Figure out what you want, and continue searching until you find it. You should not end up in a situation where only your dream school has the qualities you are looking for. Every school should. Seriously, do not compromise. Keep looking until you find schools that you absolutely love.
5. Do not let one bad visit deter you from applying.
Just because your tour guide sounded elitist or the admissions officer gave a bad presentation does not mean that you will not love the school. Do not start to hate a school because of one person you were not fond of. If you live nearby, visit the school again. (I did this once, and I ended up applying in the end.) If not, spend time on the website and look up reviews about the school online. Do not simply rely on your first impression.
6. Read a book about admission to selective colleges.
They have good tips that you might not have thought of.
7. Do not be upset about a lukewarm interview.
I thought that one admissions officer disliked me, but she actually loved me! I found out from faculty members that she advocated for me often during the process.
8. Do not retake standardized tests a million times.
If you are in the right range, do not retake the test. This is just my personal advice. Yes, a 2400 is better than a 2200, but don't stress yourself out about the testing so much. Do not let it consume you because testing is no fun.
9. Rejoice in every acceptance.
Rejoice in every acceptance because you don't know what is coming next. Your match and safety schools will probably notify you before your reaches. When the first acceptances start rolling in, start to celebrate. You got into college! Always remember that what you consider to be a match or a safety might be someone else's dream school.
10. This is the most important tip. Getting into an ivy will not change your life!
At the end of the college admissions process, I did get into one ivy league school. While receiving my fat envelope was one of the most exciting moments of my life, it has not changed me. I am still the same person I was before I received the envelope. I am not smarter or more talented. By this point, the initial excitement has started to wear off. I am so busy studying that I do not have time to think about college 24/7. Getting into a top college/university will NOT change your life.You will be fine either way.
Phew! Those were my top ten tips! Best of luck, and may the odds be forever in your favor!