How to Get Into College

Picture of a college student with glasses wearing a graduation hat and gown
June 7, 2022
How to Get Into a Good College (11 Tips) Other ConsiderationsHow to Get Into College: FAQs


Reviewed by:

Rohan Jotwani

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 5/24/22

Considering the next steps after high school? College or university works as the stepping stone to starting a career. Keep reading our in-depth guide on how to get into college.

While it may not be for everyone, college looms in the minds of students as this gigantic leap to adulthood that everyone must take at some point. Though some parents may have planned ahead to help their children deal with the steep and rising costs of a higher education, where do you even start?  

A lot of students pick out a goal or dream college they wish to be accepted into. Sometimes they’ll do general research on local colleges to figure out what’s available to them. If money is an object for students, maybe they’ll look into scholarships they qualify for. 

Some decide to start with standardized test scores. Colleges release their average or baseline score on both the SAT and ACT to help determine where you fall. These tests are designed to be an exit exam from high school or an entrance exam to college. 

Others prefer to assess how they are doing academically in high school. The higher your grades are, the more options will be available to you for college. As long as you’re making decent grades, you should be able to get in somewhere. 

Let’s take a look at some tips for how to get into college.

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How to Get Into a Good College

If you’re wondering how to get into college, you’ve already taken the first step. Making the decision to pursue a higher education is just as important as figuring out which schools to add to your college list and what major you want to pursue. 

However, there are a number of strategies and general good habits that will help you stand out in your application, especially if you’re looking into how to get into a good college. Below we’ll detail all you need to do to help you know how to get into a good college. 

1. Earn Good Grades

Your GPA, without a doubt, stands as your priority in high school. The higher it is, the better choices you will have. For people looking to learn how to get into college, this is your first step. Aim to get at least a 3.0, but the closer to 4.0 the better. If you’re planning to go to college, it’s not a bad idea to work your GPA as high as you can. Here are a few good ways to help: 

Finding your preferred study method is a great way to ensure you keep your grades up. Pick a study method that you not only find more enjoyable, but one you know you won’t get burnt out on. The list below may help you:

Not every subject is going to be easy either, so give your weaker subjects the time they need.. 

If you ever feel like you’re falling behind in a course, don’t hesitate to talk to your teachers either. Their job is to help you and they are a resource worth using. If you need more help, look for online resources or tutoring as a viable option. Sometimes being one on one with a subject and a teacher may make the difference in helping your GPA. 

If possible, make sure to take advanced high school courses. Higher level courses coupled with a high GPA will maximize the likelihood of you getting accepted anywhere.Your high school course selection does matter and colleges do pay attention to what you take. If you can’t manage the more difficult courses, take at least a few easier college level courses and keep your GPA up.

2. Ace the ACT or SAT

You need to take either the ACT and SAT for your college applications. You can take both, but given the amount of time and effort it takes, not to mention the required fees you will have to pay to take the test. If you’re wondering how to get into college, standardized tests are essential.  

The SAT is run by Collegeboard, an organization designed to help students with their transition to college. Collegeboard offers many great resources through their test prep website Khan Academy. The videos they provide for free not only help with your SAT prep, but you can also find study guides and even old test versions to prepare with. 

While the SAT focuses more on your math skills and language abilities, the ACT puts a heavier emphasis on math and science with less of an emphasis on language and writing. Both tests are about equal in difficulty, however their emphasis on specific subjects should be the driving factor in choosing between the tests. Pick the test that is easiest for you. 

The most important study tip for these tests is to not stress yourself over them. You are free to take them as much as you want and send your results to your college as you improve your score. While you may have to pay the fee again, a higher score will pay off; it may help you get accepted. Practice testing skills if you feel overwhelmed.  

3. Do Community Service

A great way to look good on a college application would be to mention some of the extracurriculars and organizations that you’ve participated in. Many of these offer community service events that you can participate in that could help out your college application, push you in the direction of potential scholarships, and potentially point to a career path for the future. 

Your school may offer a beta club, national honor society, or host a scout troop. Participating in any of these will help round out your college application and show that you are more than just your academic achievements. 

A great place to discuss your community involvement is within your admission essays. Try to include the information naturally, relating it to the topic as much as possible. When it comes to answering essay questions, make sure the admissions committee is learning something new about you.

Another benefit of doing community service is that it could potentially help you earn scholarship money to put towards paying for college. If you manage to take on a leadership role in any of these organizations, your chances could go up even further. Colleges pay close attention to your achievements and involvement. The more meaningful involvement they can see, the better. 

4. Rack Up Extracurriculars

Don’t underestimate extracurricular activities! Sports, after school programs, and creative endeavors look good on a college application. Showing your commitment to these programs and your potential talents will look good on any college application.

Some colleges even recruit people for sports scholarship programs. If you’re an outstanding athlete, you may have an advantage in gaining acceptance. Sports teams and college athletes are a huge deal. Though it’s rare, some students may be offered a full ride to the school in exchange for playing on a team. 

If you’re looking to go to an art school, you may have to audition or provide a portfolio as a way to prove your skills. The application guidelines will usually provide detailed instructions for you to follow to best prove you qualify. The best way to get ready for art school is by participating in your high school music or art programs. 

All of these extracurricular types may earn you broadly applicable scholarships too! Exceptional ability of any kind will get you noticed, so don't hesitate to participate in extracurriculars if you have talent. Try to build it into a potential career or something you can talk about participating in via in an essay.  

5. Refine Your Writing Skills

Most colleges ask that you write an essay as part of your application. Essays can vary in length, but expect to write something short that reveals who you are, both inside and outside of academics. For students looking to learn how to get into a good college, writing a good essay is essential. 

If you're not as confident in your writing ability, make sure to give yourself time to practice. Take some time to choose a college essay topic that you can answer best. In your essays, you can flex what you've learned in high school and share significant experiences that have defined who you are. Remember that your teachers can serve as a great resource to improve your writing!

Sounding confident is the biggest plus to any piece of writing, but try not to come across in your writing as arrogant or unenthused. If you’re struggling to improve, don't hesitate to get some tutoring either. 

Remember: writing anything worthwhile takes practice. Whether it’s working with a tutor or using a writing software to help you edit your work, make sure you’re making the most of your resources. You could even bust out some of the SAT vocabulary to add some direction and definition to your writing. Don't be afraid to include your dreams and ambitions in your essays!, 

6. Get Work Experience 

Another great way to stand out in your college application is to include any work experience that you have completed. Showing your experience will make you stand out as an applicant or great promise. Remember, the college wants you to be successful because it reflects on the quality of your education there.

Your school may offer a number of programs to enable you to take on work. Students can either work in or outside of their school, and the experience could even count towards a GPA or future college credit. This could potentially help you save time, money, and effort, as your degree may require some sort of work experience that you could work towards. 

High school students have many options to help them look for a career. If you have something in mind for a future job but are uncertain if it would be the right choice, you may be able to participate in job shadowing. This type of program allows students to follow an employee at their job to see what kind of work they do. You may be able to get an internship from participating. 

If you already have an idea of what you want to do career wise, a student internship may be a good use of your time. Work experience like this could both benefit your college education and earn you high school credit. Many college degrees require an internship of some kind, and the work experience would look good on any future resume. 

Many schools allow students to leave early as part of their TAG and honors programs. By doing so, they are expected to go to a part time job. Not only can students earn money for college from this, they could include the experience on a resume and potentially as part of their application. 

7. Build Meaningful Relationships

Networking of any kind can be extremely useful for college students. By keeping in touch with someone who you have a connection to from high school or any of your work or volunteer experiences, you could have some advantages other students may not have. 

A letter of recommendation is a pretty important requirement for your college application. These can be written by a boss, a manager, or a teacher that likes you both as a student and as a person. Having a personalized recommendation letter provides some extra favor to your application and illustrates that you are a good fit for the college you’re applying to. 

Another benefit of building a strong network of contacts is that you may also be able to find future internship opportunities that you wouldn’t have access to otherwise. Having your name out there could benefit you later in life and lead to job opportunities, which is part of the point of going through college. 

8. Define Your Long-Term Plans

At some point after you’ve decided to go to college, you’ll have to define what exactly you need to do going forward to get there. A few things are obvious and should take priority. Make sure to take the SAT or ACT. 

The general best list of to-dos after deciding to go to college should go something like this. 

While your success may vary, a lot depends on your test scores and how good your application looks. For students wondering how long it takes to get accepted into college, the answer is about a month to a month and a half. Don’t stress yourself out too much while waiting. 

If you’re struggling to pick out a college, note that most students pick schools based on their GPA and what the schools are famous for in terms of majors. Your GPA, along with your test scores, should act as a guideline to what you should feasibly apply for, as your college does list these as statistics for their average student. 

Certain schools specialize in specific fields, like MIT and its engineering program. School location can affect price, so keep that in mind if you’re worried about finances. Keep housing in mind while researching colleges to add to your list. Most universities offer dorms but those can be expensive. 

Do not wait too long to apply to college. If you're set on going to one school, apply early. Your chances of acceptance go way up the earlier you do. 

If you get deferred, you still stand a good chance in the normal acceptance pool. Missing the deadline can feel terrible, but if circumstances go wrong, you have options. Don’t hesitate to reach out to your school's admission for help.

9. Make a List of Colleges

By far the worst part of applying to college is the fear of rejection. It could happen to anyone for a good number of reasons. However, there are options. Your dream school cannot feasibly accept every student that applies, so make sure to have some back ups.

The best option for students dreading potential rejection is to build a list of potential schools and apply to a good number of them. Tailor your list to what criteria you value the most. Do you excel best at a large school or a smaller one with limited class time? Are you dead set on the best school or is it more affordable to choose a slightly worse ranked one?

Here are some other important questions to ask yourself when listing out schools: 

Make sure the colleges on your list check most of these boxes. 

10. Study Admissions Requirements

Every college has their own unique admission requirements listed on their website. Make sure you follow the directions listed carefully, as missing a single part of the requirements could potentially lead to a rejection. Depending on the type of school, you may have to do more or less for your application. 

The easiest part of your application for college should be sending your high school transcript and test scores, as most of those are sent for you. Both Collegeboard and the ACT allow you to select potential schools to automatically send your score to during registration. As a high school senior, your counselor will be responsible for sending out your high school transcripts.

If you have questions regarding the rest of your college application, contact an admissions officer via email.They should be able to help with specific questions regarding your essay, where you can submit information, and more. However, try not to ask questions that you could find the answers to on the college website. It saves everyone time. 

11. Start the Application Process Early  

By far the most important part of applying to college is to start early. You don’t want to get behind and put out an application that misses the deadline. Your senior year will be busy and you need to keep your grades up to maintain  the GPA requirement expected for students going to your college. The earlier you start, the better. 

There are a number of deadlines to help you make sure all potential applicants can be processed in a timely manner. The first deadline, for Early Decision, is on October 15th. The Early Decision deadline is put in place for students that know they want to commit to their preferred school and don’t want to worry about making more applications later. 

If you do not make the Early Decision application on time, you can apply at the normal deadline, which is usually in early January. Your school’s time deadline may be different. Some colleges offer rolling deadlines, which give students multiple dates to turn in your applications with unique school starting dates. Later deadlines give you the most time for your application.

How to Get Into College: FAQs

Still have more questions about how to get into college? Take a look at our answers to these frequently asked questions. 

1. How Do You Get Into College?

The easiest answer to the question of how to get into college is by applying and meeting all of the requirements. The application shouldn’t be too extensive, it is only meant to get an idea of your background. Make sure you include everything that you’re asked to!

2. Is It Hard to Get Into College?

It depends on what school you’re trying to get into and what your grades are like. If your GPA is low, you’ll have fewer options for college. On the other hand, if you’re looking into how to get into a good college, that process will be way more difficult. Higher ranked schools, like those in the Ivy League, have more strict entrance requirements.

3. What GPA Will Get You Into College?

The best GPA to aim for is between a 3.5 and a 4.0. If you’re looking to get into a college, a 3.5 GPA should be your bare minimum aim. The lower level schools, typically state colleges, will be the most likely to accept you. A lower GPA that might get you into a community college that you can use to work your GPA up in the first two years to be able to transfer to a better school.

The closer you get to a 4.0 score, the more options you will have for getting into college. The higher your grades are, the more colleges will look at your application favorbally. However, your GPA is not the end all be all of getting into college. You still have to fulfill the rest of your application and take your preferred college exam.

4. How Do I Pick Out a Good College?

As a student, you should have criteria in mind for what you want in a college. A lot of students choose based on what majors are offered. Some other draws for students are college campuses, college locations related to instate and out-of-state, and overall school rankings. You define what you want from college. 

5. How Many Colleges Should I Apply To?

You should apply to as many colleges as you have time for and that you would be fine with attending. The more options the better; your odds for getting into your school depends on your grades and how highly the college is ranked. If you’re staying in-state for school, you should still apply to see what you qualify for. You may be surprised by the results.  

6. Can You Apply For College In 11th grade?

You can apply for college as a junior, but you are less likely to meet the high school class requirements that your college may want on top of not having your diploma. Generally, it is best to apply during your senior year so you can flow into college with your graduating class. 

7. Should I Take AP Courses?

Colleges love to see AP courses on your transcript. As long as they don’t lower your GPA you should consider taking AP classes. These classes can vary in difficulty, but a few can be easier than others. 

8. Are College Visits Important?

How else will you learn more about the college, campus life, and what to expect if you don’t visit? Colleges want you to explore the campus and take a guided tour if you’re interested ahead of time but aren’t sure if you want to attend. Colleges will invite you for orientation after you’re accepted, but it’s good to know what to expect ahead of time. 

9. Is College Easier Than High School?

College and high school share some similarities and differences, but overall the college workload will likely be more than in high school. Although your major may affect what you do, the environment presented at a college may make it easier to study and focus rather than be forced to attend school in a classroom all day. 

How you do in college depends on your work ethic. The taste of freedom that comes with going to college can be challenging for some students to handle. Overall, college has a much more relaxed atmosphere than high school. Depending on how you work, this can either make things easier, or more challenging. It all comes down to personal preference.

Final Thoughts

College stands as the next step for most high school students. Your secondary education marks the direction of your career and the start of your adult independence. While college may not be for everyone, if you get in, you’ll likely be prepared for finding your place in the working world. A lot depends on what you want to do and what you can do with your education.

Don’t let college be this daunting monument to your potential failure or success. Getting in is fairly easy as long as you’ve taken high school seriously. How well you can communicate your values, goals, and dreams is a big part of what it takes to get into college. You only need to meet the requirements. Don’t hesitate if you want to go. Make that commitment to yourself. 

Good luck!

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