Here are seven things you can be doing to set yourself up for a college application:

1. Getting the best grades in the toughest classes your school offers.

You probably know that your GPA is really important to colleges, but you may not know that colleges pay attention to how much you challenged yourself. I’m not saying you should definitely take six AP classes every year, but I am saying that colleges receive info detailing how many AP classes are offered at your school and how many of those you took. So think twice before dropping AP Psych.

Note: I’m often asked, “Should I take an AP class and get a B or take a regular or honors class and get an A?” My stock answer: “If you want to go to Stanford, take the AP class and get an A.”

2. Test Prep.

89% of colleges require SAT/ACT scores, and 59% attribute considerable importance to them. You can choose to apply to test-optional schools, but if you’re applying to a wide range of schools, I recommend taking your SAT or ACT once in Junior year and once in Senior year.

3. Volunteer

Volunteering shows colleges and universities that you care about others and are willing to lend your talents to help them. They favor applicants that are not selfish and care about their communities. Doing things like volunteering for Habitat for Humanity, your local food bank, or your favorite charity will help you stand out. It does not have to be every weekend, it can be periodically. It will make a difference in helping you get into the colleges you want to get into.

4. Manage Your Social Media Presence

Do not be fooled for one second when it comes to your social media presence. Schools will check your online footprint. Do not post pictures or videos of yourself that you wouldn’t want your parents or grandparents to see. Keep away from anything that involves alcohol, drugs, partying, or controversial materials.

5. Excellent Extracurriculars.

What does “rocking out” look like? Take a look at these two examples and tell me which student is rocking and which one ain’t:

A. Culinary Arts (August 2013-September 2013)

• Prepared food for students at school

• Learned how to cook healthy meals

B. Editor-in-Chief of School Newspaper (August 2013-May 2014)

• Chief adviser and manager of production, financial backing, written quality, and school-wide distribution of The Voice

• Teach a class of over 45 students how to use InDesign (newspaper program)

• Teach a group of Managing Editors how to lead incoming students in article writing, and programming skills

• Fundraise (selling pizza, t-shirts) on campus to sustain school newspaper

• Contact numerous advertising agencies to help sustain the paper

Note: Ask yourself does your current resume demonstrate leadership? Initiative? Vision? I’m not saying you have to be president or editor-in-chief of everything, but there are always ways to demonstrate leadership qualities even if you can’t be president.

6. Applying to at least three summer programs.

Show colleges you didn’t spend your whole summer playing video games. Keep in mind that many programs have February and March deadlines, now is the time to apply. A summer job is also a good idea. Bonus points if the summer job that you choses relates to or helps you figure out what you want to study in college.

7. Creating your college list.

You want to curate a list of potential colleges you are interested in. This also includes visiting campuses. If you plan on visiting campuses try to go during the school year and on a weekday so you can get a feel for what day to day activities are like. Visiting around breaks like summer or spring can be misleading. It is best to look into club sports and student programs that you might find interesting to you.

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At Finish Line Tutoring, we help high school students with their college applications. The tips above are excellent ways to help you standout from the thousands of students applying to your schools of choice. However, it is easier said than done. Our college application pros can help you with your college essays by checking them for spelling and grammar. We also provide online tutoring services for students that need help improving their grades in a subject. Contact us today to learn more about any of our services!