Five Proven Ways to Get into a College of Your Choice

By Sam Rosensohn

The University of Vermont has created a Christmas gift for college bound students everywhere entitled, Five Proven Ways To Get Into A College Of Your Choice.

So I thought I’d pass on what the brochure trumpeted and then have high school college counselors from H-K, Hand, Hopkins, Mercy, Morgan, Oxford, Valley and Westbrook share their own suggestions.

Perform at a Higher Level – It has been said before and it’s worth repeating: The greatest factor in determining your admission to most colleges is your high school record. This includes both the courses you’ve taken and your overall grade point average.

Colleges want their students to succeed and look for proof they will in the high school record. Sign up for advance placement or honors courses, if they’re a good fit. Concentrate on your core courses. Exceed the minimum course requirements for colleges you are considering.

Focus Your Extracurriculars – Obviously, what you do in the classroom is important, but so is what you do in your school and your community. Participate in school programs that really interest you, including those that help you explore possible fields of study.

Keep a detailed record of your extracurricular activities and work experience throughout high school. Ask for recommendations that you can put on file.

Keep the SAT/ACT in Perspective – Never before have three little letters caused so much anxiety. Don’t let them. Standardized tests are just one indicator of your ability to succeed in college; admissions counselors know that.

Read – magazines, newspapers, books. A habit of reading for at least 15 minutes every day will build vocabulary and comprehension skills that translate into better test scores.

Plan, Plan, Plan – You’ll draw up the most satisfying college list and experience a smoother application process if you hunker down now and do your homework. By the end of your junior year: Check to see if you’re on track to meet all entrance requirements for colleges and majors you’re considering.

Review each college’s acceptance criteria. It’s OK to consider some “reach” schools, but your list of top choices should include an obvious match.

Keep a detailed chart of all application deadlines, including early application options if that’s something you’re considering. Note some schools offer a second round of early programs.

Avoid Application Pitfalls – Nothing can ruin an application like a misspelling. Simple mistakes are easy to make but difficult to overcome. So take your time. Put plenty of thought into each question.

Make a photocopy of your blank application and practice filling it out before you complete the original.

“Yikes,” said Marti White, Dean of Studies at The Oxford Academy in Westbrook, when asked to volunteer a proven way to get into college. “Here is something I believe in, although I don’t actually know if it will help someone get into the college of choice.

“The college of your choice must be the one that fits. Therefore, be yourself in your essay, or as oft quoted, ‘to thine own self be true.’”

Dr. Mike Bower, director of counseling and student services at Haddam-Killingworth HS, says that the essay is essential to a successful application.

“The essay should be the best piece of writing a student has ever produced. It should be personal and passionate. They want to see that students can express themselves in a written format, and they want to know who the kid is.

“And if students can show evidence that they can reflect upon themselves or a circumstance around them, they bring a gift to a college campus. You want people who understand the world and who have something to say, and who have something to contribute,” said Bower, who’s been helping students for 31 years.

Marcia Myhre, college counselor at Daniel Hand High School in Madison, encourages students to look beyond their initial college list and to consider schools outside the Northeast.

“Sometimes our students come with pre-ordained lists or set geographical locations. I see too many students competing for admission to the same colleges in the Northeast,” said Myhre, who has spent summers visiting schools across America.

“I have visited wonderful schools in Ohio, like Kenyon, Denison, Case Western, and Wittenberg, just to name a few. Schools like this appreciate geographical distribution and would be happy to welcome our students. The same holds true for many other schools in various parts of the United States,” Myhre added.

Eileen FitzGerald at Valley Regional High School in Deep River encourages students to take a breath and focus on what they love most in life. “Often times they think they have to sign up for nine million activities that will knock the socks off admission counselors.

“Students should pick one or two activities that they care deeply about and commit to them and show that commitment through sustained activity. Making Eagle Scout shows they persevered and followed through – that is a helpful thing.”

Dan Picchioni at Morgan High School in Clinton notes that “it’s awfully hard to get into any schools these days let alone the school of their choice.” But that said, he added, “Start early, identify some schools, see what they expect – grades, SATs, and just what else they’re looking for.

“Then be a good student on a day-to-day basis in class, and a good participant outside the classroom in school and in the community,” Picchioni added.

Carolyn Garofoli at Mercy High School in Middletown suggested that students hit the books as hard as they can. “I truly believe the single most important thing a student can do to position him or herself for college admissions is to maintain good academic status.

“Take the strongest academic curriculum they can take and maintain good achievement level in those courses. The other thing is to do their college research
thoroughly and select colleges appropriate for them and for their personal, academic and career goals,” said Garofoli.

Phil Mielcarz and Jill Britton at Westbrook High School offered two more pearls. Students might consider taking some college courses during their high school careers as well as job shadow or explore the workplace through internships.

“One college program that is offered during the school year is the
Columbia University Science Honors Program, which runs each Saturday for self-
enrichment,” Mielcarz said.

“Self-enrichment translates into learning outside of the regular 8-3 school day, which many colleges truly appreciate in a student. Other summer programs that students at WHS have participated in are Eastern U.S. Music Camp at Colgate University and the Rhode Island School of Design pre-college program for Art and Interior Design,” Mielcarz said.
“Most high schools provide internship and shadowing opportunities for students,” Mielcarz added. “Recently one of our students participated in an architecture shadowing program which demonstrates his true interest in that major. These are the types of experiences that colleges highlight on one’s activity resume.”
Tim Napier at Hopkins School in New Haven says a key to getting into a college of choice is for students to make a commitment to exploring and experiencing what intrigues them most. “Just as you cannot start to save for college the year before you go, you cannot start to prepare to get into the college of your choice in the 11th or 12th grade.

“Preparing to get into the college of your choice is the same thing as preparing for your future or for life: it starts at the very beginning. Even before school. The trick is to keep your mind open. Find out what you enjoy doing as you go through life, and then do it as much as you can. Stay committed to doing things.

“Look for opportunities and then take advantage of them: sports, camps, school, jobs. Or look in your own back yard: gardening, insects, rocks. Look up at the night sky, and ask, how and why? And then search for answers and ask new questions. You’ll discover mythology, astronomy, Andromeda – where have we come from and where are we going.

“You will take yourself up the ladder of new places and new knowledge, whether you become a baker or an astronomer. Be curious, ask questions, listen, talk, think, show commitment. If you do that, SAT’s and grades will be a breeze, maybe even pale in significance. And that’s how you get in to the college of your choice,” Napier said.

Sam Rosensohn is the founder of College Planning Partnerships, which offers prep classes for the SAT and helps students to prepare for college and write college essays. He can be reached in Clinton at 860-664-9857 or at