Selective Admissions Tips

23 Tips for Success in Selective Admissions

Thinking about applying to selective and highly-selective colleges? Here are a few tips that should help you at all stages of the selective admissions process. From your first year in high school to your first college tour to your first financial aid conversation, these tips will give you a “leg–up” on the competition.


  1. Make your college visits worthwhile by asking questions like:
    • Do you offer tutoring and additional academic resources to students?
    • Where can a student go if he or she gets sick?
    • Who can I talk to if I don’t get along with my roommate?
  2. Preparing for college means planning ahead! Beginning in ninth grade, you should work with your school counselor and your teachers to plan your academic program for high school.
  3. Selective colleges oftentimes have high retention rates and graduation rates, which means they encourage their students to stay in school and aspire to graduate from college on time.
  4. Some of the benefits of attending a highly selective college are:
    • Being supported by generous financial aid programs
    • Meeting classmates who come from different parts of the country and world
    • Having access to a supportive network of alumni after graduation
  5. Because selective colleges receive so many applications, it is important to prepare throughout high school to be a competitive applicant.
  6. Students who are admitted to selective colleges typically take challenging high school classes, love learning, and are active members of their school or community.
  7. Your parents, guardians, teachers, and counselors are ready to help you with your college search. You can also get assistance from non–profit college access programs with staff committed to helping talented students succeed in the college application process.
  8. As you fill out your college applications, ask your teachers for recommendations a few weeks before the application deadlines.
  9. Your eventual career title may be very different from your academic major. For example:
    • Chemistry, physics, and biology students can pursue careers in engineering or government
    • History, philosophy, economics, and psychology majors can pursue careers in business or marketing
    • English, art history and sociology majors can pursue careers in education, journalism or law

    By Academic Year

  10. Freshmen year grades matter in the college admissions process, so work hard in your classes.
  11. During freshman year, find some extracurricular activities to join at your high school or in your community, and continue to participate in the ones you find meaningful throughout high school.
  12. During sophomore year, ask your college counselor how you can get on track to take challenging honors, AP, or IB classes as you get older.
  13. During sophomore year, start visiting college websites online and going to college fairs.
  14. During junior year, take challenging honors, AP, or IB classes when you have access to them, and be sure to build a strong and well–rounded schedule for your senior year.
  15. During junior year, take the SAT or ACT tests for the first time. Also continue going to college fairs and start visiting college campuses.
  16. During the summer between junior and senior year, look at the Common Application online and start thinking about what you want to write about in your college application essays.
  17. In the fall of your senior year, attend meetings with college representatives visiting your high school.

    Financial Aid

  18. Submit paperwork for financial aid when you apply to college. This way, your paperwork will not be late and the financial aid office has enough time to process it.
  19. Remember: a college's cost of attendance includes everything from money for pizza to textbooks—not just tuition alone.
  20. If college application fees are a financial hardship on your family ask your college counselor how to get application fee waivers.
  21. Understanding the different kinds of financial aid available will help you afford college. Become familiar with the different types of financial aid you may receive, including grants, loans, work/study, and merit scholarships.
  22. The actual price the average undergraduate pays for a college education is considerably lower than the published tuition and fees due to grants and other forms of financial aid based upon an individual family's financial circumstances and their ability to pay.
  23. Do not be shy about your family's financial situation. Over half of the students at most selective institutions receive financial support.