Skip to main content

Selective Admissions Tips

Coalition for College guide for applicants
The Coalition for College's guide for applicants

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.


  1. Make your college visits worthwhile by talking to current students and asking questions like:
    • What academic support resources are offered to students?
    • What advising and mentorship opportunities are available to students?
    • How is a sense of community created on campus? 
  2. Preparing for college means planning ahead! Beginning in ninth grade, you should work with your school counselor and your teachers to plan a high school academic program that will challenge you productively and encourage success.
  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. Other benefits to consider may be:
    • Support from generous financial aid programs
    • Meeting classmates who come from different parts of the country and world
    • Access to a supportive network of alumni after graduation
  4. Students who are admitted to selective colleges typically take an active approach to learning and are meaningfully engaged in a community of their choice.
  5. If you feel it would be helpful, you may be able to get assistance from non-profit college access programs with staff committed to helping talented students succeed in the college application process.
  6. Visiting the college campus nearest to where you live, even if you don't plan to apply to that school, can help refine your college search and indicate important questions to ask.
  7. Keep in mind when researching colleges' academic offerings that your eventual career title may be very different from your 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

  8. Freshmen-year grades matter in the college admissions process, but grade trends over time are very important as well.
  9. During freshman year, explore extracurricular activities to join at your high school or in your community. Continue to participate in the ones you find meaningful throughout high school, but don't spend time on something that isn't valuable to you just to put it on a resume.
  10. During sophomore year, consider whether your course choices will allow you to take advantage of the most advanced courses your school offers before graduating.
  11. During sophomore year, start visiting college websites to do research and going to college events at your school or in your area.
  12. During junior year, take challenging honors, advanced, AP, or IB classes available as appropriate, and build a strong and well–rounded schedule for your senior year.
  13. During junior year, take the SAT or ACT if the colleges you think you'll apply to require standardized testing. Continue going to college fairs and consider visiting college campuses if possible.
  14. During the summer between junior and senior year, look at the Coalition Application or Common Application and start thinking about what you want to write about in your college application essays.
  15. In the fall of your senior year, attend meetings with college representatives visiting your high school or your area.
  16. Ask your teachers for letters of recommendation early on in senior year, at least a few weeks before application deadlines.

    Financial Aid

  17. Submit paperwork for financial aid at the same time you apply for admission to make sure it's on time and you get information on financial aid you would receive as early as possible.
  18. The actual price the average undergraduate pays for a college education can considerably lower than the total estimated cost, thanks to financial aid based upon an individual family's financial circumstances and their ability to pay.
  19. Investigate outside scholarships you may be eligible for in addition to financial assistance offered by colleges.
  20. If college application fees or testing fees are a financial hardship on your family, fee waivers may be available.
  21. Become familiar with the different types of financial aid you may receive, including grants, loans, work-study, and merit scholarships, then look into the specifics of financial support at each college you're interested.
  22. Don't be shy about your family's financial situation. Over half of the students at most selective institutions receive financial support.