The first thing that students need to know about getting admitted to the college that they want to attend is that grades do matter. Other factors do affect whether your child is accepted into the school that they want to go to; but grades are normally the biggest factor. Being at or very near the top of the high school class does translate into a much wider selection of colleges as well as more scholarship opportunities. Even schools that do not rank their students, usually publish a GPA distribution that colleges do look at when deciding whether or not to accept a student.
Most colleges require a college entrance exam (typically the SAT or ACT). The lower the scores the more limited your selection of colleges are. Some students however think that a high score will more than make up for bad grades. This is increasingly not true. Mediocre grades and a very high SAT will often lead to a denial of admission at many of the higher rated colleges and universities.
All students need to show that they have some interests and extracurricular activities; but having a really long list is not important. Most admissions departments prefer to see students who have pursued their interests extensively rather than dozens of activities.
Emphasize two or three areas where the student has made extra effort rather than just rattling off a list of clubs or groups where the student was only a token member.
Students should prepare for the college interview and should look and act in the interview like they really belong at college and sincerely want to be there; but don’t think that a tremendous interview is enough to gain admission. A borderline applicant with a really great interview might get in from the strength of their interview; but in reality the interview does not carry that much weight in the admissions process and it won’t make up for poor academics and a mediocre SAT.
Big name prestigious private schools may once have been important pipelines for top colleges, but that is in the distant past. Send your kids to private schools if you want to sent them to private schools or if your neighborhood public schools are really bad; but attendance at a private high school does not improve the odds of acceptance at most of today’s top colleges. Public schools have very similar rates of admission acceptance as private schools.
Don’t wait to begin the admissions process. Some students postpone applying in an attempt to raise their GPA or improve their ACT. In reality, students who apply early have a statistical advantage over late appliers. Admissions departments are looking at hundreds or even thousands of applicants and they need so many students to hit their goals and at most schools there is an upside to applying early.
Some colleges require that you submit an essay. Be very careful with the essay. Don’t rush it. Spelling and grammatical errors are unforgivable in an age where everybody has access to spell check. Sloppy work is an indicator to the admissions department that the student really is not interested in attending the school. Go over any essay ten or fifteen times before submitting it in to make sure that it does not sound too cliché, sloppy, disjointed, or just plain boring. Write about something relevant that you care about and not something that is too generic.