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So you’ve done all the work, and now you’re ready to apply to some of the nation’s most competitive schools. You have a laundry list of glowing accomplishments from your GPA to your extracurricular activities. With these tips, go the extra mile to make sure your application stands out in the selective admissions process.

 
1. Interview at schools or send an email

For most applicants, interview at as many schools as you can. Interviews are a fantastic way to show interest and get to know a school on a more personal level. However, interviews are NOT essential and can be detrimental if not executed properly. If you’re particularly shy, or like me, get tongue tied when put on the spot, skip the interview. Though every school is a bit different, my friends in admissions say that a bad (or even so-so) interviews can seriously hurt a candidate’s chances, while a good interview boosts a candidate’s chances marginally. If you know you’re not a good speaker, ditch the interview and show interest (and personality) by emailing your regional admissions counselor with questions, or to just introduce yourself. Demonstrated interest can make or break an application at some schools, so make sure you’re doing something to get your foot in the door if you choose not to interview.

 
2. Make a school visit

Of course, go to the admissions-sponsored info sessions and tours, but also walk around campus alone. Get a feel for the school… this could be four years of your life, and you don’t want to waste it. Talk to students that don’t work for admissions: what do they love, and what do they hate? Are they happy where they are? How easy or difficult is it to seize the opportunities available?

Admissions will always put on a show, but hearing students’ honest opinions makes for a well-rounded picture of the school. Sometimes a school will seem bursting with opportunities, but in reality, only the most competitively qualified upperclassmen stand a chance at claiming a position in a lab, a role in a production, or an internship with a major company. You can only find out by heading straight to the source: current students.

 
3. Know what to do if deferred.

If you apply early action or early decision to a school and get deferred, don’t freak out—a deferment is not necessarily a long and painful rejection. Unless the school has an automatic deferment policy, many applicants get cut in the first round. If you didn’t, it means that something about you caught the eye of the admissions office. You’re qualified to be successful at their school, but perhaps they want to see who’s in the regular-decision crowd before revisiting your application.

To ensure that they’ll do a thorough re-reading, follow up with your admissions officer soon after you get notice of your deferral. Explain in a non-guilt trippy tone that you received notice of your deferment, but want to reiterate your strong interest in the school. Briefly summarize why you’d love to attend, and if you have any new awards or accomplishments, list them. Then ask for some advice: were there any weak spots in my application I can strengthen to be a better candidate for admissions? If they tell you that your test scores or GPA were low, retaking the SAT or ACT or working especially hard in your first-semester classes could land you a letter of acceptance.

 

At the end of the day, what you do in college is more important than where you go. Most people love college regardless of where they end up, so spend your last year of high school making unforgettable memories rather than stressing over where you’ll be next year!