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Creating The Acceptable College Applicant

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Sending your kids to college has never been more difficult or more expensive, and outstanding grades no longer guarantee acceptance. With competition at an all-time high, students are facing the toughest admissions committees in history. Families are being strangled by soaring tuition costs and a financial aid system designed to eliminate all but the most knowledgeable and persistent applicants.

America's colleges and universities are far too crowded and can no longer accommodate all the qualified students who apply. As a result, schools reject far more applicants than they accept. As there are considerably more qualified students seeking enrollment today than at any other time in history, the objective of the admissions committee is to weed through the masses and fill their halls with the most resourceful, well-rounded, acceptable students they can accommodate.

Princeton University for school year 2001-2002, received approximately 19,000 applications for its freshman enrollment of only 1,200 - and rejected 18,000! The University of Florida for 2002-2003, received approximately 24,000 applications, but only had room for 6,500. They turned away over 17,000 students! In both cases, the majority of the rejected students were qualified applicants. For the current school year, 2006-2007, the Ivy League schools only accepted 12.4% of all applicants, and Harvard rejected 80% of all valedictorians - for sameness. They all had perfect grades and SAT scores, but that was it!

Far too many college-bound families are preoccupied with the cost of college and lose sight of the fact that paying for college is not their main concern! Getting accepted to college is the number one priority! All the financial aid in the world is useless without that coveted admission ticket. Therefore, the first issue to be addressed is how to make the school of your choice choose you. Knowing how to make a student acceptable greatly increases their chances of being admitted. It becomes necessary then to know what the colleges are looking for and how they determine if a student will win a prized admission ticket.

A student with a 3.5 GPA, 1875 SAT, 28 ACT and 200 community service hours, would be unacceptable to Harvard, but qualified at the University of Miami or Ohio State - yet not necessarily acceptable to either of the schools. There is a world of difference between qualified and acceptable, and knowing the difference makes the difference. While no two schools follow the exact same guidelines, it is safe to assume they all go about it something like this:

The admissions committee assembles around a large conference table. Each member receives a huge pile of folders containing transcripts, applications, essays, countless letters of recommendations, and everything else they need to make a decision in the 15 to 20 minutes allocated for any one student. They begin by eliminating unqualified students - those deficient in the numbers.

Next, they look for professionally prepared applications with thought provoking, interesting, and grammatically flawless essays. A resume detailing academic life, extra curricular activities including community service hours, and a cleverly written special essay perhaps entitled, "Why I Must Attend The University Of XYZ," all weigh heavily in their decision.

To ensure students have every possible advantage when applying to the college of their choice, families determined to see them succeed must set the stage early - no later than the 9th grade. This may seem premature, but starting any later could be higher education suicide. If the home is a circus and not conducive for study, some major changes must take place:

- Students need access to a comfortable place to study with virtually no distractions.
- A minimum of 1 ½ to 2 hours each night should be devoted to schoolwork.
- A daily routine including a healthy diet and 8 hours of sleep must be maintained.
- Ideally, students should not be left alone without supervision for long periods of time, certainly no longer than 24 hours. Nor should they spend more than 15 hours each week on non-academic activities, and would be ill-advised to regularly burn the midnight oil.

Beginning in junior high, students should start to accumulate community service hours. Extracurricular activities are in-school participation, whereas community service takes place outside of school, i.e. scouting, religious activities, working with AIDS and/or Alzheimer's patients, seniors, hospice, involvement with the handicapped, and environmental work. Involvement with the financially, emotionally and/or intellectually challenged demonstrates compassion and empathy and makes the student shine. Working with those less fortunate also gives the student a much broader idea of life outside of their own environment.

All students should begin high school by electing to take courses with college in mind. By the time they enter the 12th grade, they will have created the right posture to make admissions committees stand up and take notice.

Four years of core subjects are what all colleges are looking for, unless the student has a special ability as an athlete, vocalist, musician, or artist. English, math, a foreign language, science and history make up the core Grade Point Average (GPA), and the Honors Point Average (HPA) includes Honors and Advanced Placement (AP) classes. Electives such as art, physical education, music and computer programming are of less importance and should only be taken in conjunction with the core subjects.

As many Honors and AP classes as possible should be taken. The risk/reward ratio comes into play here as colleges are looking for students who take risks and challenge themselves academically. The bonus for earning an 'A', 'B' or even a 'C' adds extra points to the GPA and gives the student that all-important edge. Admissions officers are even more impressed by the challenge taken than they are with the grade received.

Students must avoid becoming stressed out from taking classes beyond their reach. However, for families with an exceptionally bright child, it is highly recommended that they take as many advanced courses as they can comfortably handle. An outstanding academic record has always been and is still the greatest bargaining chip.

Extracurricular activities must be pursued. Membership in clubs/organizations such as the Debate Club, Student Council and Key Club aid in creating a well-rounded, acceptable student. I strongly recommend holding office or taking on a leadership role in as many of these as possible. Leadership demonstrates taking a risk and assuming responsibility. Even students who are super athletes need some diversity. They must avoid the impression they are one-dimensional and portray themselves as multi-faceted.

Creating an acceptable student capable of attaining academic excellence is no accident. It is accomplished solely by the efforts of the student and their family in conjunction with their guidance counselor and an expert in the admissions process. It takes time, planning, patience, cooperation from all family members, and most importantly, the student must be motivated to succeed. This is not the optional road for a college-bound family. It is the only road that leads to that all-important admissions ticket. Anything less is simply not acceptable...
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Reecy Aresty has been a financial advisor since 1977. He has authored the critically acclaimed, "How To Pay For College Without Going Broke," an invaluable, parent/student admissions/financial aid manual. Arguably the most revealing book ever (more...)
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