The interview is one of the most feared parts of the application process. While some colleges and universities require interviews, many may not. I would encourage you to seek out an “interview” even if it is not required. The interview provides the opportunity for you to have your face literally in front of the admissions representative. What better way is there to make a positive impression? I believe it is human nature to be more sympathetic and positive toward someone you have met. Admissions representatives are people too, and it is more difficult to discount a person than it is to discount an application.
You should dress to make a positive impression. Be prepared to have a clear answer to questions like:
You should practice answering these types of questions before your interview. You should also have questions ready to ask when given the chance. This will help demonstrate your interest in the school and will show that you are well prepared. If the school does not require an interview, it is likely that the admissions "interview" may simply be a time for the admissions representative to answer your questions and tell you more about the school.
Recommendations can be one of the most powerful and positive tools in the application process. Having said this, I also believe that this is one of the most overlooked parts of the application process. I was amazed at what some people sent in as "recommendations." This is not always the student's fault, but it still reflects negatively on him/her. Consider this - you have the opportunity to have any teacher, clergy member, employer, coach, etc. complete a recommendation. What does it say to the admissions office to have a recommendation sent in on your behalf that is poorly written, incomplete, or not very positive? You should consider it your responsibility to ensure this doesn't happen.
First, make certain you are asking someone who already thinks highly of you. Ask the individual if they feel comfortable and confident in writing a favorable recommendation. Let the person know that they can say "no". You should be ready to ask someone else do a recommendation if this person seems to be at all reluctant.
Second, after the person agrees to write the recommendation, make sure they understand how important this recommendation is to you. Don't just say "thanks" and leave it at that.
Third, make sure you ask that they complete the recommendation by a specific date. I would recommend within one to two weeks. If they are "too busy" or can't promise to do so, find someone else. Communicate the importance of their recommendation in your acceptance and possibly your financial aid. If the school does not require a recommendation, send one anyway. If they require one, send two. If they require two or more, I’d suggest just sending the number requested.
The recommendation provides an opportunity for a third party to brag about you to the admissions office. Do not overlook the weight a recommendation could carry!
Plan to take both the ACT and the SAT. Compare your scores to determine which is stronger. You can then take at least the stronger test a second time. This means additional time and expense, but I believe it is time and money well spent. Students with a weak score on one test may score significantly higher on the other. You could also experience dramatic improvement on the second try of the same test.
There are countless reasons why you may do poorly, so give yourself at least a couple of chances to put forth your best effort. Your high school may provide you with the opportunity to take the ACT and/or SAT practice test. If not, find another way to take one of these by contacting a school in your area. This will help prepare you for the real thing.
I recommend taking both the ACT and the SAT toward the end of your junior year and then at least the stronger again in the fall of your senior year. This should give you time to take either test again, if necessary. Before losing too much sleep over these tests, remember that although important, they are only one part of the application process.
Ask For Help
If you get stuck at any point, be sure to ask a parent or guidance counselor for help. Make certain the lines of communication with your guidance counselor are open. You will need their help in sending out your transcripts. Some high schools may require that you submit your application to the guidance office for review prior to sending it on to the college. The important point is that there are likely well-qualified people around to assist you – please take advantage of this opportunity. If you are homeschooled, give the college a call and ask about the school's policies relating to homeschooled students.
Take Your Time
By planning ahead you should not feel rushed as you work through the application process. Whether filling out the application, preparing for an interview, writing your essays, or getting a recommendation, put forth your best effort. Do not put yourself in a position of saying, "If only I would have..." If you do not gain acceptance to a particular college or university, be prepared to move on. Your school is out there, stick with it until you find it.