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5 Tips for Getting into Your Dream School

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Karen Spencer

Written by Karen Spenceron August 4th, 2022

Like many admissions officers, I was introduced to this line of work after having been a tour guide at Valparaiso University. I went to graduate school to study counseling in higher education and, while working in the admissions office at UVA, realized that admissions was my passion. As an admissions officer at Franklin & Marshall, I read and made decisions on applications from NY, CA, and CO, was in charge of transfer admissions, and was the liaison to all coaches during the athletic recruiting process. Moving to Georgetown, I continued to oversee transfer admissions and reviewed applicants from the Midwest, reading up to 1800 applications each year. I also acted as the liaison for the soccer coach, and led one of the business school admissions committees. During my time in the admissions world, I particularly enjoyed meeting with students, helping student athletes decide if they really wanted to play a sport in college, helping transfer students find a better fit at a different college, and helping students and parents debunk the myriad of myths that are out there regarding this process.
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by Karen Spencer, former admissions officer at Georgetown University So you found your dream school… now what? I remember visiting my alma mater, Valparaiso University, the spring of my junior year of high school. It was the last stop on a multi-college tour, and that was it; I knew it’s where I wanted to be. I would apply to the other schools I had visited and liked, but my heart was set. In my case, my dream school happened to also be a safety school for me, so odds were in my favor that I would get in. If you have a school that has risen to the top of your college list and want to know what you can do to increase your chances of that dream becoming a reality, here are some tips:
  1. Make sure it’s really your favorite. If you walked into 31 Flavors and had only ever tried chocolate ice cream, you might think it was your favorite. But maybe rocky road or raspberry sorbet or pralines & cream will turn out to be more to your liking. If you want to be sure something is your “favorite” then make sure you’ve seen what else is out there; otherwise, it’s a choice by default.
  2. In that same vein, make sure you’ve done the official college visit, when possible. Taking advantage of the formal tour and information session on campus will allow you to learn more about a school than if you’d just walked around on your own. It will also give you great information for the “Why this college?” essay, a supplemental piece of writing many schools include in their applications. Finally, some schools track demonstrated interest, meaning they pay attention to how much attention you’ve paid to them, and some will consider it as one of the factors for whether or not you should be admitted. If getting to a campus is not possible for you, don’t worry—there are other ways to show your interest, like virtual info sessions and regional presentations at high schools and prospective student events.
  3. Tell the admissions office(r) it’s your first choice school. Believe it or not, admissions officers are real people who want to admit a class of students who are excited to be there. At some colleges, admissions officers have the time to connect with students via email. If you fell in love with the school, feel free to tell them. At the end of the day, everyone likes to be liked.
  4. Tell your school counselor. If you go to a huge public high school, you may not know this person well (or at all). But if you do have a relationship with your counselor, they may be able to advocate on your behalf to the admissions office.
  5. Consider applying Early Decision or Early Action. Not every school offers these options, but if they do, they are seriously worth considering. Early Decision (ED) is for students who know for certain a school is their favorite, are ready to commit if admitted, and do not need to compare financial or merit aid packages from other schools. Early Action (EA) also allows a student to potentially find out if they have been admitted earlier in the process, but without the requirement to enroll if admitted. ED almost always has a higher acceptance rate than regular decision. EA sometimes does, but is a great option for the vast majority of students because it has many advantages, with no real disadvantages, since it's not binding.
And what if you don’t have a favorite school? That’s okay, too! Apply to those you’ve researched and liked. Usually one will rise to the top, and you may realize that pralines and cream was your favorite after all.

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