Here are important steps to take if you are currently a high school junior about to apply to college next year. These tips are useful to keep in mind for students in grades 9 and 10 as well. Students tend to procrastinate or do not take these college admission variables seriously until grade 11, therefore, it is better to begin early rather than later.
By the beginning of the junior year, students should have completed 150-200 hours of volunteer (50-100 hours from freshman year + 100 hours from sophomore year). Use this year to complete another 100 hours so that you have a grand total of 250-300 hours by the start of the senior year. Volunteer hours are official only at non profit organizations such as the YMCA or Second Harvest Food Bank. Note that these are the recommended number of hours; universities do not require a minimum of volunteer hours and high schools only require 20 – 40 hours to graduate. Most competitive students that I have worked with will have accumulated between 300 – 400 hours of total hours by the time they apply to college.
Your GPA accounts for 60% of the college admission process (55% for the UC and CSU), therefore, it is important to maintain good grades throughout the year. Note that the UC and CSU campuses only takes the GPA from grades 10 and 11. All other colleges and universities will take your cumulative grades 9 – 11 GPA. Parents often ask me if the Fall semester of grade 12 count towards the GPA and the answer is that since most applications will be submitted before the Fall semester grades are available, they will not be included in the cumulative GPA.
- GPA of 3.80+ is excellent
- GPA of 3.60 – 3.79 is good
- GPA of 3.00 – 3.59 is modest
- GPA of 2.50 – 2.99 is poor
- GPA of 2.49 or less is extremely low and you should consider attending community college first
Attending Community College to Boost GPA and/or Transcript
Consider enrolling at your local community college to give your transcript and GPA a little boost. Each college class is equivalent to 1 year of high school or 10 credits. Some high schools will transfer this back to your high school transcript for credit and into the GPA; some high schools do not. Students should check with their high school counselor to find this out. If the high school will transfer it back for credit, earning an A will result in a 5.0 on the weighted scale and can boost the UC GPA (grades 10 – 11 GPA) by as much as .08 for each college class a student completes.
It’s best to begin taking community colleges classes as early as the summer prior to entering grade 10, however, most colleges have a minimum age requirement of 16 and/or must be entering grade 11, which means that most students cannot take advantage of this until the summer prior to entering their junior year. One exception is Mission College in Santa Clara, which does not have this requirement. I recommend, if possible, for high students to take 2 – 4 total classes at their local community college during their high school years. Taking four college classes and earning an A in all of them, therefore, can boost the UC GPA by as much as 0.32 (or .08 for each class) on the weighted GPA scale. For example, if a high school student has a UC GPA of 4.10 weighted, this will result in an increase to 4.42 by taking four college classes and earning all A’s.
Creating a University List
Begin brainstorming a tentative university list appropriate to the student’s major and finalize this list by April during the junior year. University rankings based on major are available on the U.S. News web site at https://www.usnews.com/education. A National University Ranking is also available for students who are unsure of their major. Do not apply to reach universities such as Stanford, Johns Hopkins, Harvard University, etc. simply to “just apply”. This is a waste of valuable time and energy when you are working on the supplemental essays associated with the Common Application and the Coalition Application. Your background should reflect at least a chance of admission to any reach university; that is to say, if you are applying to these elite reach universities, then you should have a solid leadership and extra-curricular backgrounds and graduating from a private high school such as Harker, Bellarmine, BASIS or Notre Dame. An average list for most of my clients will contain 12 – 15 universities if you count all the UC campuses as one and all the CSU campuses as one.
Recommended University List Breakdown
- 20% reach universities (GPA averages of 3.70+ and 25% or less admission rates)
- 60% target universities (GPA averages of 3.30 – 3.69 and 40% – 60% admission rates)
- 20% safety universities (GPA averages of 2.70 – 3.30 and 60%+ admission rates)
Examples of Reach Universities: Most top ranking University of California campuses including UC-Berkeley, UC-Davis, UC-San Diego, UC-Santa Barbara, UC-Irvine and UC-Los Angeles, University of Texas-Austin, University of Washington-Seattle, Carnegie Mellon University, Boston University, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, New York University, Stanford University, Johns Hopkins University, and small elite colleges such as Harvey Mudd College and the University of San Diego.
Examples of Target Universities: UC-Santa Cruz, UC-Riverside, UC-Merced, Santa Clara University, Texas A&M University, Purdue University, Penn State University-College Park, American University, most SUNY campuses including SUNY-Albany, SUNY-Stony Brook, Cal Poly Pomona, University of Arizona, and small liberal arts universities such as University of San Francisco, Loyola Marymount University and St. Mary’s College of CA.
Examples of Safety Universities: San Jose State, San Francisco State, CSU-East Bay, University of the Pacific and Arizona State University.
Letters of Recommendations
Build and maintain a positive relationship with teachers and counselors to acquire letters of recommendations. Most universities using the Common Application and Coalition Application will require 1 – 2 letters of recommendations. Few, if any, will require 3 letters. Your high school counselor will also have to rate you and write a recommendation on the Common Application.
The College Application Essay and Supplements
Consider starting your first essay, the Common Application primary essay, which has a 650-word limit, by July before entering grade 12, and then the UC application essays, which has four required essays of 350-word each, by the end of August of the beginning of the senior year. This will reduce your work load and stress as you proceed with the Fall semester of grade 12. On average, each campus using the Common Application and Coalition Application has 2 supplemental short response questions (200 – 300 words each; some are as long as 500 words). These should be completed between August – December of the fall application period. If you have 10 campuses using these applications, that would be 10 x 2 = 20 supplemental essays.
Consider taking your first SAT or ACT exam no later than March of the junior year. Your second try should be no later than August of the senior year. Your third and last attempt should be no later than October of the senior year to make the report deadline for early action or early decision, which is due on November 1 or November 15 for most universities. The benefit of applying to EA or ED is to maximize chances of scholarships and also to increase the chances of admission. SAT and ACT averages varies by each university. An SAT score of 1450 – 1500 will land students in the top 25% of most universities; an ACT score of 34 – 35 is excellent. A listing of the SAT averages can be found on the university rankings on the U.S. News web site and also on the Princeton Review web site.
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