If you have never applied to a school before, today the university admissions game has become a large and profitable industry. Understanding and mastering this process is key to getting in to the best schools for you.
With the volume of applications that each school receives, there has to be an easy way for admission officers to quickly disqualify the majority of candidates. In the United States, this is done by looking at an applicant’s standardized test score (i.e. SAT, LSAT, GMAT, GRE, etc.) and prior GPA. Various commercial publications estimate the minimum GPA and standardized test score for each school. If you cannot meet these numbers, you will almost never get in.
In their application materials, schools will make it seem like you could compensate for weak GPA and test score numbers with other items, like recommendation letters or an interesting life story in your personal statement. This is generally not the case. Items like recommendation letters and personal statements serve as tie breakers among those students who already have the right GPA and test score numbers. So if there is one seat remaining and two applicants have the same GPA and test scores, the school will turn to those other considerations to decide who gets in.
There is very little you can do about your previous GPA. So the single most important task to maximizing your chances of school admission is to achieve the highest score possible on the standardized test. You can substantially increase your standardized test score through practice and learning how the test works.
I recommend signing up for a commercial test preparation course from an agency such as Kaplan or Princeton Review. I do not recommend studying for the standardized test on your own. The money these courses cost is nothing compared to what you are about to spend on your education. Your competitors for school admissions will all be using these services, just to squeeze out a few extra points from their test results.
There is one way to prepare for a standardized test that really increases your chances of success: set aside a block of at least three months and dedicate your entire life towards studying for the exam. Standardized tests reward those who focus solely on studying for the test. If you have a real and serious desire to succeed in school and in your follow-on career, then adopting the no-holds-barred mentality for the standardized test is the first step in that journey. That means treating test preparation as a full time job for several months.
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Putting together your application is generally the same process among all the schools. Aside from filling out forms, this includes obtaining letters of recommendation and preparing your personal statement. Admissions officers look at your grades, your standardized test scores, and the supporting materials when deciding to admit you.
Your military service will count and certainly distinguish you from other applicants. However, if you obtain a letter of recommendation from your military superiors, be sure that they speak about your ability to succeed in academics. The key to an optimal letter of recommendation is to have someone speak positively regarding your abilities to handle academic subject matter. When it comes to writing a personal statement, there are no secrets to success. Put together a clear and concise reason why you should be admitted to the school. Also answer the question “how will my plans after graduation bring further positive attention to my school?”
Showing up for an on-site school visit immediately answers one concern all admissions officers have, especially if you traveled from far away: Is the applicant seriously interested in coming here?
One of the biggest problems for schools is an applicant who does not accept an offer of admission. This creates not just extra effort, but admitting one applicant means rejecting, wait-listing, or at least delaying admission of another. By the time the first choice rejects the offer, the second choice may have accepted elsewhere. Now the admissions office finds itself desperately trying to salvage the good candidates that are left.
While you are visiting, you of course want to give the best impression. Being friendly and courteous to the admissions folks and other staff is a given. But make sure to also ask whether you can audit a class. Study the curriculum up front and pick a class where you think you can discuss the topic intelligently after class.
When there is a close call whether to accept a particular candidate, the admissions committee is more likely to accept the person who visits rather than the one who does not visit.
After you are admitted to a university program, it is very important to establish a multi-pronged strategy that revolves around more than just achieving the highest grades. You should use your time to maximize career benefits from your education. This includes networking with colleagues, professors and future employers.
To be sure, the first and foremost consideration is maximizing academic performance. When employers evaluate resumes, academic grades play a major part in deciding whether to hire someone. Grades serve as a proxy for your ability to perform at a high level. So it is important to not sacrifice grades when performing other activities such as networking.
Professors test what they teach. Surprisingly, many students show up to class and either don’t pay attention to what the professor is saying or listen and take very little notes. Students with the best grades usually take their laptop into class and transcript the professor’s presentation word-for-word into an electronic document. Then in the evening, the student spends a few hours synthesizing the word document into coherent study notes.
The act of capturing the presentation with verbatim notes forces you to pay attention in class. Synthesizing the notes in the evening is an ideal way to study what was taught earlier in the day.
Focusing on your professors’ lectures, studying, practicing, and completing assignments take a mental toll. In order to withstand the rigors of high academic performance, proper diet and exercise is imperative. Start your day with a 45 minute workout involving cardio, stretching and light resistance training. Dine on healthy fruits and vegetables, lean meats, and whole grains. Success in academics means taking care of your entire person.