Study and College Admission Tips for State High Students

College Prep materials sitting on a table.
College Prep materials sitting on a table.
Enkhmaa Bilegee

As college admission processes grow increasingly competitive, high school students are seeking effective strategies to stand out. Senior Krystal Nguyen, accepted into Penn State Schreyer Honors College, and Senior Christianna Hoover, accepted into the University of Southern California (USC) offered their insights for current State High students.

Academic Excellence: The Foundation of Your Application
“Grades and standardized tests are basically the prerequisites to having a shot at getting into decent schools,” Nguyen said. She emphasized the importance of maintaining a strong transcript filled with A’s and a solid SAT score. However, when aiming for top schools, simply having a high GPA and test scores is not enough. “You’re going into a pool of people who already have 4.0 GPAs and 1600 SAT scores. What will differentiate you from the rest is ultimately your essays and extracurricular activities.”

Quality Over Quantity in Extracurriculars
Nguyen advised focusing on the quality of your extracurricular activities rather than the quantity. “Rather than focusing on how many you have, focus on the quality of them. Colleges would much rather see your officer positions, passion projects, and contributions to the activity rather than simply being a member of it.”

Hoover echoed this sentiment, highlighting the importance of crafting your essay to reflect your involvement. “It’s important to have the clubs to back up what you’re saying in your essay. Your essay has to tie everything together and include everything, showing why you did what you did.”

Teacher Recommendations
Both students emphasized the need for strong recommendation letters. Nguyen advised seeking out teachers who can truly speak to your abilities both inside and outside the classroom. “Try to find teachers who can bring out the unique aspects of you rather than the standard ‘hard-working, kind, good student.'” Teachers knowing the things you do beyond their class can allow their letters to showcase your well-rounded character. “Also, give your recommenders a list of things you would like them to speak out on if you can,” said Nguyen.

Hoover spoke to the importance of maintaining positive relationships with teachers, “Try to build relationships with your teachers in your junior or even your sophomore year, so you have a clear idea of who you can ask for recommendations.”

Personal Statements: Be Unique
“To truly stand out, you want to find something unique that only pertains to you,” Nguyen advised for personal statements. Warning against clichéd essays on topics such as “overcoming adversity” or “dealing with defeat,” she said, “College admissions have heard it all. Take a twist on a topic and make it revolve around who you are.”

Time Management and Study Habits
Balancing academics and extracurriculars requires effective time management. Hoover shared her study schedule. “When I get home, I usually unpack my school bag and look at my planner to see what work I have to start. I place everything in order of importance.” She also strongly encouraged minimizing distractions by keeping your phone out of reach during study time.

Nguyen recommended utilizing resources like Khan Academy for SAT preparation. “Khan Academy has so many practice SATs and it’s really good at focusing on the type of questions you may struggle with. Another way to practice is to take previous SAT tests.”

Early Application Preparation
Starting early is crucial. Hoover learned this through personal experience. “The biggest tip I have for everyone is to start writing your essays in August. Once school starts, your senior year, you have so much you have to do. Things will start piling up on you,” she said.

Both Nguyen and Hoover highlighted that while the college application process can be stressful, strategic planning can significantly ease the journey. As Nguyen said, “You regret the things you don’t do rather than the things you do.”

For State High students embarking on their college application journey, such tips from successful peers offer a roadmap to navigating the process with understanding.

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