If you’re planning on applying to an Ivy League school or another competitive college, I highly recommend you:
1) Create an account with the College Board ASAP at http://www.collegeboard.com/
College Board is the power behind the SAT Reasoning Test and the Subject Tests, which are required for admission at many competitive campuses. The College Board website will also allow you to research campuses, compare schools, see your SAT scores, report them to colleges, and manage your Advanced Placement (AP) scores and tests.
2) Start brainstorming for your personal statement early. (Um, like today.)
The personal statement is your only chance to express yourself to the college of your choice. All other materials have been prepared for you by college counselors or teachers, and your SAT score and GPA are cold numbers that don’t allow the admissions officer to get to know you outside of your aptitude for test taking. I think the personal statement is the most important aspect of any application: make sure that you show (and not tell of) your writing abilities and the personal qualities you can add to a freshman class. Don’t write about a service trip abroad or your grandmother, unless you have something especially new to say and can give a varied perspective on a stereotypical college essay.
3) Visit your top ranked campuses, take a campus tour, and attend an information session.
Many students dream of attending one college for years and years without ever having stepped foot on its campus. I recommend that students attend campus tours at their favorite schools, at their least favorite schools, and at every school that is reasonably easily accessible in between. Your perception of a campus can change when you see it in real life instead of through glossy webpages and talk to the actual students who populate it. Finding that campus with the “perfect fit” feels magical.
4) Love your safeties.
It is incredibly important to apply to reaches you love, matches you love, and safeties you love. Every school to which you submit an application must be a school at which you would like to spend the next four years.
5) Get your complete financial aid application in on time.
Ivy League schools are pricey. Sticker price is often over $50,000 dollars a year, between tuition and room and board. And while financial aid programs at many colleges are becoming more generous in a trying economic climate, if you and your family do not completely and honestly complete a financial aid application before the required deadline, the opportunity to attend your dream school, even if admitted, may be lost. I have several friends whose decision between two colleges was determined by a financial aid offer.
— By Kylie Thompson, Harvard University