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Top 10 Tips for Reaching the College of Your Dreams

By Meilan Solly


9th Grade

1.    Take challenging courses and strive for good grades. At this point, college probably seems decades away. However, it is important to realize that 9th grade course grades are sent to colleges and are an essential factor in deciding whether you gain admission. As you get closer to 11th/12th grade, you may start to put more effort into getting A’s and B’s, as you finally realize how important the strength of your transcript is to college admissions officers. By this time, though, there will be nothing you can do to change your lackluster 9th and 10th grade course grades.

2.    Start getting involved. Colleges look for dedication in extracurricular activities throughout high school. They do not accept people who join ten different clubs during senior year, as this is an obvious ploy to simply add to one’s résumé. Instead of waiting until the last minute to get involved at your school, start to explore different extracurriculars in 9th grade so you have time to find the activity you truly love.


10th Grade

3.    Take more challenging courses, continue to get good grades, and strengthen your involvement in extracurriculars. Starting in 10th grade, you have the option to take one or more AP classes. Do so if you feel ready, but if not, enroll in classes where you will succeed, whether they are honors or academic. Regardless of what level your courses are, work as hard as possible to get A’s and B’s. Continue your involvement in multiple extracurricular activities – branch out and join a new club, or work towards an officer position in a club you are currently in.

4.    Start researching colleges. If you already have a dream college in mind, that is fantastic! However, there is no guarantee that you will make it into this college, so it is always good to find a few back-ups. Create an account on, or use Tuscarora’s Naviance program to find several colleges that match your interests – keep in mind key factors such as size, location, financial aid, and majors offered.


11th Grade

5.    Form strong relationships with your teachers/club sponsors/guidance counselor. Your core subject junior year teachers are the ones you will likely ask for college teacher recommendation letters. If you want a recommendation letter that truly strengthens your applications, start to form good relationships with your teachers now. Also, ensure that you stand out in class because of your incredible work ethic, sheer talent, etc. In junior year, it is also a good idea to talk to your guidance counselor – he/she will be an invaluable help next year during the often confusing and panic-inducing application process.

6.    Continue to work hard – your junior year grades are your last chance to make a strong first impression. Next year, colleges will receive a transcript listing all of your courses/course grades from 8th grade (if you took high school courses such as a foreign language or advanced math) to 11th grade. Although you may not realize it, junior year grades are your last chance to boost your GPA and class rank in time for college applications. 12th grade course grades are sent later as mid-year reports that are important but used more as an indicator that you are not suffering from senioritis.

7.    Start applications as soon as possible (if you only follow one tip on this list, it should be this one). The Common App, which hosts over 400 colleges’ applications, opens on August 1st, which, coincidentally, is the day you should start filling it out. Many people tend to believe that junior year is the most difficult year of high school, but if you are a typical senior (takes over 4 AP classes, is involved in at least 3 different clubs/sports, holds a time-consuming job), 12th grade is by far the most stressful. Senior year is difficult enough without the added stress of having to spend it writing college essays, tracking down teachers or guidance counselors for recommendation letters, and spending hours filling out minute details about your high school career. Although you will likely not finish all your applications before school starts, it is absolutely essential to start as soon as possible. If you don’t, you will spend your senior year wholly regretting the blissful hours you wasted sitting by the pool instead of filling out applications.


12th Grade

8.    Stay organized. As soon as you start college applications, you should create a way of keeping track of all of your admission requirements, deadlines, college portal passwords, etc. I recommend creating an Excel spreadsheet where you can list important deadlines, whether you have submitted a transcript request form, and whether you have your teacher recommendations ready.

9.    Start and finish early. As mentioned in tip #7, it is imperative to start your college applications the summer before senior year. If you did not do this, don’t worry – you can start later. Just be prepared for the added stress of keeping up with schoolwork on top of college applications. Either way, work to finish applications as soon as possible. Apply by early action deadlines so you can have your admissions decision back earlier, or if you are truly certain you want to go to a school, apply early decision.

10.  Don’t let senioritis get to you. Once you finish college applications, you should feel extremely proud. You have successfully showed colleges how hard you have worked over the past three years, and you are one step closer to graduation, college, the career of your dreams, travel, marriage – oh wait, you still have five months of high school left. It is incredibly tempting to stop caring about school as soon as you press the send button on your last college application, but we all know you shouldn’t do that. Colleges do see your mid-year and final course grades, and they may rescind your offer of admission if they see you slacking off. High school may not seem important anymore, but you still owe it to both yourself and your 12th grade teachers to put in as much effort as you have in years past.

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