It’s not too early to start the next college application process. These things are key.

·3 min read
Ethan Hyman/

Applying for college is stressful.

There are deadlines, financial paperwork, standardized tests and decisions that will impact the trajectory of students’ lives and career paths.

Here’s what Durham high school counselors Pamela Harkey and Jemeka Floyd said are the top 5 most important pieces of a college application.

1. The academic profile

It’s important to know how grades in classes calculate into a student’s grade point average or GPA . They also talk about transcripts and the types of classes students take, like honors and AP courses.

But, it’s important to know that just because a student had lower grades early on in high school doesn’t meant they don’t have a chance at getting into and succeeding in college.

“We emphasize, of course, academic achievement ... but even if kids mess up somewhere along the line, we know that colleges look at growth,” Floyd said.

2. Outside the classroom

Students need to get involved outside of the classroom and in the community. That means joining different clubs at school, volunteering or playing sports — and sticking with it through high school.

Of course, not every student has the time or money for those activities. Students should also talk or write about their jobs, taking care of siblings or how they help out their families every day.

“That also is an extracurricular,” Harkey said. “It says a lot about you as a person.”

3. Recommendations

Students should ask the adults in their lives, like a teacher or a coach or a boss, to write a recommendation letter or talk to colleges about who they are as a person and a student.

4. Disciplinary action

It’s important for students to understand what things that might deter a college from offering admission. There are certain types of disciplinary action like suspensions that get reported to colleges. It also matters when those incidents occurred, like freshman year versus senior year.

5. ACT and SAT scores

Standardized testing has always been a part of the conversation and likely will be, even with hundreds of universities going test-optional.

Schools can still consider test scores, and students should know whether their ACT or SAT scores can be an asset. Scores are also still used for scholarships. Some programs, like computer science or engineering, might require certain scores.

“With the colleges going optional now, we still emphasize it. Even though colleges may not use it as a way to admit students, they still use it somewhere along the line, even if it’s just to place a student in a class,” Floyd said.

BONUS: Essay writing

Essays or writing prompts on applications are the places where admissions teams can hear from students in their own words. Many colleges and universities require essays and use them to get a bigger picture of who students really are and who they want to be.

Essays should be personal and provide an opportunity to tell schools what a high school transcript, GPA or standardized test score can’t.

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