Capstone College and Career Advising

Building on your strengths

December 4th, 2014 by

Nobody’s perfect.

But when students are putting together their applications for their top colleges, many of them feel the pressure to be that way. Perfect SAT/ACT scores, super-high GPA, top class rank, success in every sport or extracurricular activity they try – students often think if they don’t tick every box, they won’t get into college.

I’m here to tell you that’s just not true. Admissions officers are looking at the entire package, and even if parts of that package aren’t quite as stellar as you’d wish, chances are your strengths can outweigh areas of imperfection. And while needless worrying isn’t helpful, focused, thoughtful consideration of any areas you’d like to improve can be very valuable as you move toward college.

First, recognize any weaknesses. Actually, I don’t ever let anyone use that word. Rather, I prefer to look at those areas as “opportunities for growth.” That may sound like doublespeak, but it’s not. Seriously, for any skill that you want to improve, from tennis to cooking to playing piano, you must be able to assess your performance critically, recognizing your strengths but also pinpointing the parts that still need work. The same holds true for college readiness.

For instance, when students get their SAT/ACT scores, I like to break it down into areas: Where did you do well? What part was hard for you – finishing in time, understanding the questions, stressing out the night before? That leads you right to the next step.

Make a plan of attack. Let’s say your science grades are not what you’d like. You might choose to get a science tutor, sign up for a summer camp or course, or commit to increasing your study time. You might concentrate on science questions during your ACT prep. Or, if you realize science isn’t vital to your major and eventual career path, you might decide not to take any more AP science courses. This might help your overall GPA, while also leaving you time to take AP courses in your areas of strength or that you will need more in your college career.

Don’t make excuses. Admissions officials aren’t dumb. If your math grades have been consistently lower than your other grades throughout your high school career, they are not going to buy it if you try blaming it on your teacher. Instead, if you’re ever questioned about such an issue, own it. Explain what you’ve done to improve. Then move on.

Keep the end goal in mind. Ultimately, admissions officers aren’t looking for students who are “smart” enough to get in; they’re looking for students who will “fit” well with their campus and community activities, as well as be able to do well academically once they’re on that campus. If you feel your grades, class rank or test scores are borderline, you may need to do a little more in other areas to get into your top school. Make sure your essays are stellar, emphasize your extracurricular successes, and make sure the admissions officer understands how much you want to attend that particular college. Perfection isn’t necessary. Your best effort is.