Dr. Cynthia Colón, host of the national weekly podcast Destination YOUniversity and Founder of College Essay Bootcamp 



NEXT WEEK — Dr. Colón is offering a FREE Masterclass where she goes into a deeper dive on each of these topics. Go to her website to reserve your spot and register for FREE.

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#1: Apply to a range of colleges that you will be happy with. 

  • MYTH: Good grades and test scores will get you admitted. TRUTH: Yes, true for most colleges, HOWEVER, at selective colleges, every applicant has top grades and test scores, so do consider a range of colleges to maximize acceptance letters.
  • Colleges that admit under 20% are dream colleges for everyone, so avoid a list that is 90% REACH colleges. 
  • What to do instead? First – be honest with yourself about your own grades, GPA, and build a list accordingly. 
  •  Once you find YOUR “reach/dream” college, do your homework using CollegeBoard.org to find other similar colleges that have higher acceptance rates. 

HOT TIP:  Be sure to stack your list with no more than 30% Realistic Reach schools, 40% Target/ 50-50 schools, and 30% Likely/ Most Likely schools. 

You want a list of colleges that you will be HAPPY with. 

#2 – Get a copy of your school profile, and pronto!

  • MYTH: We don’t need to think about college until junior year: TRUTH: Graduate with 8 semesters of grades, but apply to college with 6 semesters of GPA. 
  • Know what you’re up against as early as freshman year. Get a copy of the School Profile – You can find how students at your high school have performed and which colleges they are typically admitted to.
  • I was able to find the Walter Payton High School Profile on the school website under the counseling college planning resources page. 
  • THIS is the bible in which colleges look to understand the context of each applicant applying to their college. It offers the demographics of the student body, average test scores, a list of AP offerings, percent that matriculate to 4-year colleges, and a list of colleges in which the students have been admitted. 

HOT TIP: Have a copy of your school profile document with you when deciding on YOUR own list of colleges. This is extremely helpful to ensure you don’t overestimate or underestimate your own chances of success. For example, if you do not see your dream college listed on the profile, that might be an indication that it could be slightly more difficult to successfully access that college simply because they are not that familiar with your school and how the students will perform once on campus.

#3 – Look like who you say you are or want to be.

  • MYTH: Create a laundry list of activities, sports and community service so you are well rounded. TRUTH: while that can work for freshman and sophomore year, as a junior – start to think more strategically about the activities and organizations you choose. 
  • Ask yourself – “Does my desired major match my resume or vice versa?” or “Do I show a clear interest or passion in 1 or 2 areas?”
  • If the answer is “No” begin growing a resume that will make sense to the reader and/or find a way to explain the connection to your reader. 

HOT TIP: The onus is on the applicant to quickly, easily, and CLEARLY connect the dots for the reader. Who am I? Who/ What do I say I want to become as an adult? Does my application offer evidence of that to be true?

#4 –  Learn how to write the college admission essay. 

  • MYTH: Teenagers don’t have anything “unique” to say. TRUTH: Every teen has plenty of interesting and engaging stories, they simply do NOT know HOW to write it in a compelling way.
  • We do NOT recommend attempting this exercise on your own. 
  • Ask for help. Find free help – we offer on our website. 

HOT TIP: All applicants must understand that applying to colleges means applying to an academic institution. The college essay at the very least is an indication of your writing skills; however, the most successful essays simultaneously reveal how you think, what you value, and the lens in which you see the world. Some of the most memorable essays are incredibly simple topics that act as a metaphor for something greater.