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How to get into your dream school

Many eager high schoolers ask, "How do I get accepted into the school of my dreams?" This is a loaded question with no real correct answer. There's no perfect equation or formula to make this happen, regardless of what all the "college acceptance gurus" will tell you. As someone who made it into all the schools I applied to, I wanted to offer some insight into my application process and some of my favorite tips and tricks that helped me through college application season.

  1. Widen your search

This is one of the most important steps of all. When I started looking for colleges, I anticipated only applying to around 4 or 5. I'm from a small town in Georgia and pretty much thought all my options would be SEC schools. My college counselor suggested sitting down and researching colleges that matched what I was looking for, not just colleges that I was aware of. This is how I decided to apply to the University of Miami (where I currently attend). I applied to nearly 13 schools simply because I wanted options. For me, there was no "dream" school and simply just a world of confusion. For those with a dream school, look into finding colleges similar to your dream school. You never know which college will be the best fit for you and it never hurts to broaden your horizons.

2. Focus on the future, not the past

I found myself focusing on the hypotheticals of "if I had a better ACT score" or "if I had participated in more clubs". This is such a fruitless endeavor where you end up feeling guilty. Instead of focusing on what more you could have done, focus on what you can still do for yourself. You are in charge of all the decision-making in your life. Perform to the best of your abilities in class, get involved with clubs, and make the most of your high school experience. Colleges are looking for growth and improvement, so show them you are trying. Being a well-rounded student is so important and often swept under the rug. Colleges are looking for students who add to their Institutions academically, socially, and culturally.

3. Emphasize your strengths

In your essays, applications, etc. make sure to show off your personal bests. This can be your writing skills, grades, school involvement, social activities, or community involvement. This doesn't mean hiding things you may not be as great at, but emphasizing your best qualities won't go unnoticed by colleges. They want to see where you stand out and shine, so make sure to show that to them. I like to use the term "humble confidence" to show how you should be talking about yourself. Show pride in your achievements without being boastful.

4. Have gratitude

This is one of the most difficult tasks during college application and acceptance season. If you get deferred or denied from a school, it can truly feel soul-crushing. Trust me, I get it. The reality is that millions of people will never have the chance to experience higher education. To be one of the few who can not only go to college but have ample options is a privilege in itself. Sometimes one door closes for another to open. Talk to your family and friends about your disappointments, but let them lift you up and encourage you.

5. Tour, Tour, TOUR

I cannot stress enough the importance of the college tour. No online tour will ever be able to compare to seeing a school in person. There are so many small details that go into choosing your school that you won't even know about until you see it in person. Your current "dream" school may not match your expectations before visiting, but maybe a school you weren't really considering really impressed you in person. After getting accepted into many schools, I still had no idea where I wanted to go. As soon as I toured UM, I knew. It really clicked for me and I'm not sure I would have ended up here without touring.

Overall, this season is stressful, but also so amazing. Take a deep breath and enjoy your last year in high school. If your dream school defers or denies you, take your time to be upset, but then start planning. Life has a funny way of working out in ways you would never expect. At the end of the day, college is what you make of it, not what it makes of you.

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