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7 Ways to Make Your Reach School More Reachable

Whether you’re the likely valedictorian of your class or just finding your academic footing, your college list will include schools that will be a stretch for you to gain acceptance to. These reach schools are aspirational and help push you to do your best work. And students who approach the application process thoughtfully can vastly improve their chances of being successful even amidst an uber-competitive process.

The most important factors in your application are your grades and test scores (for schools that consider testing as part of their process); but considerably more students have exemplary marks than there is room to admit. So, if you’re already academically viable, what else can you do to help differentiate yourself from the crowd?

Read on for our top ideas.

Get Yourself Published

Whether it’s the novel you’ve been toying with for a while or part of a research project you were fortunate enough to join, contributing publishable work will stand out. It shows that your ideas have been vetted beyond the high school norm and that you’ve collaborated with others to create something meaningful.

Poetry anthologies or other publications focused on areas of passion for you can provide great avenues for you to connect with others you share that passion and contribute to its advancement. As you search for ways to stand out, think about the tangible imprint you can leave by designing and following through on a publishable work.

Start that Business

Turn your good idea into an entrepreneurial endeavor. Perhaps you’ve been designing graphics that would work well on t-shirts or as logos for companies. Maybe you’ve developed a method for teaching social media to senior citizens that’s caught the attention of several interested clients.

Now is the time to put action behind that premise and see how far you can take it. You’ll undoubtedly have to acquire new skills to support your journey along the way; but each new thing you learn becomes a tool in your success kit and further evidence of your readiness to thrive at your reach school.

Create Sustainable Local Impact

Virtually every student will have some sort of community service requirement. And many of those will go above and beyond the minimum, engaging in service trips throughout the world. While these are meaningful experiences, they run the risk of conveying some unintended messages to colleges about access and privilege. However, every student can use their passions to improve their own community in some way.

Go beyond bake sales and PowerPoint presentations and get active in your city or town. Whether it’s improving sustainability efforts, making underappreciated community members feel seen, or designing a partnership between your school and an organization that needs consistent volunteers, there are numerous ways you can lead a significant local effort. This will give admissions officers a clue about how you’ll use your strengths to improve their campus or greater community.

Master a Craft or Skill

Don’t stop at being content with good; strive for great! Take your learning and practicing of your passion as far as you possibly can. That may include online learning, self-teaching, searching for a mentor, or writing the rule book yourself. The closer you are to unchartered territory, the more compelling your story becomes to admissions officers at highly selective schools.

One of the best ways to master any skill is to teach it. Think about how you can help others learn and get better at something you love. Then think about what additional knowledge you need to gain to be an even better teacher in the future. This will keep you in a loop of constant improvement and paying it forward that—as a pleasant side effect—will also make you a more appealing candidate for admission.

Demonstrate Unusual Interest

To be clear: your interest doesn’t in and of itself have to be the most unique thing ever. But your pursuit of it should take you in some very personal directions. Many students will have an interest in biology, for example. But perhaps your life experience and secondary interests will shape your focus in wanting to study a particular species of bird. Likewise, computer science is an increasingly popular pursuit; but your passions or family circumstances may drive you to focus your energy into creating a particular app that makes life better for a small group of people.

Students who make a habit of pushing themselves beyond where their friends stop are exactly the kind of people elite college campuses want to enroll. Set yourself apart by demonstrating an unusual level of interest and follow through in the things you love.

Improve the Wheel

If you find yourself in positions of authority or engaging in opportunities that others have had before you, focus on how you can put your own stamp on them. You don’t have to re-invent the wheel, but perhaps you can smooth it.

If, for example, student council at your school mostly focuses on planning social events, implement a meaningful change in the curriculum or school day. If the team captain was always the person who led the warmups and made a speech at the end of the year, you can be the one to push for using analytics to improve strategy or partnering with an underfunded neighborhood school. Don’t be content to just follow in the footsteps of whomever came before you; add your own unique footprint to the path.

Speak the School’s Language

It may come as a surprise (hopefully not), but not all of the Ivies are the same. Though they are each highly selective, they cater to different kinds of students and value different criteria in making their admissions decisions. If you want to have the best chance of reaching your reach school, you need to ground your application in the language and philosophy of that school.

What really draws you to their campus? What about their programs, mission statement, opportunities, setting, or history compels you to apply. Think deeply about the answers to these questions. If your answers are vague, an admissions officer will have a hard time trusting that you know their school well enough to be a great fit. Often what makes the difference between two highly qualified candidates is this very quality. Infuse your application with evidence that you’ve done a thorough investigation and your goals are aligned with the college’s.

If these tips sound difficult, they are. Gaining admission to your reach schools is a difficult proposition. You shouldn’t judge yourself based on any one admissions decision, but you can work to place yourself in a favorable position at each of the schools you apply to by building a track record of excellence. Creating a unique plan with the help of an admissions expert early on in your high school career is a highly effective way to reach this goal.

The expert admissions consultants at Wise World Prep have helped hundreds of students maximize their potential of being admitted to their top choice colleges and universities. Over 20 years, we have successfully guided students through each stage of the application process – from choosing competitive high school courses to building an appropriate college list to drafting winning essays to writing persuasive update and appeals letters. We would be happy to answer your questions and partner with you to create a successful admissions roadmap.

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