A “brag sheet” is a list of all your activities and hobbies. It’s important to keep track of any recognition you receive so you can list it on your application. Freshman year of high school is not too early to begin compiling this list and thinking about how your academic interests and extracurriculars will come together on your application. The brag sheet and essay are the two “subjective” (interesting) criteria that admissions officers use to understand you.
2. Distinguish yourself through extracurricular activities.
Instead of joining every impressive-sounding club at your school, pick a few meaningful ones. Show a substantial contribution to your school and how that participation or leadership has influenced you. Be able to explain why you’re involved in a club and the contributions you made so admissions officers know you weren’t just shooting for a fancy title.
3. Look beyond your school to the community.
At top high schools, it can be difficult to gain leadership positions in school clubs when everyone else is going for the same position. If you’re in this situation, I recommend you pursue your extracurricular passions outside of school. Think about ways you can engage with the “adult world.” Opportunities exist through community organizations, nonprofits, and internships. Many students launch innovative fundraising campaigns for worthy causes or mobilize a group of peers to tackle a problem head-on. Teachers, parents, friends, and college counselors can help to plan and advise these endeavors.
4. Pay attention in class.
It’s amazing – if you pay attention in class instead of texting, talking with friends, or napping, you’ll actually be able to spend less time studying in your free time. That leaves more time for extracurriculars, SAT prep, and hanging with friends.
5. Cultivate relationships with teachers without being a suck-up.
Of course, #4 (above) is a big part of this. However, it’s not enough. Teachers are people, too, which means they like to be liked. Treat them with respect, but don’t be afraid to share your interests and passions with them. You might even make a joke or two during class every now and then (if appropriate). Come to extra help and find excuses to stop by and chat for a few minutes when they’re on hall duty or on their off period. The other kids will never have to know, and your GPA will benefit as a result. It never hurts to befriend those in power.
6. Visit the campuses of schools that interest you.
When you visit a college, you’re indicating your interest in going there. Colleges take notice of this and begin a file on you. One way colleges are ranked in “US News and World Report” is by their yield (the number of accepted students who choose to go to their college). For this reason, colleges accept the best students who are likely to choose their school upon being accepted. Convince them you’re one of those people.
7. Take the SAT early, and prepare for it right the first time.
Get the SAT out of the way by studying for it the summer before junior year and taking it in the fall of junior year. This allows you to focus on your GPA, extracurriculars, and relationships with teachers.