Poor Grades. Low SATs. How Can I Get Into College?

News Flash: Not everyone is an academic star. And colleges know that. If you are not happy with your grades or standardized test scores, do not despair. There is much more to an application than grades or scores.

Though the transcript is important, the essay presents another wonderful opportunity to present yourself. Take advantage of this. Write an essay that knocks them off their feet from first word to last. Tell them what your passion is, how you spend your time, why that pursuit is important to you. They want to know about YOU. They want to know what makes you tick. If you are an amateur entomologist, describe how you spend most of your waking hours playing with bugs. Tell them that you plan to make a career of it. If you are a readaholic, tell them about the last six books you read this year, and why you read them, and how reading is important to you. Do not waste the essay opportunity by merely regurgitating what already appears on other parts of the application, like lists of extracurricular activities. Lists will put the readers to sleep. They might be reading your essay at two o'clock in the morning, having already read fifty essays before yours. You want to grab them by the collar with your first sentence and shake them awake. You want them to know that you are more than grades and SATs.

The interview is another part of the application process that presents an opportunity to show the college who you really are. While many colleges do not require an interview, most will arrange one if you request it. Request it. Let the admissions office attach a face and a personality to the application. As you did in the essay, let them know in person how passionate you are about something, how you spend so much time pursuing it, and why it is important. Stay positive and upbeat. Leave a good impression. You want them to remember you. You want them to refer to you in their meetings as “that sincere guy who loves to play with bugs and wants to be an entomologist down the road,” or “that passionate girl who spends most of her afternoons and evenings at the dance studio because she’s committed to joining the American Ballet Theater one of these days,” or “that earnest, articulate candidate with a good sense of humor who likes to read and who – this year alone – has read everything that Jane Austen ever wrote.”

Yet another part of the application that invites you to describe yourself is the supplemental materials section. This presents you with an opportunity to submit an extra paper or report you have written, or a tape or CD or DVD that exhibits your talent in depth. Use this chance to showcase the side of you that the admissions office will find appealing. Are you a singer or a cellist or a dancer or a football player? Send a tape of yourself performing. Have you written a great report that the teacher raved about or a great article that appeared in the newspaper? Have you had a poem published in a magazine? Send it and let the admissions officers see your accomplishments first hand. Give them something to offset the transcript. Let them know how special you are.

Yes, grades and standardized test scores are important. But, by design, applications are multi-faceted. The admissions office wants to know who you are beyond the transcript. They want to know what you can contribute to the college. Use every chance you can find to tell them what they will gain if they admit you. In particular, seize the opportunities presented by the essay, the interview, and the supplemental materials sections.

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