Keep Your Grades Strong Your GPA is the most important factor in college admissions, demonstrating how you have done and how you are most likely to perform in college.
Take On a Challenging Curriculum that Emphasizes Your Strengths It is important to take challenging courses, but don't overload with advanced courses if you cannot succeed well in them. Colleges like to see that you understand your own strengths and weaknesses. Seek to balance your schedule, challenging yourself in your areas of skill and interest.
Prepare for Standardized Tests For most colleges, one's performance on standardized tests is an important component of the admissions process. Since test taking is not a strong skill for every student, and since most students do prepare, enforced practice and familiarity with the test will be an advantage. Some students favor private tutors who focus on individual needs. Others prefer group classes that give practice in taking actual timed tests.
Show Your Passion Choose activities and out-of-school experiences of personal interest to you and pursue them fully. You will have more to talk or write about if you are passionate about your choices. It is better to have fewer activities that are well developed than a long list. Avoid choosing activities because they will look "good" on your application. For instance, discussing how a visit to Israel or a Jewish camp experience has impacted your life could give a real picture of what is important to you.
Choose People Who Know You Well to Write a Letter of Recommendation An evaluation from someone who has observed you in a school or work setting holds more weight than someone of prominence who does not know you well. You will need a recommendation from a teacher from junior or senior year. You may also choose to add a letter from an employer or rabbi who can give further insight into your character.
Make Sure Your Essay Reflects You Personally Your personal statement should give a clear sense of what you value and what is meaningful to you. Be honest in expressing your feelings. This is your place to describe the qualities that make you unique. Perhaps you will want to reflect on how your Jewish values have influenced the person you have become. Your essay should be written and rewritten until it truly reflects you as a person.
Demonstrate Your Interest Colleges track your interest as expressed by e-mail, letter, visit, and interview. Personal contacts tell colleges how likely you will be to attend if accepted.
Be Sure That Your Eventual List Includes At Least Two "Safe" Schools In this competitive college admissions climate, it is essential to have some choices you can count on. Most students apply to about seven schools (two reach, three target, and two safe). If you decide to apply to a few more or a few less, be sure to keep your list balanced.
--Judith Berg, educational consultant, certified educational planner, past president of Temple Beth Miriam, Elberon, NJ, and a vice chair of the Union for Reform Judaism